By Inc42 Media

India’s flourishing tech landscape is no longer the sole domain of elite business school graduates. The past decade has seen celebrities capitalise on the growth of the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem. 

Leading the pack are imminent names like Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, who are founding startups, particularly in the booming omnichannel D2C space. Even cricketers are joining the game, with established ventures from MS Dhoni and Deepak Chahar’s recent launch of a fantasy gaming platform.

Celebrities are actively building businesses, embracing the core principles of entrepreneurship and investing heavily. The year 2023 witnessed a record year for celebrity investors, with Inc42 reporting over 19 personalities infusing capital into 26 startups, including prominent figures like Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty.

At a time when angel investment is on the rise, let’s steal a glance at the list of Indian celebrity founders who’ve become the talk of the Indian startup town in recent years.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list or ranking of any kind.

1. Alia Bhatt

An avid startup investor, Alia Bhatt solidified her footprint in the Indian startup ecosystem with the launch of Ed-a-Mamma, a kidswear D2C brand, in 2020.

Unlike most celebrity brands, which are either co-created or have a revenue-sharing model, Ed-a-Mamma was initially fully funded by Bhatt.

The startup has been operating on an omnichannel model, selling across ecommerce platforms, its website, and offline retail chains, including Lifestyle and Shoppers’ Stop. In September 2023, Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL) acquired a majority stake in Ed-a-Mamma.

Besides her entrepreneurial journey with Ed-a-Mamma, as an investor, Bhatt’s startup portfolio includes the personal styling platform Style Cracker and biomaterial startup Phool. She also has investments in beauty and fashion ecommerce major Nykaa. 

2. Deepak Chahar

Indian cricketer Deepak Chahar announced his entry into the Indian startup space with the launch of a fantasy gaming platform, Trade Fantasy Game (TFG), in February 2023. The startup, cofounded by Jaya Chahar (Deepak’s wife), was incorporated with an internal investment of INR 10 Cr in March 2022.

The parent entity of TFG, JCDC Sports Pvt Ltd, offers a premium experience of playing collectable and card-based fantasy games on its platform. At the time of its launch, TFG aimed to foster 1 Mn users by FY24 and generate revenues of INR 18 Cr by FY25.

It is pertinent to note that the Chahars are trying to make waves in the Indian fantasy gaming arena dominated by the likes of Dream11, Mobile Premier League (MPL) and others. 

In addition, the cricketer owns a D2C sportswear brand DNINE Sports. Launched in September 2023 with an investment of INR 2.5 Cr. The brand sells sports apparel, shoes, accessories, and dietary supplements via its website. Chahar and his father Lokendra Singh Chahar serve as the cofounders of the brand. 

3. Deepika Padukone

Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone entered the Indian startup ecosystem as an investor. Spacetech startup Bellatrix Aerospace and electric rise-hailing platform Blusmart have been able to lap up Padukone’s interest.

Taking the entrepreneurial leap of faith, Padukone founded personal care brand 82°E, along with Jigar Shah, in 2021. 

The D2C brand was launched in November 2022 with a core focus on skincare products. Currently, 82°E has products in skincare and fosters a separate personal care line for men (82°E Man).

In December 2022, the startup raised $7.5 Mn in seed funding from DSG Consumer Partners and IDEO Ventures, along with multiple ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNIs) and Padukone’s family office. 82°E is now raising around $6 Mn as a part of its extended seed funding round with Deepika Padukone and her father Prakash Padukone’s investment entity, Ka Enterprises, increasing its stake in the startup.

Meanwhile, Padukone has also increased her investment portfolio with startups like Epigamia, Furlenco, Atomberg, Mokobara, and Nua. 

4. Hrithik Roshan 

The actor turned into an entrepreneur in 2013 with the launch of his lifestyle brand HRX, which sells a range of products, including sportswear, footwear, casualwear, and accessories for men and women. In 2016, Flipkart-owned Myntra bought a 51% stake in HRX.

With time, HRX has diversified into selling gym equipment and wearables. In 2017, the brand joined hands with (which is now a fitness unicorn) and launched the first-ever celebrity-designed HRX workout regime across Cult centres in India.

5. Katrina Kaif

Bollywood actress and model Katrina Kaif forayed into the beauty and personal care space with the launch of makeup brand Kay Beauty in 2019.  

Striking the right balance between glamour and skincare, the brand sells products like hydrating foundation, creme blush, liquid highlighter, and lip oil gloss, among other beauty products. 

Following the launch of the brand, Kaif also infused an undisclosed amount in Nykaa through a secondary transaction in 2020. With the investment, Kay Beauty became an in-house brand of the listed beauty and personal care major. 

Now, Nykka owns a 51% stake in Kay Beauty. Recently, at the Startup Mahakumbh, Nykaa’s founder Falguni Nayyar said that the company was expecting to generate INR 200 Cr from Kay Beauty in FY24. 

6. MS Dhoni

Former Indian cricket team Indian cricketer MS Dhoni is the brand ambassador and partial owner of the lifestyle brand SEVEN. The brand was launched in 2016 by RS Seven Lifestyle (P) Ltd, which is a part of Rhiti Group.

Apart from this, Dhoni is also a big-time startup investor. He has investments in more than eight Indian startups. Some of the noteworthy startups in his investment portfolio include Tagda Raho, Rigi, Shaka Harry, Garuda, HomeLane, 7ink Brews, Khatabook and Cars24. In 2012, Dhoni also started a gym chain in India, SportsFit World Pvt Ltd.

More recently, in April 2024, EV Startup EMotorad roped in Dhoni as an equity investor. Founded in 2020, EMotorad sells electric cycles for daily commuting and casual rides. It aims to offer travel alternatives through premium electric cycles and promote a healthier lifestyle. Apart from having his investment in the startup, Dhoni is also the brand ambassador of EMotorad. 

7. Priyanka Chopra Jonas

Indian actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas launched her haircare brand named Anomaly in 2021 starting with the US market. Anomaly’s range of products, including dry shampoos, shampoos, hair masks and conditioners, was first available across US-based retail giant Target’s online and offline stores.

In 2022, Nykaa tapped Anomaly for an exclusive launch of its products in India. Currently, the brand’s products are available across Nykaa, Amazon, and Flipkart.

Jonas has also been an investor for a long time. In 2018, she had invested in two US-based startups – Holberton School and dating app Bumble. 

8. Rakul Preet Singh

Indian actress Rakul Preet Singh forayed into the Indian startup space in 2021 when she launched a LinkedIn-like talent discovery platform, Starring You, along with her brother Aman Preet Singh. 

With the app, the actress aims to bridge the gap between aspiring talent and talent hunters in the entertainment field. The app has over 10,000 downloads on Google’s Play Store.

After making her first entrepreneurial leap with Starring You, Singh focussed on a vertical outside of the entertainment business for her next endeavour.

With an aim to make baby care safe, effective and ecological, she joined hands with Shreya Chadalavada and Jahnavi Reddy Dorigallu to launch D2C startup NewBoo in 2023. The brand sells reusable baby diapers that use soft material and are liquid absorbent. 

Besides, the actress invested in Wellbeing Nutrition in 2022. She is also the startup’s brand ambassador. 

9. Rana Daggubati

Actor Rana Daggubati, who gained nationwide fame after the meteoric success of the movie ‘Bahubali’, is an active investor in the startup ecosystem. Besides having a stake in startups like the Ghost Kitchen, the actor also dawned the entrepreneurial hat in 2021, when he ventured into the then-blooming Metaverse and NFT space to start IKONZ. He partnered with Abinav Varma Kalidindi to launch the startup.

In 2022, IKONZ raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from early-stage VC firm Village Global, which is backed by the life of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, and technology investment firm Woodstock.

The platform helps IP owners and artists in the space monetise their digital assets by providing access to crypto communities worldwide. Since its inception, the startup has collaborated with brands like Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle to bring entertainment IPs to the metaverse. 

Besides this, he also set up a fan engagement startup Socialswag with actor Akshay Kumar as his cofounder. The startup offers a skill and talent development platform with celebrity-led courses. Soon after the launch in April 2021, Socialswag bagged close to $1 Mn in its seed funding round from multiple angel investors.

10. Ranveer Singh 

Actor Ranveer Singh became one of the cofounders of D2C sexual wellness startup Bold Care after he invested an undisclosed amount in the startup in December 2023. Singh is also the face of the brand. 

Apart from Bold Care, the actor also serves as an investor for other startups. He recently invested in Aman Gupta’s bOAt and Vineeta Singh’s D2C brand Sugar Cosmetics in 2022. 

11. Samantha Ruth Prabhu

Samantha Ruth Prabhu, a well-known figure in the South Indian movie industry, began her entrepreneurial journey even before she gained fame as a leading actress in multiple Bollywood films. Her involvement in the Indian startup ecosystem started in September 2020, when she partnered with former Miss India contestant Sushruthi Krishna to launch the D2C fashion and lifestyle brand Saaki.

Saaki specialises in Indian women’s fashion, including kurtas and sarees. Prabhu serves as the cofounder and ‘chief style editor’ for the brand, which competes with other well-known names such as BIBA, Indya, Fabindia, Nykaa Fashion, and various D2C fashion brands.

In addition to her role at Saaki, Prabhu is also an investor in the ecommerce marketplace SustainKart and the D2C superfoods brand Nourish You.

12. Shraddha Kapoor 

From donning heavy jewellery onscreen to taking up the cofounder office in a prominent jewellery startup, actress Shraddha Kapoor took the entrepreneurial leap of faith earlier this year. 

Pune-based jewellery startup Palmonas roped in Kapoor as its new cofounder in March 2024. Incorporated by Pallavi Mohadikar and Amol Patwari in 2021, the startup sells affordable premium quality jewellery to their users. 

Their range of jewellery options, including necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings, are priced between INR 800 and INR 5,500 and sold with a one-year warranty.

It is pertinent to note that Kapoor made headlines last year when she appeared in a TV commercial of Melorra, which is Palmonas competitor in the jewellery space. Post this, Kapoor commented on one of Palmonas’ posts on Instagram and said she “was just blown away by their products”.

With Kapoor on board, Palmonas’ founders aim to leverage her popularity to expand the reach. The startup has launched a collection called Shraddha’s Stack, which includes necklaces, rings, and earrings. 

This isn’t Kapoor’s first jaunt in the Indian startup ecosystem though. She turned into an investor for beauty commerce unicorn The Good Glamm Group in 2021. She also invested in startups Shunya and Chargeup in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

13. Sonu Sood

Having garnered a reputation for being an accomplished actor as well as a philanthropist, Sonu Sood is also well known for his entrepreneurial ventures outside of the spotlight. Sood launched Pravasi Rojgar, a job portal for migrant workers, in collaboration with Schoolnet India in July 2020. 

The aim to help millions of migrant workers find jobs & a steady source of income. The startup also trains workers with the requisite skills to increase their chances of obtaining good jobs. The startup secured INR 250 Cr in funding from Temasek Holding-backed Goodworker.

Apart from Pravasi Rojgar, Sood launched an AI-enabled social media app Explurger in 2022. Explurger, which is a freemium app, helps users interact with their friends and family. It creates automatic travelogues using artificial intelligence (AI), gamifies the user experience, and rewards users for being socially active on the app. Earlier this year, the startup raised $4.5 Mn in its Series A funding round led by Affle (India) Ltd. 

Apart from his entrepreneurial ventures, Sood also turned an investor in 2020. Through his company Sood Informatics LLP (SIL), he purchased over 8.69 Lakh shares of rural fintech firm Spice Money at a price of INR 10 per share. With the investment, he turned brand ambassador and a non-executive board member for the startup.

Source: Inc42 Media