Starting up in uncharted territories – The North Karnataka story

YourStory is proud to partner with the Government of Karnataka’s ‘Invest Karnataka’ that will showcase the strides made in industrial development by the State and will also attract investments from across the world. The event is to be held between 3 and 5 February 2016 in Bengaluru. As we begin the countdown to the event, we shine a spotlight on North Karnataka that is quickly emerging as a technology hub.

Rustic charm, multi-lingual culture, and a cosmopolitan outlook, North Karnataka with its largely untapped market is waiting to be explored! This commercial hub is home to a wide cluster of industries and has more than one lakh small and medium industries and the number is just growing. The region is now witnessing a revolutionary crop of entrepreneurs who are taking these very traditional businesses to a whole new level with a technological twist. In this story, we trace the beginning of an ecosystem in a territory where access to something as basic as a telephone connection and electricity was once a challenge and uttering the dreaded ‘Technology’ word, an act of bravery.

The initial struggle

“We had to scramble for a landline connection. We were among the first few to have access to telephonic communication in the region, when we started operations,” says Santosh Huralikoppi, CEO, NSI. Challenges for entrepreneurs who went against the tide to startup were aplenty. In a land dominated by agriculture and commercial trade, entrepreneurs who wanted to dabble in technology felt like outcastes. However, lack of players in the market proved to be a bitter-sweet experience for ones taking the unconventional route back then. While the market was largely untouched, not many were willing to take the digital route to go to the next level. Convincing traditional businessmen to invest in something intangible was quite an uphill task. But things started changing slowly for the better.

Building a network

So how did they manage to get out of a situation so dissuading? They joined hands! “That has always been the case, even today we thrive on the business we give to each other,” says Shashank Revankar Founder, Kooki Consumer Electronics, an electronic product startup based out of Hubli. Unlike bigger cities where cut-throat competition and blame-games are a norm, the startup ecosystem in this region is flourishing because of old school values like unity and friendship. Speaking of building, how difficult is it to build and retain a team in a city where most techies would not prefer to live in, owing to limited job opportunities and lack of infrastructure? “We need good managers to retain employees and keep the team motivated,” says Vivek Pawar, Executive CEO of Sankalp Semiconductors, a company which began operations in the year 2005 with 10 employees and is one the fastest growing analog andmixed-signal semiconductor companies in India with 450 employees, which began operations in Hubli.

External support

While being there for each other is of great help, support from the government is largely lacking. Stating that there not many policies in place and stressing on the policy of self-help is the best help, Santosh says,“In regions like these, you need to fend for yourselves. Startups in general need to survive on their own.”But why are investors shying away from investing in startups in the region? “Big giants will come to Hubli when there are many entrepreneurs with great ideas. The number has to grow,” reasons Vivek. “Events like TechSparks that came to Hubli in 2015 were extremely helpful and it is events like these that will open new doors for entrepreneurs in the region,” says Anand G. Naik, MD and CEO, Boredbees Tech Solutions Pvt Ltd, stressing on the difference media intervention can make.

What it looks like today

Cut to today, the startup ecosystem in North Karnataka looks as vibrant and promising as in any big city. What is most striking is how ideas have popped out of features distinct to the region.“We struck upon an idea to startup after a distress call from a Mercedes owner stuck in the wild Western Ghats with multiple flat tyres,” says Amit Doshi, Co-founder, Fit my tyre, an on-demand tyre replacement company operating out of Belgaum. Conventional businesses are now realising the revolutionary powers of technology and are embracing it more than ever which is encouraging a larger sect of the population to take the entrepreneurial plunge.

The road ahead

With territories marked and basic infrastructure in place, the journey of the startup ecosystem in North Karnataka has only begun. Belgaum being listed among the top 20 smart cities by the Government is also an interesting development to note. Given the size of the market and a large number of prestigious technological universities, things are looking bright and promising. But what would be the ‘one thing’ that could set startups from this part of the country apart from the rest?

“Startup with a purpose that is beyond money, startup to make for India,” says Vivek.

Wise leaders, great ideas and a largely untapped market, North Karnataka is definitely going to be a space to watch out for!

With an aim to provide a digitally enhanced user platform to all the participants in the Invest Karnataka, Global Investors Summit, the Government of Karnataka recently launched the Invest Karnataka 2016 mobile application. You can download the app on your Android device.


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