The silicon coast of India

Written by Rajesh Ravi | Updated: Apr 22 2014, 10:41am hrs
The formation of a telecom startup incubator in April 2012 seems to have done the magic for Kerala, a state that has so often missed the bus when it comes to investment and technology. Jointly promoted by the Kerala government and private investors, the Startup Village in suburban Kochi is attracting eager youngsters in hordes and one of its projects could well turn out be the next billion-dollar technology company from India. The Startup Village receives more than 150 applications every month, which is a far cry from the status before 2012. The state had only 20 startups in the period 2006-09. The Startup Village has more than 1,500 applicants, of which 532 are supported as on January 2013. The most interesting part is that 188 of these are student startups. Amidst a backdrop infamous for red tape and trade unionism, the emerging scenario is encouraging.

The success of the incubator has surprised many, as the state is known for its bad investment climate and inadequate support system. Youngsters have traditionally opted for academics and took up jobs, as the culture of entrepreneurship was almost non-existent. Things are changing and Kerala is on the cusp of transformation, feels Sanjay Vijayakumar, chairman of the Startup Village. When we founded MobME (Mobile Media & Entertainment) in 2006, it was the first incubated company in Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram. People thought we were crazy. Things have changed in the last few years and now youngsters believe that they can do something great in Kerala. Maybe develop a world-class company like Google. There is fire in their bellies and the ecosystem is the best, he says. He adds that two dozen companies in the Startup Village are already funded and ready for the next stage.

Young entrepreneurs are confident and are getting much-required support, which includes mentoring from successful entrepreneurs like Kris Gopalakrishnan and Asha Jadeja Motwani. In fact, Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys is the chief mentor of the Startup Village, and Asha Jadeja tells us that everything she has seen about the Startup Village promises to bring an exciting and cutting-edge new culture of entrepreneurship in Kerala.

Abhinav Sree, co-founder of two startupsInnoz (offline search engine) and Springr (platform for artists)feels it is a great time for entrepreneurs. There are angels and institutions looking for brilliant ideas to invest in. Right from Technopark TBI, incubators in college to Startup Village and TiE Kerala, we have a great support system for entrepreneurs. I have been supported by Technopark, TiE Kerala, KFC and Startup Village. Entrepreneurs are more aware of the government schemes to help them and the various avenues where they can get support, he says.

The state government has now announced a student entrepreneurship policy under which 20% grace attendance and 4% grace marks would be given to students who start a venture. The government is also launching a project that offers 100 teams of five college students each a Startup Tool Box, which will have high-end computers, smartphones and other technology items required to create a startup. In the second phase, the government hopes to encourage school-going students into the programme. Around 10,000 students from classes VIII to XII will be chosen through an online exam and provided material to improve their technology skills as part of the new project.

Sanjay Vijayakumar says that youngsters today are ready to take the risk. They think they can develop a world-class company here and now even the parents are supportive. An interesting example is of 23-year-old Rohildev N, founder, CEO and the sole employee of the company Robotic Human Logic (RHL) Vision. He attended a talk at the Startup Village in early 2012. He grabbed the opportunity and began work on Fin, a smart-ring that you can wear on your thumb and which works as the interface of a smartphone. The young entrepreneur from a village in Malappuram expects to ship the first consignment of 1,500 Fins to the US by September this year. Fin was also one among the top 15 companies at the TechCrunch CES Hardware Battlefield in Las Vegas recently.

The Startup Village is playing a major role in providing the youngsters the much-needed confidence. And they are working at all levels to make sure the dream of a silicon coast is realised. From creating funding opportunities, providing platforms for more exposure to changing government policies to foster growth, they are surely the main force in changing Kerala into an entrepreneurs dream land, Abhinav Sree says.