Entrepreneurship and starting up is no more a big city phenomenon. While small towns have been a poor place to do business, things are slowly changing.
Historically, people from small towns migrated to cities for better work opportunities. But lack of work-life balance; high cost of living; the stress of living in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, or Bengaluru; congestion; traffic; and the cacophony of fast and modern life has taken a toll on their lives.
As the coronavirus pandemic seeped into our lives in March this year, social distancing and remote working became the norm, and many people returned to their hometowns. However, for startups, the new normal is likely to throw spotlight on small towns emerging as startup hubs.
A case in point is Uttarakhand. Apart from being an education hub, the state is also home to at least 66 startups registered under Startup India, a Government of India initiative.
Startups working in the online space such as technology, agritech, healthtech, edtech, etc., have already made inroads into the Uttarakhand startup ecosystem.
This growth can be attributed to the state government’s efforts in nurturing the startup ecosystem, which includes the Startup Uttarakhand initiative and the announcement of Uttarakhand Startup Policy in 2018. The policy provides a host of incentives to incubators and startups for their capacity building.
Entrepreneurs in the state also swear by the unsullied quality of life, low rentals, and shorter commutes.
Uttarakhand has many nationally and internationally recognised institutions like Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee (IIT-R); Indian Institute of Management, Kashipur (IIM-K); Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research, Haldwani (DIBER); and GB Pant University of Agriculture And Technology, Pantnagar.
Dehradun is home to renowned institutions like Indian Institute of Petroleum, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, etc., which facilitate entrepreneurs to get access to a pool of experts at any point of time.
“While Dehradun is known as the education hub and the school capital of India, we don’t find many opportunities to work here after graduating. Thousands of engineers and doctors from here migrate to Tier I cities for work,” says Rajat Jain, Co-founder of Sunfox Technologies. The more startups we raise here, the more talent will come back, he adds.
Rajat started Sunfox in 2016 with his brother and friends, and since then he says he has realised that Dehradun is an extremely cost-friendly option for startups as it offers low-cost yet modern workspaces, incubators, and residential spaces in the lap of nature.
“Entrepreneurs suffer stress on a regular basis owing to work pressure, and Uttarakhand has a feel-good factor. It gives you a positive energy to think big and execute big,” he says. “All the basic resources required for the survival of a startup are available at 1/5th the cost of metro cities. Per person living cost is also half as compared to Tier I cities,” says Rajat.
“With the emergence of online marketing, the location of your startup is no more important. Social media platforms provide a plethora of opportunities to market and publicise your product,” he says.
Echoing the same, Udit Handa, Founder of Petofy, an online pet services aggregator platform, says, the talent pool is great in Dehradun and the city is great for startups like Petofy to test the market before scaling it pan-India.
Sudhir Chandra Nautiyal, Director of Industries, Government of Uttarakhand, who looks after the startup ecosystem in the state, tells YourStory that with a vision to make Uttarakhand a thriving innovation and entrepreneurship destination, the Government of Uttarakhand launched the Startup Uttarakhand initiative and announcement of Uttarakhand Startup Policy in 2018.
Sudhir says, the state is continuously working to build a network of incubators, mentors, investors, and subject matter experts to support the ecosystem in the state.
“Startup India has been helping us in developing the startup ecosystem in the state. Since the beginning, the workshops and international visits organised by DPIIT have been very useful. Till date, there are around eight incubators, out of which three are operating to their full capacity,” he says. Sudhir adds that other five incubators are on the verge of starting their operation in Uttarakhand.
The state government has formed a “CM Advisory Board on Startup” to guide and support startups. It has also formed an Investor Facilitation Centre to address and resolve the queries of entrepreneurs.
“We have chapters of TiE and Headstart, which play an important role in the ecosystem. We have partnered with big companies like Google, Amazon, Paytm, and Freshworks to support entrepreneurs in their journey,” says Sudhir.
“Dehradun also has good connectivity, which proves to be an added advantage for setting up business. Moreover, the government is actively working to promote the culture of innovation in the state. We have been reaching out to far flung areas through various training and capacity building programmes for our innovators, entrepreneurs, incubators, and startups,” he says.
Apart from this, Sudhir says, the government conducts activities like Startup Yatra to recognise startups. “We help startups get national and international attention, and try to make them market ready,” he adds.
Covid-19 and reverse migration
Ashutosh Kandpal worked in metro cities for a couple of years but moved back to his home state to start Hills2Home in 2017 in Nainital. The startup sells organic food products online.
He says, “Agriculture contributes to more than 50 percent of the workforce in Uttarakhand and hence it becomes necessary to bring new and innovative ways to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.” The stratup, which is backed by Startup India, sources food products directly from farmers and delivers them to consumers at their doorstep.
He says, the coronavirus crisis has made a lot of people move back and realise there is a lot they can do from the hills.
“Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Uttarakhand is seeing reverse migration. With youth returning back to their native, we see loads of innovation happening,” says Ashutosh.
No lack of exposure
Manas Upadhyay, Co-founder of Dtown Robotics in Dehradun, which provides customised product solutions in the field of robotics, automation, and drones, says: “Uttarakhand has every essential aspect to emerge as a hub for technology-domain based companies. The area has sufficient options for controlled logistics as well as vast areas for production and manufacturing setups.”
“Till today, we have used drones to spray pesticide and covered 250 acres of land,” he says.
Manas adds there is no lack of exposure in small towns. Dtown Robotics became Uttarakhand's first company to work on agriculture-based aerial vehicles, and most recently became the first company in India to perform anti-locust operations along with the Government of India.
The startup has also helped AIIMS in New Delhi to develop a robot, which can sanitise the floors in the hospital.
Entrepreneur Abhinav Gupta reiterates the same. Abhinav was still finishing his engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) when he started CamCann Smart Systems Technology in Dehradun.
CamCann offers AI camera-based advertising and merchandising for targeted and personalised experience, and has also created a Swiggy-like platform for edtech, and an AI platform called Ezstudy.live for skill development.
CamCann was not deprived of any opportunities due to its location. The startup has received Rs 8 lakh grant from Department of Science and Technology (DST) scheme called NIDHI Prayas, and Rs 5 lakh from Startup Uttarakhand.
Abhinav says, the reason he chose Dehradun is because it has great potential for edtech as Dehradun and Mussoorie are education hubs. “Schools like ‘The Doon’ are situated here, where politicians, celebrities, diplomats, and bureaucrats studied. Secondly, all the IAS officers come to Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (Lbsnaa), Mussoorie, for training after clearing UPSC. It also has many universities, colleges, and coaching institutes,” he says.
From Uttarakhand to the United Kingdom
Mitresh Sharma, Founder, First Bud Organics, which sells organic foods such as jams and pickles online, says, the state has low operating costs and rentals compared to metros. As agriculture is a major activity in the state, it is easy to procure resources and raw materials. Mitresh also highlights that if you sell online, you can be based anywhere. The products can be shipped from Uttarakhand to the United Kingdom (UK).
“Dehradun’s proximity to Delhi allows easy connectivity to other metro cities to deliver orders. Lower operating costs and ease of procuring high quality organic produces are just a few of the many benefits I have experienced in Dehradun,” says Mitresh.
Eyeing the Silicon Valley tag
Ankur Sinha, co-founder of Dehradun-based iLeads Auxiliary Services, which provides tech-based solutions to companies across the globe, says, it is time for Uttarakhand to look beyond tourism, spirituality, wildlife, Yoga, wellness, and Ayurveda.
Ankur highlights Uttarakhand Startup Policy fosters a conducive environment for startups with up to Rs 12 lakh assistance and preference in government tenders.
Moreover, Ankur adds, the tax holiday in areas like Pantnagar, Haridwar, and Rudrapur for the ease of doing business is on the lines of Switzerland and Luxembourg.
“Uttarakhand government spends over 16.8 percent on education, and has a historical reputation for its educational institutes,” says Ankur.
Buoyed by all these, iLeads, which recently launched a made in India Zoom-like video conferencing platform called Bharat.live, hired 300 new employees during the lockdown and plans to strengthen the company's offering in IT services, projects, call centre, etc.
“We felt that if we start up and nurture the resources in the state itself, people can lead a modest life in their hometown instead of migrating to metros,” says Ankur.
He says, the environment is the strength of Uttarakhand, which draws people to the state. “Keeping this in view, all development has to go with its preservation. The per capita income of Uttarakhand is higher than the national average. With the proliferation of startups, this scenario should change for the better,” says Ankur, who is on a mission to make Dehradun the Silicon Hill of India.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)
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