A globally-competitive tech-solutions/app ecosystem can’t be sustained without government partnership.
Last week, after four months of vetting, the government finally announced the winner of its video-conferencing app challenge. Vconsol, by Techgentsia, a start-up from Kerala, won the competition; the app focuses on security and uses OTP as an authentication method for login. The company will receive Rs 1 crore as prize money from the government, apart from Rs 10 lakh for operation and maintenance for the next three years. Additionally, the government will use the app on a contract basis. In April, when the government had announced the challenge for Indian start-ups to build an alternative to the likes of Zoom, it had received 1,983 applications.
Over the last few months, following a rigorous process, it narrowed the list down to 12 participants, giving each R 10-12 lakh for app development. It then selected five, with Rs 20 lakh each to three for further development and Rs 15 lakh to the other two. From this pool, four finalists were selected, and last week, the government also announced Rs 25 lakh rewards for Sarv Webs Pvt. Ltd. (Sarv Wave), PeopleLink Unified Communications Pvt Ltd (Insta VC), Instrive Softlabs Pvt Ltd (HydraMeet), to develop their product within the next three months. All four companies will be listed on the government’s GeM portal so that government bodies can get into contracts with them for video-conferencing solutions.
Such hackathons are not a new approach; the government, via NITI Aayog and other agencies, has been conducting similar challenges to rope in private players to build apps. However, the scope for continued engagement, until now, has been limited. The video challenge marks the first step with regards to the government actively promoting Indian apps. The government partnered an international hackathon-organising forum for ‘Hack the crisis’ in April, to encourage tech-solutions for addressing different aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has announced a line-up of hackathons. While this is welcome, more proactive support from the government is needed, via the kind of engagement the GeM listing for the video-conferencing apps represents. Also, such solutions should not be just crisis-response or a knee-jerk reaction.
The government needs to help build start-ups in the field of health-tech, agri-tech, ed-tech, etc. It also needs to promote innovations in new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, mixed reality, and robotics. Some states have started incorporating such solutions for better governance. Agra partnered with the start-up Gaia and Microsoft to create a corona dashboard for the city, and Mumbai did the same, too; many governments and city administrations purchased drones from Garuda, a Chennai-based company, to sanitise large areas. Apart from providing initial capital and facilitating incubation programmes—these have been going on for long now—governments at all levels need to hire start-ups through contracts for faster or better government-service delivery. A globally-competitive tech-solutions/app ecosystem can’t be sustained without government partnership.