IMPunjab is a catalyst to propel startup growth in the state: Somveer Anand, CEO & Mission Director

Innovation Mission Punjab (IMPunjab) is a unique public-private partnership championed by the private sector with government backing. Somveer Anand, CEO & Mission Director, IMPunjab speaks about the aim to create the best startup ecosystem in the country and enable homegrown startups to scale globally

What is the vision and mission strategy of IMPunjab?
Innovation Mission Punjab is a catalyst to propel startup growth in Punjab. While the state already has a burgeoning startup ecosystem with some of the finest educational and research institutions and a highly bankable pool of talents, we aim to utilise them to create the best startup ecosystem in the country. We wish to enable homegrown startups to scale globally. In other words, we have the vision to rejuvenate and renovate Punjab’s entrepreneurial surge and put Punjab on the global investor map.

The Mission is to bring together each stakeholder that plays a role in building successful startups. We are working with ecosystem actors, talent, investors, and aspiring founders and closely with Startup Punjab to further awareness. Acting on the belief that an entrepreneurial mindset is best sown when young, we actively reach out to students in schools and colleges. A bold innovation and entrepreneurship culture is possible if we trace and develop talent in schools and universities. We provide local angel networks, industry connections, pitching support, networking events, capacity building, co-incubation conclaves, and webinars. We are constantly exploring every other avenue of support for startups. With all these efforts, I am pleased to say that we are already gaining significant traction.

What kind of support do you provide to the technology startups you work with?
We are here to support startups on every front, from inception until the very stage where they are scaling and thriving. We help them from the idea stage to scale, including doing POCs, creating prototypes, building use cases, and reaching out to the client(s) with constant mentoring support. We also assist in several other ways, such as providing specific capacity-building interventions, access to incubation, grants, and funding. Startups needing specific tech interventions get help from our partner institutes like IIT-Ropar and Thapar Institute of Engineering and Tech. We have also launched Punjab Incubators Network for Entrepreneurs (PINE), a virtual network of incubators and accelerators to facilitate the development, attraction, and retention of startups in Punjab.

How many such startups have you incubated and seen any visible impact? Are these tech startups focused on some particular sectors?
Over 300 startups and counting! We have supported several entrepreneurs over the years, and I am proud to say that we have significantly impacted most of them. Through various interventions, drives, startup days, MIC, Masterclasses, and spotlight, PINE matchmaking, some startups are now visibly on the scaling track, while more and more entrepreneurs are seeing the opportunity and reaching out to take support. Agriculture, food, manufacturing, health and education have been the core sectors in Punjab. Apart from these big five, deep-tech startups like Primus, hyperlocal logistics startups like Countryside express, and Saas-based startups like Vyavsay are making their presence felt. These ventures have come up across cities like Bhatinda, Faridkot, Amritsar, and Mohali. Several other startups in different parts of the State would soon add value in sectors across industries.

How is your incubator program different from other tech startup accelerators? What specialised mentoring and guidance do you provide to these tech startups?
IMPunjab as a catalyst is boosting Punjab’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by engaging with all the ecosystem enablers like incubators, angel investors, mentors, the Government, colleges, and schools. We do have an accelerator unit that supports startups across their journey. The division focuses on helping product-ready startups to build scalable business models and make them investment-ready. As part of our mentor pool, we have onboarded several mentors who help with specific requirements, say strategy, functional and sectoral, among others.

We have designed our programme with the understanding that every venture is unique. Our solutions are highly customised, we provide mentoring support to startups, depending on their stage, sector, and immediate requirements. For instance, in the case of Primls, we onboarded Arjun Rao, a deep-tech expert from Speciale Invest, to help it create a use case post-proof of concept.

Your perception of how you foresee many of the tech startups addressing complex issues, for both society and industries/businesses?
We are perhaps in the most significant part of a startup era, which is already witnessing an entrepreneurial revolution – if you may call it so. I expect to see tech startups addressing all sorts of issues across industries. Startups are already working on some of the pressing issues that persist in Punjab and beyond. Modern world issues like access to finance, digital literacy, waste management, and alternative farming are some areas of concern that tech startups have started addressing. They are working on solutions leading to social, economic, and environmental impacts. The good news is that this is only the beginning. With continued effort and support from all stakeholders and outstanding accel intervention, some notable trends will appear in the ecosystem soon. Talking about addressing concerning issues, we as a mission also focus on supporting women entrepreneurs and have a dedicated intervention for them.

Which emerging technologies can be leveraged by these startups that would have a significant impact?
We have technologies like AI (Artificial Intelligence), machine learning, and augmentative reality, which startups can and must leverage to bring about a significant impact. We need not just great business ideas today; organisations must have a tech-savvy approach to rendering themselves useful in this digital tech-drenched generation. Startups are coming up with tech-backed innovations that can both solve traditional and contemporary issues. For instance, some startups are creating solutions to eradicate stubble burning; if commercially viable, they can significantly impact the environment and air quality of north India.

Is there any other significant factor you wish to highlight?
Some of the country’s most prominent startups sprouted from the State of Punjab. Entrepreneurs from Punjab have built Indian as well as foreign companies, which have a combined net worth of more than 150 Billion USD (105,000 crore rupees), and there are over 22 incubators, a significant number of strong e-cells, research institutes, and 650+ startups in Punjab alone! This is worth noticing because it testifies to the presence of a lot of potential and entrepreneurial spirit within the state. Youngsters oozing with talents are taking the entrepreneurial plunge, and I am excited about their journey. It is indeed the time to take the most daring plunge if they want to because there are several support opportunities they can equip themselves with if they know who and where to approach. As a mission, we are trying to provide opportunities to them and de-risk them towards their startup journey while building their capacity.

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