Dr Omkar Rai, Director General, Software Technology Parks of India, in conversation with Sandhya Michu shares how an autonomous society like STPI, under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, is building a sustainable startup ecosystem with a pool of industry collaborations and chief mentors to make India a software product country
Can you explain the transformation journey of STPI from its inception days?
STPI was formed in 1991 in order to ease out import and export hiccups. Software exports were not recognised by the customs department and that’s when the ministry created this platform to ease this system and we were the only single window to look after it. Secondly, the most challenging aspect at that point in time was to provide internet to the software exporters as many businesses required to get in touch with their counterparts and required high-speed secure internet connections.
STPI was licensed to provide them satellite-based internet gateways and provided small and medium entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with it. The idea was to facilitate import-export, and we did well, if you look at the export made by STPI in 2018-19 it has crossed `4 lakh 24 thousand crores and this is almost 50 per cent of the total exports from India. Now the point is that since India has 56 per cent of the total share in outsourcing IT service globally, but in terms of software products, the growth is not significant. As of now in terms of software products market, India is about US$ 512 billion, so the country’s share was nearly 8.2 per cent globally, till 2019.
People often raise questions that we do not have Facebook, WhatsApp, Adobe or Google. When STPI was created we were required to create jobs to put our talent in the outsourcing industry. Today, we have about 4.1 million professionals working in the field of IT service industry. The idea is to transform and capitalise the experience and talent of the IT service industry. The entire success of the startup industry of India is witnessing is because of the strong IT services in India. Therefore, we are working very closely with MeitY and a large number of stakeholders to build a platform where we can focus on the domain-specific incubators which can be made operational in the most practical and professional manner. STPI is endeavoring to create Centres of Excellence (COEs) and be functional in the emerging technologies as there are more opportunities and values in technologies like AI, IoT. We have launched six COEs in 2019 and 15 more are planned for in 2020. We want to work for transformation of India as a software product nation.
How do you view the existing startup base in India? What does STPI bring to the table?
Looking at the past of STPI, we have implemented the Infrastructure Service Provider (ISP) Scheme, wherein we incentivised the creation of infrastructure. We created IT Parks that came up in Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, and Bangalore. Incubators require some infrastructure and so we have created this infrastructure all over the country and have promoted these incubators. In 2020, we are coming up with a new avatar in terms of letter and spirit and it is on the ground rolling. And as a part of the government, we have been interfacing with them since inception. The startup system requires nurturing, collaboration is to be looked at in a big and important way. Collaboration in terms that we provide an environment in which we can depute a veteran of the industry as a chief mentor of the COE.
STPI is planning to make India a product nation. Can you share the roadmap?
For making India a product nation you have to create startups and they will create products. India is now becoming an electronics manufacturing nation but of course, in the value chain we are a little at the middle somewhere, but the component industries are also picking up. And once this evolves, we will go ahead in terms of electronics manufacturing.
As I said, manufacturing is a challenge for us for many reasons but now things are lined up with state governments, the central government easing the norms, ease of doing business, labour reforms. I think it’s all going in a good direction and slowly the knowledge is being built up within India. All these clusters are doing well and it is creating a great foundation for large scale manufacturing.
Additionally, STPI is transforming its incubation services into smart incubation services. We are giving world-class infrastructure services. But we are now looking towards those services through which we can mentor the startups from the initial stage to their product completion. For this, we are going to launch a program that will be called a next-gen incubation program. It is in the finalisation stage and very soon we’ll be able to launch this at a few centers as a pilot.
In this particular program, we are just providing services through which we can map the lifecycle of the incubator, since the inception of their ideas to the product in the market. The highlight of this model is that we are only looking for collaborations. In our country we do not have proper collaborations – in academies, people are doing research, but are not able to market their products in the industry. Basically, STPI is now transforming towards serving the needs of those startups and now we are motivating them to create new products.