Hyderabad: the next innovation address of India
"I was not sure if I wanted to join the government as I had heard the same clichés we all hear about working with the government. It's too bureaucratic, and the files keep going from one place to another. Today, I want to bust this myth and get more and more entrepreneurs to work with the government. If the intention is right and if you want to make things happen, then you can do it in the government. Telangana government operates like a fast-paced startup", says Phanindra Sama, the celebrated Founder of redBus, and now the Chief Innovation Officer of the state of Telangana.
A new Hyderabad in the making
If a city could tell a story, then Hyderabad has many to tell. The capital of Telangana, the youngest state of India formed as recently as June 2, 2014, is leaving no stone unturned to become the next innovation address of the country. After all, it has to make up for the 10 years it lost in the agitation, which led to the formation of the state.
Many times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, "Innovation and out of the box thinking are key to realising the dream of New India." And, pushing hard on the pedal is Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR, a 42-year-old politician who works like any new-age startup entrepreneur to raise the bar of his state.
In fact, the very day Telangana was formed, KTR launched T-Hub, which has now become an iconic place for startups and innovators from across the country. He also on-boarded none other than Phanindra Sama as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the state in 2017. After all, who but Phani could be the first innovation officer for a newly-formed state in India.
KTR is also an astute salesman who is clinching every possible deal for the state, be it getting Uber to set up shop or Amazon.
Any investor who comes to the state supposedly gets a 15-day clearance for mega projects and 30 days for other projects - apparently the shortest time frame in our country. And a penalty is levied on government officials who cause delays. No wonder then that players like IKEA to Walmart, OPPO, P&G, J&J, MRF Tyres, Tata Boeing Aerospace facility (TBAL), and Toshiba have started their operations in Hyderabad. IKEA not only opened its first Indian store here, but also invested Rs 1,000 crore, among several other players.
Working President of Telangana Rashtra Samithi KTR addresses an event in T-Hub, attended by luminaries like Ratan Tata (seated extreme right).
The first of many firsts
And the list of Hyderabad’s many firsts continues with WE-Hub, India’s first state-led women entrepreneurs incubation programme. Then came RICH (Research and Innovation circle of Hyderabad), which on-boarded Ajit Rangnekar of ISB fame, to ensure academic institutions think and do more of research -- an aspect in which most premier institutes in our country lag behind their international counterparts.
Moreover, Hyderabad’s accelerated growth begs the question - does a startup and innovation hub need to be populated by software services firms? Shouldn't India’s different innovation centres follow different models of growth? After all, one of our country’s biggest strength lies in our diversity.
Can Hyderabad leverage its legacy of agri-businesses and pharma industries to push the frontiers of innovation in these sectors? Can it correct the lopsided pattern of productivity, which has hitherto seen a sizable pick up only in the IT business and the financial services sectors of post-liberalisation India?
These are only some of the questions Hyderabad is looking to answer in the coming years.
Recently, Telangana was in the global news for launching the world's biggest lift irrigation project. According to Associated Press, 19 pumping stations on the Godavari River lifted water to a height of 618 metres (2,020 feet) to irrigate about four million acres (1.6 million hectares) in Telangana, instead of allowing the floodwaters to flow to the sea. The project was built in three years at an estimated cost of Rs 880 billion ($12.9 billion).
This is one of those milestones we all need to sit up and notice, especially when the other top headline doing the rounds is of Chennai running out of water. How do you bring innovation and forward thinking, and most importantly, get a project of this scale implemented in a country notorious for quick announcements but delayed executions?
Some of the many startups out of Hyderabad
While I was here, I had the opportunity to meet several startups. Check out some of them and how they are scripting a new story for themselves and the state of Telangana. After all, there is a spot vacant for the next big unicorn and Telangana is eager to fill that.
I believe we all need to watch out for Recykal by Abhay Deshpande, last known for selling his venture Martjack to Capillary Technologies. Recykal is attacking the big problem of fragmentation in the waste management space in India by using technology. If you take paper, plastic, and e-waste, the total waste market in India currently stands at $15 billion.
Abhay Deshpande, Director, Recykal
We know that India will be the largest waste generator by 2040. Today, less than 83 percent of waste is collected in our country and worse, less than 30 percent of that waste is treated. Recykal plans to change the statistics. After researching and doing the groundwork for over two years, this startup is on to something. It's an end-to-end cloud-based, full-service waste and recycle-enabling technology that is focussing on sustainability by connecting generators, processors, and recyclers. Recykal’s technology assures 100 percent transparency and traceability in supply chains.
Terra Greens aims to revive sustainable agricultural practices in India through organic farming. This Hyderabad-based startup’s vision is to make organic food accessible to all.
Likitha Bhanu, Executive Director & CEO, Terra Greens
Kheyti is sowing the smart farmer revolution in India. Its ‘Greenhouse-in-a-Box’ kit helps farmers produce far more while using less water. A modular greenhouse with a drip irrigation system, the startup’s product has helped farmers increase their incomes.
Then, there is Intuitive’s communications platform that automates, controls, and improves customer interactions over the phone by building a virtual custom cloud contact centre, which fits all needs and can be easily integrated with any existing business infrastructure.
Chandradeo Arya, Director, Intuitive
Plan A Plant, started by a former Google executive, is solving a problem we all witness during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja. The problem of lakes, ponds, rivers, and any other water body filling up with idols that take years to decompose. These idols are often made of chemicals and plaster of Paris, which continue to poison the water where they are immersed. Plan A Plant has a patented Ganesh idol, which when immersed results in a plant growing in its place.
Divyanjani Ganesh and Amar, Directors at Plan A Plant
(Please note that this is, by no means, an indicative list but just some of the startups I met on this trip to the city.)
On the road to innovation, things to ponder
But amid all this growth, one big impediment that Hyderabad cannot overlook is the perils of a fast-growing city. Last Friday, when I was there, it rained heavily and the whole city seemed to have come to a standstill.
I was in Gachibowli and people who were coming to the event we had organized said it took them three hours to reach. In fact, many were stuck - unable to even reach our event. And, this is something Hyderabad has to watch and learn from cities like Bengaluru before it's too late.
Or else, we will have the same stories of infrastructure nightmares we hear about namma Bengaluru.
Here’s hoping that Hyderabad will want an all-new story of its own.
Thank you to Tarun Davuluri from TSIC and Harish Vadde from my team for helping me with some of the information and data.