Karnataka’s IT minister Priyank Kharge is coming up with a slew of initiatives to keep Bengaluru ahead as a startup city. Among the radical changes being planned are bringing in more trust between the government and startups, and spreading tech to hitherto unknown sectors.
In an exclusive interview with YourStory, Priyank reveals that soon the government’s guidelines for funding startups will be changed. Once that happens, those with ideas will no longer have to sit at government-sponsored incubation centres to be eligible for funds.
“Anyone with a good idea can register with the Karnataka Startup Cell. Once the idea is approved, we will fund them. At this stage, they can choose to sit at any place of their choice – either work from their homes, from garages or even on the move from a laptop! This will be a game changer as we understand that it may sometimes be a problem to sit around at government incubation centres,’’ says Priyank.
Such an approach, he firmly believes, will help fuel the startup ecosystem. Only such bold policies will ensure that the numbers will increase and the government will also be able to distribute more funds across several sectors.
According to the plan that is unfolding, Priyank wants a startup to move from an idea to proof-of-concept stage quickly. “We are willing to bet on new ideas and fund up to Rs 50 lakh for every idea. The government is willing to take that risk and we have to do that to sustain the startup ecosystem.”
The minister, though barely 37 years and young compared to the Congress team in Karnataka, is someone who has already gone through the pains of having started startups earlier and understands what happens when too many conditions and stringent norms are put on free spirited entrepreneurs by the government.
“The government should play the role of enabler. I am keen that the department closes several gaps by playing not just the role of fund giver, but also include mentoring, incubation, offer legal and accounting help as well as funding.’’
Version 2.0 of the startup policy is on its way soon, for which the minister has invited suggestions from industry heads and those involved in the startup ecosystem.
The startup cell has a five-year term (2015 till 2020). Priyank says he is burning the midnight oil to come up with a version 2.0, which will include several amendments to the policy. He sees the new central policy on startups as a good booster, but feels there is a need for states to go beyond it and come up with its own plans.
Priyank understands Bengaluru is already ahead and to keep up the momentum and maintain the lead, more needs to be done. And quickly too. Those wanting to contribute ideas and suggestions can mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com.
The Karnataka government has already allocated Rs 250 crore seed fund for startups and the money is currently not distributed yet. Priyank feels the way forward is to allocate specific funds to specific sectors, thereby spreading technology to newer and untapped sectors.
“By being more inclusive, we will be giving more opportunities and help spread the use of technology everywhere,” he says.
Among the priorities identified are women entrepreneurs. The department will reserve Rs 10 crore for startups headed by women entrepreneurs; for agri ventures the government has set aside Rs 10 crore; priority will also be given to those developing technology for use by the government – primarily those inclined towards developing social applications.
A special fund of Rs 10 crore will also be reserved for entrepreneurs belonging to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities who are into Internet of Things, developing apps and work in technology. He feels such a special fund will help close the technology gap between communities as such opportunities provided by the government can go a long way in improving development goals.
In the recently launched India’s first Centre of Excellence for Internet of Things at the NASSCOM warehouse in Bengaluru, the 1250 sqft facility boasts of demo rooms and tools that can save time and quickly help startups take their product to the market.
It is a joint initiative between the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), ERNET, NASSCOM and central and state governments. It is supported by large MNCs.
It aims to provide incubation infrastructure, prototype development, system integration, testing facilities and others. The facility has been set up at a cost of Rs 22 crore, which has been shared equally between the state and central government.
Priyank says it has the potential to become an IoT powerhouse. There are 300 more seats up for grabs at this facility.
Priyank, who also holds the Tourism portfolio, is keen to spread the startup culture in the untapped tourism sector too. “I have set aside a small amount of Rs 5 crore this year for those with new ideas and those keen on developing apps related to the tourism sector. In my initial discussion with officials, we have seen there is great potential here and technology can really play a vital role in developing tourism,” he says.
He also indicated that there will not be a dearth of funds as he is speaking to the private sector as well, which involves both venture capitalists and accelerators, to fund more startups from Bengaluru and elsewhere in the state.
The government will also ask the private sector to pitch in with funds so that more funds will be available for technology companies. “We can raise up to Rs 2,000 crore a year,’’ he says confidently.
“The version 2.0 that I am looking forward to will have lots of amendments and contain ideas for the future. We want to construct a solid base so that others can build on this in future,” he says.
Priyank says the government also plans to open up the startup ecosystem to increase the lenders as, he claimed, close to a billion dollar was raised only by startups in Bengaluru.
While Apple has already agreed to set up its app development centre in Bengaluru, many such large MNCs that encourage accelerators want to set up shop here as the sector will enjoy the best of both government and private support. It will also boost the whole ecosystem and make availability of funds easier and provide access to markets across the globe.
“I am already talking to a dozen top MNCs and urging them to set up their development centres in the city, as Bengaluru has a lot of talent and the government wants to promote such initiatives actively. Once we facilitate such access, I am sure it will be a game-changer for the entire startup ecosystem,” says the young minister.
Close to his heart: As part of a futuristic plan, the Karnataka Audio Visual Effects Animation Gaming and Comics will be given a special thrust. “We are going to make Bengaluru a hub for this. I am in the process of initiating a KAVBG fund and want to raise at least Rs 50 crore from both the government and private sector, as there is a huge potential for this sector to grow,’’ says Priyank, who is a qualified animator.
He wants to raise funds for this sector, which is close to his heart, within the next three months. Among plans are a digital city, which will have world-class post-production labs and will become a centre for excellence in animation.