Seaside 'village' in India to nurture software start-ups

Dec 04 2012, 11:02 IST
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A gardener plants seedlings at the entrance of Start-up Village in Kinfra High Tech Park in the southern Indian city of Kochi.  (Reuters) A gardener plants seedlings at the entrance of Start-up Village in Kinfra High Tech Park in the southern Indian city of Kochi. (Reuters)
SummaryA caption at Infosys reads: "We started Infosys in a room about this size, it's your turn now."

of regulations and half-hearted government support.

LACK OF INGENUITY

The newer start-ups in Bangalore or Kerala are eying products not services. Many bring ideas catering to the booming market of domestic online shoppers, like Flipkart, the nation's most heavily financed e-commerce company. But financial backers for such ventures are few and far between.

"We are a fixed-deposit country," said Rajesh Sawhney, founder of GSF Superangels that provides angel and seed funding to start-ups. "Our investors are risk-averse. They don't trust young people with their money."

Fewer than 150 start-ups are promoted by venture capital or angel investors annually in India. There are over 60,000 angel investments, made in the early stages of a start-up, alone per year in the United States, according to an Indian government report.

Experts believe India is handicapped by a lack of ingenuity.

It ranks 64th on the Global Innovation Index, much below other BRICS nations. Indian graduates, largely trained in services, have difficulty innovating beyond that approach.

Barely 700 technology product startups are launched every year in India versus over 14,000 in the United States, according to the Microsoft Accelerator database.

For India's risk-averse middle-class, entrepreneurship is the last recourse of the unemployed.

"If you go to a function, and someone asks you where you are working, and if you don't say Infosys or Wipro, they say: 'Oh you did not get placement (for a job)'," said Startup Village member Sreekumar Ravi.

Ravi is working on creating an affordable multi-touch computing surface that could change the way people window shop in malls or place orders in restaurants.

Startup Village aims to pluck innovators from college campuses, and bring them into the fold after evaluating their business ideas. Many of its in-house entrepreneurs are in their mid-twenties.

But critics are sceptical if Startup Village would be able to launch the next Infosys in India - or even be successful in its goal of incubating 1,000 online companies.

"I will be thrilled if they do even a quarter of that number But do I think they will do more than 100? No." said Mohan from Microsoft Accelarator. "I mean I hope they succeed. But hope is not a strategy, hope is only a prayer."

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