Brands of India: DPIIT Addl Secy calls on startups for localised digital innovations to empower rural population

Delivering the keynote address at YourStory's Brands of India event, DPIIT Additional Secretary Anil Agrawal urged Indian entrepreneurs and startups to come up with localised digital innovations and create visual/voice OTPs to reach the rural population.
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YourStory's inaugural Brands of India launch event kicked off on September 17 with a keynote address from Anil Agrawal, Additional Secretary at Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Government of India, who called on Indian entrepreneurs and startups to work on more localised innovation in digital services to empower India's rural population.

Speaking on the increased digitisation of India in the last few years fuelling the potential of homegrown brands to deeper and wider, Agrawal said,

"We are now reaching areas which can't be reached by road, but through the internet. Physical infrastructure maybe deficient in some places, but our digital infrastructure is going to those areas. Entrepreneurs from up north are supplying goods to farmers and traders down south. It is Bharat Net [world's largest rural broadband project undertaken by the Indian government] and the entrepreneurs' ambition that is empowering our rural population."

In a fireside chat with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma, Agrawal went on to highlight the products and services offered by Indian brands to homebound consumers in the last 15-18 months of the pandemic.

He said, "There cannot be a better time than now to talk about the brands of India. They have transformed the way they serve citizens who are in containment zones. The kind of digital certificates we are issuing to the poorest of the poor in the country is a model for the world today. Now, we want to take them global, and see Indian brands capture the US, EU, and Southeast Asian markets."

Need for localised digitisation

India has over 650 million internet users today, a number projected to reach 900 million in the next two to three years. Even though the country is the second-largest internet market in the world, most digitisation has happened in English.

"But only 10 percent of the Indian population understands English. If brands have to cater to the rural population, they need to serve customers in their own language," Agrawal said. "India has 13 scripts and 22 official languages. The government is taking huge steps to promote digitisation in regional languages."

The Additional Secretary stressed on the importance of localised navigation technology. "Why should we be dependent on a foreign GPS system for our mapping?" he said. "We already have our own NaviMaps and all our mobile phones should work on that system. We have to encourage Indian startups to use Navi GPS for mapping and reaching rural customers. And all this has to be in their language."

While enabling regional language interfaces is a key goal of the government, Agrawal also highlights the critical importance of building technology for India's rural and non-literate population.

He observed, "India has a large illiteracy rate. If you want to take your brands rural, you will have to design your systems for last-mile customers who don't have a smartphone. Take the example of a simple 2G-based innovation that is OTP. It has empowered so many digital transactions in the last few years. So, can you have a voice OTP or a visual OTP to reach the population that can't read?

"I don't have all the answers. I am just putting it out in front of entrepreneurs to come up with solutions," he said.

Capacity building across the country

Starting with the Startup Policy rolled out in January 2016, and coupled with other government initiatives and the expanding ambitions of entrepreneurs, the last few years have resulted in "tremendous capacity building" across India, Agrawal said.

"When we announced the startup policy, not many in the government knew what a "startup" is. But what we have achieved in the last five years is outstanding. Today India has over 57,000 startups. In February 2020, we registered a startup from Lakshadweep. Each of the 30 states are participating in the startup ranking framework. We are making efforts to make young entrepreneurs successful."

While experts believe D2C can be a $100 billion opportunity for Indian brands, the Additional Secretary is of the view that for homegrown businesses to be truly successful, they have to focus on "quality" and "reliability".

"We are looking at digital means to promote brands and are in advanced stages to create an ecommerce policy. We will come up with a regime that will be friendly to startups. There will be an open network for digital commerce. But as far as the reliability of a product or service is concerned, the entrepreneur has to maintain that," he explained.

Agrawal summed up his opening address reiterating Prime Minister Narendra Modi's clarion call to entrepreneurs on Independence Day.

"Yahi samay hai sahi samay [this is the right time]. All I will tell entrepreneurs is if not now, then when? If not you, then who? Apne aspirations ko wings dijiye," he noted.


Brands of India is a YourStory initiative to catalyse the growth of India's D2C economy. The initiative will bring together D2C ecosystem stakeholders, including brand builders, D2C startups, investors, corporates, and policymakers, to discover, build and help daring entrepreneurs create an additional 500 Brands of India in the next three years.

To know more about this initiative and the D2C ecosystem, visit brandsofindia.yourstory.com.

Edited by Tenzin Pema

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