Karnataka pushes for agritech startups, sets up Rs 10cr fund


The state government believes there is a huge opportunity for startups in organics and that these startups may eventually get acquired by larger behemoths once they see value.

Startups, take note. The Karnataka government will next week call for a hackathon exclusively for agri-based startups.

Karnataka ITBT and Tourism minister Priyank Kharge (R) speaks at a session on startups at the Organics and Millets National Trade Fair as Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda listens. Photo by R. Raja,

In a first, the state's agriculture department has set aside Rs 10 crore for those with innovative ideas and the fund will be administered by the information technology and biotechnology (ITBT) department.

At a session on startups at the Organics and Millets National Trade Fair, Karnataka's Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda and ITBT and Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge spoke passionately about bringing in tech in a big way in agriculture.

Byre Gowda is the first minister to reserve funds for innovative startups in the agriculture sector after Priyank Kharge, who called for a hackathon among tourism startups to promote Karnataka Tourism which comes under his charge. Kharge, who also holds the ITBT portfolio, has called for four grand challenges so far in different areas, including a recent one on nutrition, and distributed a total of Rs 2.70 crore government funds for the tourism hackathon and grand challenge winners.

This is the first time the state's agriculture department is calling for technology-enabled ideas and innovative ways to address challenges in agriculture. The state is also the first to come out with an organic policy.

According to Byre Gowda, said the idea of holding a startup session in an Organic and Millet conclave came because there are no large players in organics. He said,

"This is a good match for startups. In fact, more than 70 percent of the exhibitors here (at the National Trade Fair) are all startups in one form or the other. They are blending technology with ideas and catering to the value-conscious urban consumer. It’s a great space for young startup entrepreneurs and they can deliver value to the planet, farmers and consumers. Eventually they will get acquired by large companies."

Agri to aerospace

Kharge said Karnataka is the only state in the country that provides funds for startups from agriculture to aerospace. “There are lots of innovations in tier-2 cities. We are calling all innovators to register themselves with the state startup cell and be eligible for grants.”

Speaking of innovations and technology in agriculture, he said a farmer in Shimoga uses drones to spray pesticides and nutrients on his arecanut farm. “In fact, he has programmed the drone in such a way that everyday it takes off on its own on a pre-determined path, sprays whatever is required on the upper reaches of trees and plants and lands back after the job is done. This is how we want bright minds to come up with simple but effective ideas,” he told the audience at the session.

Ease of doing business

Stressing that Karnataka ranks first in ease of doing business, he said the state has a single window agency in Karnataka Udyog Mitra for helping industries and startups, while his department’s startup cell is a single window agency for granting the idea2POC funds. There are already 2,400 startups including agri-based ones registered with the startup cell. A total of Rs 200 crore worth of funds is available for those qualifying under this scheme.

“We do not even want equity while granting funds. We only look for bright ideas that can help growth and development in different sectors. We are sure development and research will follow,” Kharge said.

The ministers also said the selected startups will be able to work with government departments which will give them access to conduct field trials all over the state. “Such offers are hard to come by and need to be grabbed,” the moderator of the session said.

Already, the Karnataka government has sanctioned funds ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 25 lakh for eight tourism startups, totalling Rs 1.90 crore. Of the promised amounts, 25 percent or the first tranche has already been paid to them within months of getting selected.

Going by the funding of tourism startups, it can be expected that the Rs 10 crore fund set aside for agri-startups will incubate atleast 50 bright companies. “The selection depends on how many register when we open up the hackathon and what kind of social impact they intend to bring as well as the kind of technology they will use. We will be calling for them in the first week of May and decide on the winners within a fortnight or so,” Kharge said..

Byre Gowda said Karnataka is the only state that supports startups with a dedicated agri fund, adding that for those who are not eligible, there is a separate fund for companies in the food processing business.

Though the session was on startups, there were very few questions on the sector as many farmers took the opportunity to request the agriculture minister to hold such events at the district level to help them understand and switch to organic farming.