Wealth Issue 2016: Essay

Rejoice! The Innovation Nation is Here

Amitabh Kant is CEO of NITI Aayog. He is the author of Branding India: An Incredible Story
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And the Government is playing catalyst

IN KEEPING WITH recent developments, let me begin by quoting the title of a famous song by Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changin’.

Surely they are for India. A nation which is poised to have the youngest population in the world by 2030 holds immense potential to be the next economic superpower. Young Indians are thriving on ideas and are not afraid to experiment. Gone are the days when one would be content after landing a job. There is a paradigm shift in the aspirations of the country’s youth today. They want to create and not only seek jobs. They are looking at startup ventures of their own.

Some of the statistics indicate just that. According to the Nasscom India Startup Report 2015, 80,000 jobs were created by startups in India. It is the third largest startup ecosystem globally and around 3-4 new firms are born every day. According to a 2016 survey, 68 per cent of youth would prefer to work for a startup than with a big corporate house, and eight Indian startups are currently in the billion dollar club. Such new ventures will not only help create millions of jobs, they would also help solve many of the problems that plague India. Several startups have already begun to address these problems by leveraging innovative and disruptive technologies.

SocialCops, a data technology startup, is designing a tool that will allow policy-makers, researchers, and journalists to collect, analyse and visualise data on some of the most difficult social and governance issues in the country. The firm collects data from citizens on issues that affect their daily lives such as pot-holes on roads to teacher-attendance in government schools and analyse it all to draw insights and ensure that the reports reach decision and law makers.

With a target to reach out to the remotest corner of the country, Boond provides solutions to various social problems such as the lack of affordable and clean sources of energy which impacts rural India. It caters to various sectors such as education and healthcare, while generating livelihood options and designing solar power centres and products for rural markets.

NanoPix manufactures and sorts out agricultural products on the basis of quality, colour and size by using low-cost camera and computer algorithms.

Leveraging the power and reach of mobile phones, m.Paani aims to solve issues related to basic services such as safe water, education, healthcare, energy and nutrition in rural areas through phone-based loyalty programmes. Those who use the platform earn points in lieu of their mobile phone usage or expenditure on select products which can be monetised for products and services.

Young Indians are thriving on ideas and are not afraid to experiment. Gone are the days when one would be content after landing a job

Hypothermia and infection are among the top causes of newborn deaths. Bempu is a cost-effective bracelet to be worn by a baby during the first two months. It alarms the parent when the baby’s temperature gets too low.

Addressing the needs of the farmers, nurseries, poly-houses and contract farming communities, an online marketplace for agriculture products, BigHaat is a platform for the sale and purchase of products across such categories as seeds, crop protection nutrients and solutions and agro instruments.

The beverage brand Paper Boat of Hector Beverages has renovated traditional Indian beverages and works with agricultural universities and farmers to procure international quality ingredients. Such innovative startups indicate India’s appetite for innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

India offers a huge potential for innovative products and services which can bridge the gaps of affordability, accessibility and availability. While being sustainable and scalable, innovative startups also offer choices, opportunities and self-esteem to those who are deprived of these.

We need innovative solutions to address problems in India like poverty, education, health and sanitation. The Government of India acknowledges the need to equip its youth with the right sets of skill and opportunities to help startups realise their potential and thereby augment the economic activity in the country and address social issues. The Government has taken unprecedented measures like launching the flagship Startup India scheme in January 2016. This has given a much-needed fillip to the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.

The ‘action’ items under the Startup India Action Plan facilitate easy compliance for new companies with various labour and environment laws. A Startup Hub has been set up for resolving queries and providing guidance. The Startup India portal and mobile application offer entrepreneurs easy access to information and facilitate networking support. As for patents, free legal advice is being provided and the patent filing fees has been reduced significantly. With funding being a major problem for many, the Government has—as part of its Action Plan—set up a Fund of Funds to aid startups. Apart from that, various Government departments have funds available for assorted needs of startups such as technology development, startup expansion, patent protection/ in-licensing, technology scale-up/ validation and market entry, among others; there are also incubator related seed funds.

The startup buzz is louder than ever before and we need to ensure that it continues with more and easy access to funds for them, making this a story of inclusion

These are just some of the steps the Government has taken to nurture the country’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition, underlining the need for innovation, the Government has designed the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), including the Self-Employment and Talent Utilisation (SETU) scheme, to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Its objective is to serve as a platform for the promotion of world-class innovation hubs, start-up businesses and other self-employment activities, particularly in technology driven areas. Under the Mission, over 500 ‘tinkering labs’ are being set up to drive innovation at the school level. Besides, Grand Innovation Challenge Awards are intended to identify ultra-low cost solutions to India’s pressing problems. Sector specific incubators, including those operating on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, are also being created.

Along with the Centre, the states too are key stakeholders in shaping India’s startup story. It is imperative that states address the entrepreneurial aspirations of the young and tailor their new- business policies in a manner which is inclusive, drives innovation and provides easy access to funding and infrastructure.

While states and the Centre devise and implement startup policies, the role and participation of other stakeholders such as industry and educational institutions will catalyse the phenomenon. Since infrastructure is a major issue, the Government has already urged India’s top companies to help startups by providing them incubation facilities as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. Several companies are doing their bit. Wipro Ventures is setting up $100 million fund to invest in startups, ONGC is setting up $1 billion fund for the same, Tech Mahindra has earmarked $150 million as a venture capital fund for new businesses. Banks too have pitched in. SBI has launched a Rs 200 crore IT innovation startup fund, Axis Bank has a 10,000-sq ft innovation lab in Bengaluru to invest in start-ups. ICICI has tied up with 22 educational institutions to fund ideas of students. Yes Bank will set up a centre of excellence with a hub for finance tech startups.

The governments of many states are working with premier institutions to achieve similar aims: Telangana with ISB, West Bengal with IIM Calcutta, and Gujarat with IIM Ahmedabad, among others.

A cohesive partnership between public and private entities is expected to give startups an appropriate platform to grow. One such example is T-Hub, which is a PPP among the Telangana government, three of India’s premier academic institutes (IIIT- Hyderabad, ISB and NALSAR) and important private sector leaders; it provides startups with state-of-the-art infrastructure apart from mentoring and guidance.

The startup buzz in the country is louder than ever before and we need to ensure that it continues with more and easy access to funds for them, making this a story of inclusion by encouraging more youth from tier two and three cities and women to live their startup dreams, relaxing tax and regulatory norms to incentivise their choice of India as a base, and driving innovation right from the school level.

The Indian youth is ready. We need to make sure that they are steady on their startup journey.

The Wealth Issue 2016: For the full list of portraits of the Smart-up Generation, click here