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Kiwi Indian tastes entrepreneurial success in Silicon Valley

4:50 pm on 2 May 2024
Ken Hendricks founded Basepilot with Pascal Wieler in 2023.

Ken Hendricks founded Basepilot with Pascal Wieler in 2023. Photo: Supplied

Start-up executive Ken Hendricks believes New Zealand offers young entrepreneurs plenty of opportunities despite the tough economic conditions that currently exist nationwide.

Hendricks became the first Kiwi Indian to be accepted into the competitive Y Combinator start-up programme in the United States at the end of last year.

"It felt like something was finally kicking off, and there was some light at the end of the tunnel," Hendricks says.

Y Combinator, situated in Silicon Valley, has nurtured renowned global tech companies such as Airbnb, Coinbase, Twitch and Reddit.

The companies that have managed to get off the ground through the start-up accelerator are now valued at a staggering US$600 billion.

Getting into Y Combinator certainly wasn't easy.

"I used to read a lot about YC and watch countless videos about it," he recalls. "I attempted to gain entry three or four times before finally succeeding."

According to Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan, more than 40,000 applications are submitted to join the programme each year, but only a few hundred are accepted.

Hendricks says the programme offers successful applicants opportunities they would struggle to find on their own.

"Selected start-ups undergo four months of intensive work on their ventures in San Francisco, where they receive funding and gain access to a network of influential partners," he says.

Hendricks co-founded Basepilot with Pascal Wieler in 2023.

"Basepilot is essentially a platform designed to automate back-office tasks for larger enterprises," he says.

"Some of these large companies have a lot of manual repetitive processes like operations," he says "(Using AI agents), Basepilot automates that work."

Born in Mumbai, India, Hendricks relocated to New Zealand at the age of six.

He always harbored a passion for technology and engineering, eventually attending the University of Auckland.

During his university days, Hendricks, alongside a friend, launched his first venture - a clothing company utilizing 3D scanning technology to create custom apparel.

The business folded amid the Covid pandemic, prompting Hendricks to join a fintech start-up so he could start working on Basepilot.

"The start-up eco system is definitely a lot newer in New Zealand but it's also a really cool place," Hendricks says.

Mahesh Muralidhar is the CEO of Phase One Ventures.

Phase One Ventures CEO Mahesh Muralidhar Photo: Supplied

Mahesh Muralidhar, CEO of Phase One Ventures, agrees.

"The start-up culture in New Zealand is still nascent," Muralidhar says.

Phase One Ventures supports start-up founders in New Zealand such as Ken Hendricks, particularly those within universities.

"I came back home three years ago, and I've had the fortune of being a founder myself 10 years ago and being part of the early team in Canva you learn so much," says Muralidhar who was one of the early leaders of the Australian-based online graphic design company that's now worth about US$40 billion.

Muralidhar knew Hendricks through a mentoring programme.

"He kept coming back," he says.

Muralidhar notes a growing interest among young Kiwi Indians in entrepreneurship.

"One of the reasons why a person becomes a start-up founder is because they've got a glitch in their system," he says.

"Indian founders often have firsthand experience of adversity, instilling in them a desire to effect positive change," he says.

"I think that's one of the reasons why the Indian tech community across the world is able to thrive because they probably take things less for granted, which sets them up for life."

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