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December 12, 2023

ideaForge: Helping First-Time Founders Take Flight

ideaForge: Helping First-Time Founders Take Flight

Celesta Founding Managing Partner, Nic Brathwaite, gives an inside look into why Celesta invested in ideaForge and highlights some of the behind-the-scenes story.

Celesta Founding Managing Partner, Nic Brathwaite, gives an inside look into why Celesta invested in ideaForge and highlights some of the behind-the-scenes story.


As deep tech venture capital investors, we are fortunate to work with many brilliant entrepreneurs who are building strong and exciting businesses with innovative technological solutions.

Several of the founders we work with are first-time entrepreneurs. Such was the case with the founding team at ideaForge, who we are proud to have partnered with from their relatively early days through the company’s recent IPO.

Founding a business is a unique and challenging journey, especially if you have never done it before. Finding success is all too rare, and it requires a combination of hard work, talent, and confidence.

It also requires humility. Savvy founders surround themselves with a network of mentors, partners, and colleagues who have been in their shoes before and can help them navigate difficult questions and avoid common pitfalls.

In my experience as an investor, many entrepreneurs will say they want the guidance and support you can offer to their company, but few ultimately walk the talk when the rubber hits the road. Some of that is understandable. When you are passionately and personally attached to an idea, it’s hard to remain objective.

However, I believe the success story of ideaForge serves as a testament to the positive outcomes that can result when first-time founders combine innovation and hard work with humility and a willingness to seek guidance. It reinforces the idea that a successful entrepreneur is not just someone with a great idea but also someone who can navigate challenges effectively.


When we first met the ideaForge team in 2015, they were already confident in the capabilities of their technology. The team was working to develop drones that could outperform current market leaders, especially in the harsh climate conditions of India’s interior, with its rugged high altitudes, hot deserts, and marine environments.

Our team was intrigued but admittedly several issues initially gave us pause. Recognizing the difficulty of drone space is a realistic assessment. The drone industry, while promising, comes with its own set of challenges, including regulatory hurdles, evolving standards, and the need for substantial research and development (R&D) investments. Acknowledging these challenges is a prudent step in the due diligence process. With ideaForge specifically, our concerns included the lack of an established portfolio of IP, their likely initial dependence on government contracts, and the team’s lack of a proven track record in building and running a business before starting ideaForge.

Building successful partnerships around intellectual capital requires investors and founders to establish honest and open collaboration, and to set aside egos. ideaForge exemplifies the big win-win opportunity available when this model works well.

But there were positive indicators as well. It appeared that India’s growing needs around border security – combined with the country’s difficult terrain – could create strong demand for the products ideaForge was developing, with the potential to grow into a $1B+ market. Despite the lack of patents, the company appeared to have several proprietary advancements within its hardware and software systems. Additionally, the Make in India initiative was driving renewed momentum for the onshoring of manufacturing, particularly those critical to national security.

It was clear there may be an opportunity to back the front runner in India’s drone sector, but we had to answer a few critical questions: Would ideaForge be able to execute quickly with enough innovation to lead the domestic market? Would they be able to scale effectively to win larger opportunities and eventually expand beyond India?

A few key factors helped assure us that the answer to these questions would be “yes”. The first was a belief in the talent of the ideaForge team. As graduates of IIT Bombay where the company was incubated, they were very bright and had proven their technical capabilities.

The team was not only bright but also hardworking and very eager to learn. They were committed to building a scalable business, rather than simply focusing on developing flashy technology without a plan to profitably commercialize it. Perhaps most critically, they were humble enough to recognize their lack of experience in managing or building a business and actively seeking partners who could help them reach their goals.

We are honored they selected Celesta as their investment partner and agreed to allow us to occupy three of the seven seats on their Board of Directors. They’ve chosen to partner with many other outstanding investors as well, including Infosys, Qualcomm, Mathew Cyriac at Florintree Advisors, and others.

My intent here is by no means to assume credit for the accomplishments of this fantastic team. Investors taking credit for the success of the companies is like a rooster seeking praise for the sunrise (a favorite saying borrowed from my friend Ben Wilson). However, I believe that investors’ intellectual capital can often prove even more valuable to entrepreneurs than financial capital alone. Building successful partnerships around intellectual capital requires investors and founders to establish honest and open collaboration, and to set aside egos. ideaForge exemplifies the big win-win opportunity available when this model works well.

As we continued to closely work with them over the years, the ideaForge team more than rewarded our belief in their potential. The first few years after our initial investment felt like we were investing as much in the team's development as in the development of their products. It was a joy watching them grow as leaders and blossom into the fantastic executives they are today.

The company faced the inevitable tests faced by all startups at various times – technical issues, challenges in the speed of recruitment, struggles with key customers, and shifts in the broader market. Throughout this time, the team responded to every challenge in stride and leaned on their network of advisors to help problem-solve and evolve their strategies when necessary. They effectively navigated the complexities of working in the military and defense sectors. They continued to innovate and push their technology forward along the way, including developing the smallest and lightest weight drone autopilot in the world at the time.

Time and again, they demonstrated their belief in teamwork and desire to build a great company above all else. For example, when CEO Ankit Mehta was offered a significant salary increase, he turned it down believing he shouldn’t be paid more than his co-founders solely due to his job title.

Celebrating with the ideaForge team at their IPO listing ceremony.


Six years after we made the initial investment, ideaForge had its initial public offering on the National Stock Exchange of India. Words cannot explain the joy and pride my partners and I felt as we celebrated with them.

Over that time, ideaForge has grown into the clear market leader in India, with 50+ percent of the market share. Nearly every 4-5 minutes, an ideaForge flight takes off somewhere within India. ideaForge’s product and technology moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have capability for the Indian government, something we were betting on in the beginning. They have diversified from a purely defense-focused business to one that now serves a significant industrial base as well and also helped to spur the development of the Indian high-tech supply chain, now importing less than one-third of their components.

Today, ideaForge has more than 350 employees, 66 international patent assets, and a wonderful business with a bright future.

Thank you, Ankit, Rahul, Ashish, and Vipul, for allowing us the opportunity to join you on this journey. I can’t wait to see the heights you will reach next.

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