Four years ago, an idea took root in Kerala’s business capital of Kochi in the hope of attracting the best entrepreneurial minds among youngsters and creating successful start-ups. Startup Village (SV), as it was called, was a nascent idea then that drew not much attention. But today, on the cusp of the launch of a nationwide campaign that aims to spawn startups across the country, Startup Village in Kochi sits pretty with a list of grand accomplishments and a grander vision.
In April 2012, Startup Village commenced operations as India’s first public-private technological business incubator with the aim of creating at least 48 startup companies in five years. However, within three and a half years, it achieved its targets, becoming home to over 70 startups in typical incubation mode.
After its successful first phase, officials at SV are now excited about their next phase of expansion in which they aim for complete digitization of the incubation process right from filing applications to mentoring, resource allocation and final graduation. The target is to support 10,000 startup teams in the next five years. The ‘Startup India’ campaign that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launches on Saturday will be an added boost, top officials at SV told IndianExpress.com.
“Startup India is a flagship programme of the government. The idea is recognition of the fact that startups are important for India’s future. I mean, you need to create a million jobs per month and traditional industries cannot create such jobs. The programme does not just talk about technology. Through it, someone sitting in a remote part of the country can contribute to the economy,” said Pranav Suresh, CEO, Startup Village.
Suresh added that SV will exclusively deal with engineering students and campus teams in the second phase of operations.
WowMakers, a designing-cum-digital marketing company, was one of the first startups to be incubated at SV, Kochi. Started out as a graphic design studio, it now focuses more on animated explainer videos on specific topics.
“We had an absolutely life changing experience at Startup Village…Apart from providing us with good infrastructure, SV helped us in getting connected to many HNIs including top level executives, industry veterans, successful entrepreneurs and startup gurus,” said Vivek Raghavan, co-founder and CEO at WowMakers.
Another much talked-about startup is Fin Robotics which rattled tech conventions in Silicon Valley last year with its wearable technology brand. ‘Neyya’, as the product is called, is a smart ring, which when connected via Bluetooth, can control desktop computers and iPhones. With a swipe of the finger on the smooth capacitive touchpad, one can make/receive calls and lower music volumes on iTunes. The smart ring that was covered extensively in US gadget press is available on popular platforms like Amazon and Bloomingdales.
Last year, the team behind Fin Robotics made a presentation before the state cabinet which has promised to allocate 1% of the budget for entrepreneurship goals. The Kerala government has also decided to celebrate September 12 every year as Entrepreneurship Day.
Incubators like Startup Village have found favour among the administration at a time when startup companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Ola have made it big and entered the billion dollar club. With a young and aspiring demographic, many believe India can very well be the hotbed for enterprising startups that can contribute to national GDP as well as provide labour. For PM Modi, ‘Startup India’ programme is a way to create more jobs, boost technological know-how and most importantly to engage with the youth, a majority of whom were part of the movement that voted him to power in 2014.
But it’s not going to be easy. Experts have pointed out systemic flaws that need to be corrected for the growth of small and medium sized companies.
“I am happy that it has come at the PMO level, but there are fundamental issues here like starting and closing a company. In India, it is difficult to start or close a business. The government should also streamline things in the companies act. Lack of infrastructure and rampant corruption is another problem,” said Prasanto Roy, a senior media consultant.
Roy also called for the government to introduce relevant courses in engineering design in colleges with the long-term goal of upgrading hardware design know-how.
Shiju Radhakrishnan, founder of iTraveller, an online travel company that was incubated in Kochi, believes startup friendly policies are the need of the hour.
“An entrepreneur should not spend valuable resources of time and money to register a company or take countless licenses from numerous government departments in order to start and run a business. Policies should be formulated to help startups grow rather than stall it,” he said in an email interview.
He, however, exuded confidence that the ‘Startup India’ programme will eventually help in ushering a stage when innovative and sector disruptive companies like Facebook and Air B&B will be conceived and founded in India.