We need stories that bring us together: Rana Daggubati on why he's investing in entertainment start-ups

Rana Daggubati and Prasad Vanga are on a entrepreneurship promotion mission with their Anthill Studios, a business accelerator programme for the media and entertainment industry
The start-ups can also bag a smart capital of up to one million through the Anthill Venture Fund and investor ecosystem
The start-ups can also bag a smart capital of up to one million through the Anthill Venture Fund and investor ecosystem

If you've watched Baahubali, you've witnessed the true power of VFX — how it can transform a movie into an out-of-this-world experience. That is the scope of technology and what it can do for a film. Having understood the same, Anthill Ventures and Suresh Productions have shortlisted six media and production-based start-ups for their business accelerator programme, Anthill Studio. While Anthill Ventures is an investment and speed-scaling platform for early growth stage start-ups, Suresh Productions is an Indian film production and distribution company based out of Hyderabad. These two powerhouses have come together to give start-ups the boost they need so that their technology proves to be game-changing for the media and entertainment industry. 

From the 150 applications, about 35 were scrutinised by a jury from Anthill Ventures, Suresh Productions and others for further shortlisting

Rana doesn't want to tell start-ups how to grow

On a cloudy July Friday, we found ourselves seated across the table from Prasad Vanga, Founder and CEO of Anthill Ventures and actor Rana Daggubati at Ramanaidu Studios in Film Nagar, Hyderabad. In February this year, the duo had called for applications from start-ups around the world, inviting them to be a part of this programme. And it was from 150 applications from 11 countries that they selected six start-ups which are expected to find solutions for the media and film industry. The duo was visibly excited to be announcing the shortlisted start-ups later in the evening, on July 20, during the Pre Demo Day event.

Our intention is to bring these start-ups up to speed with the world and help them grow

Prasad Vanga, Founder and CEO, Anthill Ventures

But if you think this programme is about building start-ups, think again. "We are not in the business of telling start-ups how to build; we believe that start-ups know how to do that already. What we provide them with is market access, mentorship, live projects and much more," says Vanga, about their three-month accelerator programme. Adding his thoughts to the statement, Daggubati says, "Technology can not only improve the movie-going experience, but also ensure that the movie doesn't die in the theatre. For example, Baahubali now has a few VR games which keep the franchise going."

Helping them scale up super fast

But it doesn't stop here. Vanga informs us that because they are not the typical classroom accelerator programme, if a start-up with great scope approaches them even now, they will surely open their doors. This is why they did not hold back in adding a seventh start-up to their cohort recently. "In today's fast-paced world, these start-ups will need to scale up with speed because if they don't, they will die," says Prasad. And to make scaling easier, they have invited Sony Entertainment, Viacom18 and ALTBalaji, and have not limited the start-ups to just Suresh Productions, to partner with them to see if they too can find solutions through these start-ups. 

In the media and entertainment industry, the scope for innovation is everywhere

Rana Daggubati, actor

"A film studio is the biggest testing base for these start-ups as they can work on live projects and movies, which will release in the next two to three months, and apply their ideas," explains Daggubati. And while the duo is excited about the start-ups, Vanga tells us that they are also aware of the reality that start-ups often have a high-failure rate as most of the success depends on the hunger of the founders themselves. "But most of the time, the successful start-ups make up for the ones who don't perform from our portfolio," says Vanga. 

Amazon Prime and Netflix won't kill movies
We wondered aloud if there is a certain scare in the industry regarding technology because of say, what Netflix and Amazon Prime are doing — 'stealing away' the audience from the theatres. Daggubati instead chooses to see this change as an opportunity. Because the consumption of content has grown multi-fold, there is space for all kinds of stories to be told, he feels. "Truly, it is the greatest time for storytellers," says the 33-year-old actor. He does maintain that spectacle cinemas like a Baahubali will continue to draw audiences to the theatres, while movies which dig deeper into the storyline and its characters will find their space on TV or online streaming platforms. 

The other start-ups, who are a part of the programme, are ComicFlix, a storytelling platform which converts movies into graphic novels; Rooster, a sports fan engagement platform which connects and engages fans during live matches and Scapic, which allows users to build and share VR/AR experiences through their web browser

And as the self becomes more important, work hours reduce and more importance is given to leisure time; the consumption of content is only going to increase. "We are a race that needs stories, we need stories to bring us together," says Daggubati, while the entrepreneur and angel investor, Vanga adds, "Indeed. And because the consumption of content has changed, there is more demand for technology to come into the picture."   

Tech all the way

There is no doubt that there are several stories in different languages coming out of India every year and technology can help make these stories more inclusive. "Where else can we remake the same movie in more than five different languages and have a different audience come to watch these movies every time? Technology can truly help these stories reach a far wider audience," says Daggubati, adding that now, because people have access to a lot of content, they want access to it faster. This is another area where technology can step in. 

Whatever the scope might be, the duo is confident that each of the start-ups is capable of disrupting something or the other and have a specific skill, which they utilise much better than any other start-up today.

Rana's handpicked start-up roll call:

We talk to four start-ups who are a part of the accelerator programme:


RecoSense, in the three weeks that it has been a part of this programme, has connected with leading media houses and industries. And Amith Srinivas, the CEO of this start-up, feels that, "all the players in this field are accessible to us through this programme which enables us to reach out to them directly rather than running around for them. And it also gives us a certain credibility to be associated with this programme which helps in gaining trust.” RecoSense is a data intelligent platform for metadata generation, user personalisation, content recommendation and more. It allows the company to focus on their core area, which is content intelligence, while this Bengaluru-based start-up works in the data intelligence area.


The entire world is moving towards video-centric content consumption, especially when the premium content providers realised that consumers are ready to pay to watch content (think Netflix and Amazon). Thus, they are in need of an OTT service (Over The Top, content providers streaming media directly to consumers via the internet) of their own through, which they can provide content to the consumers. Saranyu, based out of Bengaluru, is one such platform which can enable this. They have already done this for Zee's Ditto TV, Epic TV and others. "With this programme, we want to expand into the international market and acquire talent that will help us grow further," says Suresh BG, Founder and CEO of this platform which has been bootstrapping for more than six years.  


Hyderabad-based Newsplus, which is a news aggregator company, is keen to connect with potential customers and going forward, bag some funds through this programme, says C Chitti Pantulu, the Editor-in-Chief of the start-up. Unlike other apps that curate news, Pantulu tells us that, "our aim is not to compete with publishers; we just intend to drive traffic to readers." The four-year-old start-up has more than 15 proprietary algorithms, one of which confronts fake news and keeps it from getting on to the platform. Today, they provide news in ten languages and will add Malay, Sinhalese and other languages soon. "Our canvas is much wider, we are targeting a larger number of user profiles across India and South East Asia," he says.


Even though the Chennai-based start-up Woodcutter was the last to present on Demo Day, the audience had a lot of questions for them. And when we, in turn, ask K Bethanavel what their biggest takeaways from the programme will be, he says, "We are looking for mentorship in terms of product and business development and market access as well." Woodcutter is less than a year old and uses a machine learning model to understand trends and patterns of the older movies and to predict success probability and areas of improvement for the upcoming movies. "We don't intend to replace artistic creativity with machines. We just want to aid filmmakers to make better films," says the co-founder. 

For more information, click on anthillstudio.co

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