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Kerala Has Created A Robust Startup Ecosystem In a Non Tier 1 Space, Says IT Secy, Kerala

Over the days, India has been performing spectacularly in the startup sphere. Having said that, the Government has been quite functional in assisting startups.

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The Indian startup ecosystem has been growing on a massive scale these days. The Government of Kerala has been really pro-active in boosting the startup ecosystem of Kerala, through Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), the central agency of the Government of Kerala for entrepreneurship development and incubation activities in Kerala, India.

In an elaborate conversation with Express Computer’s Gairika Mitra, M Sivasankar IAS, Secretary IT, Govt. of Kerala, tells us about the startup scene as a whole in India.

Edited excerpts:

We met last year for the annual ‘Huddle Summit’ at Kovalam. What has changed ever since?

My answer would be, come and check out during this Huddle.
Seriously, I think the teething troubles and early level issues have been managed and overcome, substantially and the startup ecosystem has really evolved into a level of growth and maturity. Two good things are 1) the startups are quite diverse in their field of operations from complex hardware startups to interesting software/ app-based products and 2) there are more and more professionals and experienced personnel now setting up companies and student startups are getting right-sized. With around 36 incubators,  thematic accelerators and common infrastructure like Fablabs and software suite libraries, the support facilities are being leveraged well.

At the recent, ‘Seeding Kerala’ investment summit, an investment of 70 crores was announced into startups. Could you tell us more about it?

This is mostly by local angel networks, CSR and a few venture investments as well. From Professional organisations like TiE to a local Rice Mill (Pavizham) which invested 1 cr of their CSR on Red Button, a woman safety device, the investors also indicate a very interesting and healthy diversity.

As per a recent Nasscom report, over 1,300 startups have been added in 2019. The number is significantly low as compared to the West. How can we have more startups operating in India?

It is not essentially a number game. The quality, sustainability, and scalability are the parameters. I think if we do a health audit of startups, failure rates are much much lower in India. At least in the Kerala context the failed startup numbers have been very low. Instances of pivoting also have come down drastically. This indicates that the new generation of startups have spent lots of efforts in planning, execution and market assessment.

That being said, the number of women entrepreneurs isn’t that impressive overall. How can this be addressed?

True. We run a program ‘She Loves Tech’ and also a few focused efforts like a winter school for women startups. I think one woman startup breaking into the big league would give a great boost to the confidence of potential woman startups.

What kind of tech startups are operating out of Kerala now? Are you looking forward to catering to other states too?

As I mentioned earlier from startups working on Space Technologies to Robotics, the range is quite diverse. Kerala Blockchain Academy and Unity center of Excellence for AR/ VR is also exciting mentoring systems for a new breed of tech startups. FabLabs, Centers of Excellence, Accelerators etc are available for startups from outside the state as well.

Lastly, what are upcoming plans in the pipeline to help out startups and have more of them?

We had focused on building the pipeline right from the school and college levels and provided a market place by opening up Government procurement to startups. Since we had very limited venture funding opportunities, we started a program of Seeding Kerala. Next stage, we set up two Fund of Funds with Startup Mission coming in as a limited partner. Now we are Limited Partners to four such funds. Channelising CSR, addressing working capital financing issues of startups have been other major strategic and tactical steps. Overall there is buoyancy, excitement and the ecosystem is stabilising. We can, I think, in all modesty claim to have tried and created an ideal set of interventions to build a robust startup ecosystem in a non tier 1 geography.

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