From Just a Building to Building an Innovation Ecosystem: The Story of the T-Hub Brand

As we reach the end of 2020, the year that will be remembered for the challenges it brought for the entire humanity, I try to keep that gloomy part aside and focus on the bright side. I take this opportunity to commemorate the 5-year milestone of T-Hub’s existence and highlight the journey of the T-Hub brand through these years.

“Clearly, there is a concept you fell in love with that got you to create this startup. The reality is that the concept itself will morph and evolve as you learn more about your customers, your competition and your environment. And as you build local solutions that are relevant in this market, the globe is really your market. I am here to be mostly inspired by your dreams, your ambitions and what you are going to do in terms of changing the world because of what you do here at T-Hub and beyond.”

– Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft, during his visit to T-Hub in 2015

I can humbly admit that Satya’s remarks have proved prophetic. T-Hub has indeed transformed the way innovation is done in India and has been morphing, evolving, and lately even hitting its stride to keep pace with world-class global innovation hubs.

Satya got another thing right. In 2015, T-Hub was itself a fledgling startup that wanted to extend its capabilities beyond being an incubator for the startup ecosystem. What is more, Telangana was the newly minted startup state of India that had the ambitious vision of making Hyderabad city the country’s innovation and entrepreneurship capital. The two “startups” partnered to realise the common objective of creating a conducive ecosystem that catapults India into the rarefied realm of global innovation hubs. 

Taking stock of our journey, I am quite confident that we have been successfully delivering on this promise year after year, milestone after milestone.  

Through the journey of building a holistic innovation ecosystem, it has been interesting to observe the evolution of T-Hub’s brand over the years. In my role at T-Hub—that also includes supporting the marketing function, there have been key learnings on how T-Hub’s brand has evolved. Has there been a shift in brand perception among stakeholders? How does “Brand T-Hub” resonate with its target audience? 

Let me attempt to answer some of these questions.

More than a brick-and-mortar entity

T-Hub’s swanky 70,000 sq. ft. building was constructed with the objective of providing incubation and mentorship support to a growing community of tech startups. Located in the IIIT Hyderabad campus, it was meant to be the largest incubation space in the country, dedicated to promoting the concept of entrepreneurship and supporting entrepreneurs in their journey of creating innovation technology solutions. It was envisaged as a place where you could come with an idea, build on it, and create impact. 

So, the T-Hub building has been an integral part of our journey. It has been the epicenter of innovation for all like-minded stakeholders, including entrepreneurs, corporates, government, academia, mentors, investors and others, providing the space to interact and collaborate. However, T-Hub did not bound itself within the four walls of its state-of-the-art real estate space. If one were to view the journey of T-Hub, we can confidently say that we have led from the front and built a pioneering innovation ecosystem in India that works with stakeholders across the board, across the world, enabling and empowering them in realising their unique innovation goals.

Looking through the prism of branding, we can say that we have come a long way from being just a swanky building and co-working space for entrepreneurs with great new ideas. We are now known for our programs with startups and corporations; local, national, and global. We have designed and delivered 75+ such programs, hitting key milestones along the way. 

Fueling startup growth

T-Hub has been at the forefront of innovation in the technology landscape and strives to partner with startups across their growth journey. The effort has been to create a conducive environment to promote entrepreneurship and fuel the startup ecosystem in Telangana, India, and the world, enabling supply side of innovation. We do this by providing a strong support structure for startups throughout their lifecycles from product-market fit to exit. We also provide Indian startups a gateway to the world and for international startups a gateway to explore India as a market.

This has also evolved over the five years of our journey. When we started out, any individual or company with the kernel of an idea for a startup could approach us to help them translate their vision into reality. Over time, T-Hub pivoted from being an incubator for idea-stage startups to providing critical support to early-stage startups and beyond. This was the genesis of our flagship program for startups, Lab32. Now, we have multiple other strategic programs to support their growth. This includes T-Angel, Trestle, Community Membership, etc.

Mapping corporate pathways

Despite our concerted efforts to push the boundaries of innovation and work with all ecosystem stakeholders, T-Hub is largely perceived as a startup incubator. Perhaps, therein lies one of our biggest challenges, a limited perception that we continue to fight till date. We are not just a startup ecosystem enabler, but an innovation ecosystem enabler that is growing in heft and relevance across the globe. 

As we focus on supply, through startups, we have understood the importance of creating demand for this innovation, through corporations. They can spur innovation by collaborating with startups that might have already done substantial work in a specific area. We enable this, but our engagement with corporates is not limited to it. We work with them through their innovation journey from emerging to disruptive. In fact, our corporate innovation programs are counted among the country’s best and we are the go-to corporate Innovation partner in the ecosystem. 

We are connected with over 430 corporations and have executed innovation programs with many of them. Some of T-Hub’s corporate partners include Facebook, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, HDFC, Oppo, HSBC, Intel, Uber, Stanley Black & Decker, Jubilant, Optum, among others. Through these partnerships we have enabled more than 350 startups to collaborate, present Proof of Concepts, seek funding or get acquired.

The transition from an incubator to an innovation ecosystem enabler

What is heartening is the distance T-Hub has travelled in its journey to build a future-ready innovation ecosystem. In the last five years, we have achieved favorable outcomes that have given us the impetus to keep striving to make a positive impact among our widespread community of stakeholders. Of late, T-Hub’s brand perception among key stakeholders has evolved from being a Telangana-based incubator to emerge as a name to reckon with in the global innovation map. 

Let’s look at how T-Hub’s brand value has evolved over the years:

  • T-Hub is now known not just within Telangana, but also nationally. It is no longer perceived as a Telangana government entity, though it is supported by the state.
  • In the recent years, T-Hub’s leadership has been widely recognised for spearheading bold initiatives to elevate T-Hub from being limited to its geographical location to catapult into the big league in the national and global innovation scene.
  • T-Hub has proved to be the catalyst between startups and the corporates; between startups and the government; between the government and the investors; between the investors and the startups, among other dynamic partnerships.
  • The thought leadership of T-Hub has increased in influence not just in India but even in innovation ecosystems. 
  • Startups perceive T-Hub as a gateway to gain access to international markets through their innovative programs.
  • Crucially, a lot of corporates have gained sharper insights into innovation because of their partnership with T-Hub through the corporate innovation Program. As a result of this partnership, corporates have fostered intrapreneurship to create world-class technology solutions.
  • T-Hub is now perceived by global innovation enablers as a partner in their journey of providing access to India to their startups and providing access to Indian startups to their ecosystem.
  • The fact that we are based in Hyderabad and Telangana has helped us establish it as India’s pioneering innovation ecosystem and an innovation thought leader. It has transformed the city’s perception from being India’s ‘new’ IT capital to emerge as a comprehensive innovation hub that will take India’s innovation revolution forward. 
  • Due to our focus on building and enabling the innovation ecosystem, we work closely with Telangana innovation partners and other innovation stakeholders.
  • T-Hub has reinforced the belief that innovation is not only about the startup community. Startups, corporates, government, and academia feed off each other’s strengths and can scale only if they have the additional support from service providers and mentors.
  • T-Hub has put the focus on creating demand for startup solutions and finding them customers. This boosts investor interest, fueling the growth of startups.
  • T-Hub has focused on every audience in the innovation ecosystem, allowing key stakeholders to start viewing it as a holistic ecosystem enabler.

Embarking on a new future

Despite the accolades and laurels, our efforts to transform T-Hub into a comprehensive global innovation hub have only scratched the surface. A dire need persists to create more awareness about T-Hub and its commitment to building a culture of innovation that keeps its partners ahead of the game.

At T-Hub, we continue to strive to drive home the message that we are not restricted to only one program. Rather, we seek to partner with startups and corporates and be with them through the different stages of their growth.

All ecosystems take time to evolve and mature. We need to keep building on our foundation to align T-Hub’s future roadmap with the rapidly evolving technology innovation landscape.

T-Hub seeks to build specific outcomes that will allow it to scale-up and be more than just an evangelist. Even as we prepare to move into the sprawling new 3.5 lakh sq. ft. facility soon, which will make it the largest innovation space in the world, we shall continue to strive to create an innovation ecosystem that shares knowledge and resources with its key stakeholders and partners.

We are no longer a startup. We are now entering the growth phase of our entrepreneurial journey and the onus is on us to continue with the momentum that we have built. Efforts are on to strengthen T-Hub’s brand and ensure its messaging remains consistent among key stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem. Having said that, brand perception has the potential to change to reflect the dynamic changes in the market. 

We should consistently engage with stakeholders to understand their evolving needs and approach innovation with a purpose.  This will help build a one-of-a-kind innovation hub that will serve as a bridge between India and international markets. In conclusion, I quote Ratan Tata’s initial impression of T-Hub that encapsulates the core vision of the organisation:

“T-Hub is one of the new faces of India. It is the face of entrepreneurship, innovation, and enterprise. This is the first look at the new India of tomorrow. What you are seeing in this building is just the start, just the nucleus of what could be the new big thing in the country.”

– Sameer Chhabra, Senior Director – Business Management & Marketing