How to build a different kind of a brand that’s about guts and glory

Turning an innovation challenge into a compelling brand requires combining big picture idealism with immediate rewards. It is about curating an exciting journey with many champions and many milestones.

There are product brands and there are corporate brands.

There are B2B brands and there are B2C brands.

There are mass brands and there are luxury brands.

Then there are the less conventional brands. Incredible India. Vibrant Gujarat. Swachh Bharat.

Over the past many months, I have had the opportunity to work on creating from scratch a different kind of brand. Hint – imagine a brand that would get the most exciting innovations to be developed in one of the most action-packed industries today. Innovations that could help the Indian industry get a competitive advantage globally. That could help consumers overcome their barriers to adopting a new technology that is not only cost-efficient, but also environment-friendly.

The industry I am talking about is Electric Vehicles.

The brand I am referring to is India’s biggest innovation challenge for EVs.

As the custodians of iCreate, India’s leading tech startup incubator, we worked closely with their talented, high-energy team, in preparing the blueprint for, and launching, this Electric Vehicle Innovation Challenge. Christened ‘EVangelise’, the challenge is envisaged as an annual event, to ensure that a steady pipeline of innovations keep flowing in.

From the point of view of building a brand, there are many aspects that make this innovation challenge different from, say, an appliance, or a packaged food product, or an e-commerce website:

An inspirational, game-changing vision – In sync with India's stated 2030 vision of achieving 80% of 2 & 3-wheeler sales as EVs, the challenge was targeted at this huge segment. It was positioned as an opportunity for innovators to help Indian manufacturers achieve global leadership, as well as increasing vehicle efficiency to accelerate consumer adoption in the domestic market. It was about harnessing the brightest minds and the power of innovation, to address key problem statements of the EV industry. This was the emotional payoff that Brand EVangelise offered.

An extremely aspirational destination – It was not only about impacting the big picture, but Brand EVangelise offered gains in the immediate term too. The top 3 winners were given the opportunity to win incubation support of Rs 50 lakh each, in addition to cash prizes. But it was not entirely top-heavy – 15 other finalists, too, stood to win Rs 3 lakh each. This was the rational payoff built into Brand EVangelise.

Not just the destination, but a transformational journey too – The EVangelise journey was 6-month-long, and it was structured in three stages – Idea, Design and Build stages – with deep learning and exciting rewards at every stage. Bootcamps, comprising masterclasses and expert mentoring sessions, were organised for different stages at the iCreate campus in Ahmedabad. In the final Build Stage, participants were given the option to stay at the iCreate campus and use its infrastructure and facilities, besides mentoring from experts.

Partnerships with the ecosystem – Building Brand EVangelise took strong engagement with various stakeholders. Theme-based roadshows were organised in collaboration with prestigious institutions like IITs, IIMs, CII, Automotive Research Association of India, India Energy Storage Alliance, and relationships were also forged with leading corporates such as Uber, Ather, Altair, Yamaha, Analog Devices, among others.

The buzz and the limelight – 10 final contenders were invited to present at the ‘Electrify Your Future’ pitch. This grand finale was scheduled as a key event at the Vibrant Gujarat Startup Summit. Despite cancellation of the physical event due to Omicron, the virtual pitch saw an impressive jury comprising investors and EV industry leaders including Ather Energy founder, Tarun Mehta. The Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt of India, Prof K VijayRaghavan, was the guest of honour.

Life beyond the limelight – Brand EVangelise will provide winners with holistic support consisting of mentors, market connects, grants and investments. They will also have full access to iCreate's state-of-the-art campus that is equipped with design and simulation labs, rapid prototyping facilities, and core expertise in embedded systems.

Intensive effort went into generating visibility and buzz for Brand EVangelise. Mailers went out to iCreate’s database and those of its partner institutions, an event website was built, social media engagement was carried out, outreach was done to engineering colleges, press releases were sent out and media interactions were organised, partnerships were entered into with startup-specific platforms. We also ran a 36-hour hackathon to widen the funnel and create excitement.

We built credibility for Brand EVangelise by getting iCreate’s previous EV startups to talk about how it had helped them in their journey. EVangelise participants were asked to self-record their stories on video and share with us, for amplification on social media.

The outcome was encouraging. About 400 qualified entries were received, and some very exciting prototypes were built in categories like Motor & Controller, Battery & Battery Management Systems, Energy Recovery Systems, and Vehicle Intelligence.

EVangelise achieved its objective of reaching out to innovators of different shades – startups, college students, research institutions, EV enthusiasts – and in getting the finest among them together with other stakeholders like the industry, institutions, and the government.

Brand EVangelise has made a promising debut, and as iCreate's annual flagship event, it is going to return next year with a bigger bang.

And this is how, my friends, a new brand in this ‘different’ category was born.

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