Entrepreneurship isn’t about billion-dollar valuations, but making a difference: AP Innovation Society's Winny Patro


“Bengaluru didn’t become the Silicon Valley of India just because there was space for startups. What made it was the ecosystem, the access, the environment which enabled startups to do things in a better way. And that’s what we want for Andhra Pradesh.”

Winny Patro, CEO of AP Innovation Society, with these words, encourageed people to start up in Andhra Pradesh.

Winny was in conversation with Madanmohan Rao, Research Director at YourStory, at the recently held TechSparks 2018.

They began the discussion with a light-hearted comparison between traffic conditions in Andhra Pradesh and Bengaluru. Winny claimed Visakhapatnam arguably offered the best work-life balance among the top 10 cities in India.

Benchmarking with global ecosystems

Continuing the thread on creating an enabling environment for startups, Winny said, “At the end of the day, it’s the ecosystem that matters. We want to create a conducive environment for startups to flourish. We want to give them preferential treatment in both tangible and intangible ways.

"For instance, we have a policy in place which enables the state government to match a certain amount of investment that a startup is getting from an external investor. Then we have the intangibles. If there are startups that want to enter into a private-public partnership (PPP) model, or reach out to larger masses through the government, or take their product to market, we have teams in place and people who understand the priority and help connect startups with market access.”

He said they were studying the startup ecosystem in places like Israel, Finland and Singapore, trying to benchmark Andhra Pradesh with international policies.

Bridging the skill gap

He mentioned that one of the challenge areas not just in Andhra Pradesh, but across the country, was the skills gap. Students are not aware of what the industry is looking for and what’s actually happening on the ground.

To this end, he said his government was taking a number of measures, like introducing value-added courses relevant to the industry, and collaborating with the industry to act as knowledge partners in institutions. “Ultimately, it’s not about skill, it’s the aspirational issue that’s a challenge. Jobs today are for those with entrepreneurial thinking.”

He continued, “A state like ours does not have any big cities, we mostly have Tier II and Tier III cities. Most colleges do not have the kind of ecosystem that exists in metros. So, we are giving the students exposure by setting up student innovation cells, and partnering with ecosystem partners from the industry who can enable them to learn about technology or build solutions. To become one of the top economies, the talent pool should have a thinking mindset. So we throw open challenges for problem-solving by organising hackathons etc. which have got a good response.”

When asked what technologies they were focusing on, he mentioned that the AP government has been using Blockchain extensively for major initiatives. It has already implemented it for land registrations, and is working to implement it across other departments too. Another area where’s they are focusing on is cybersecurity. “We have policies for cybersecurity. In fact, the AP state government has created a cybersecurity centre of excellence that can be used by other departments to build products for their own departments so that their data is secure.”

Going beyond valuations in entrepreneurship

Describing the AP Innovation Society as ‘20 percent think tank and 80 percent execution vehicle’, Winny said, “It is the level of startups that attract investors to a state. We are still in a young stage and have been working hard for the last few years to create a magnetic force for investors to come here and participate. We have policies in place, we want to evolve and keep on making changes to become the most sought-after startup destination.”

Winny said the time had come to show the world the untapped opportunity in the Indian ecosystem, namely that of rural entrepreneurship. “Most startups built for urban consumers as most founders have more urban exposure. Entrepreneurship isn’t always about running behind billion-dollar valuations. There is a huge opportunity in rural entrepreneurship to solve local problems as well as one of the key problems the world is facing today– creation of jobs, and bring about large-scale sustainable growth and development.”

Making the most of opportunities from tier II, III cities

Earlier in the session, Manish Ghoshal Senior Consultant, AP Innovation Society, spoke about rural entrepreneurship and why one should consider starting up in tier II and tier III cities.

He began by saying that Andhra Pradesh had more tier II and tier III cities than metros and went on to share some interesting facts with the audience. “In 2017, around 5,900 startups were registered in India. In a year, there was a 44 percent increase, and in 2018, there were 8,600 startups registered in India. What’s interesting is that all the startups contributing to this 44 percent rise have been from tier II and tier III cities.

Manish said the internet had broken the erstwhile rural and urban divide and the knowledge and innovation quotient had increased, with startups now being able to fulfil a number of hitherto undermet and unmet needs and demands. Advances in technology had brought about disruption in logistics, last mile delivery, and combined with competitive access to financial resources, community resources and knowledge resources, had given Tier II and Tier III cities an edge over Tier 1 cities in some areas at least. “The key driver in Tier II and Tier III cities is the more the problems the more the opportunities. Tier 1 cities do not face problems related to last mile connectivity etc,” he said.

Mentioning how the state of Andhra Pradesh was focusing on its key strengths -- agritech, marine tech, electro-motives, manufacturing, and fintech -- Manish said the state government had startup-friendly policies that encouraged entrepreneurship and innovation and sought to create a sustainable ecosystem to solve the most imminent problem of employment. Added to that, Manish said they also had ample incubation space, academic access, access to financial resources, a competitive B2C model, market access, and collaboration with both Indian and international industry players, which made Andhra Pradesh a great place to start up.


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