Spurred by $11 billion Investment, Startups galore
More than 1500 delegates, including startup founders, investors, policy makers and thought leaders attended the flagship event of TiE Kerala
Kochi: Startups in India witnessed $11 billion investment in 2018, growing twice from 2016. Over 1200 startups were registered in 2018 alone taking the total figure to above 7200, according to Arun M Kumar, Chairman & CEO, KPMG India.
He highlighted the impressive growth registered by the startup domain in the country in his inaugural address at the two-day TiEcon Kerala 2019, the eighth edition of Kerala’s largest conference on entrepreneurship, held at Le Meridien Convention Centre, Kochi. The mega event was organised by TiE Kerala.
He said B2B startups have recorded 40 per cent growth. “We also have more than 210 active incubators, registering a growth of 50 per cent from 2016. The ranking on ‘ease of doing business’ has gone up from 144 in 2014 to 77 in 2018,” he added.
Telecom companies, retailers and e-tailers, startup funds, government and regulators, logistics players, banks and financial institutions, digital wallets, content players, AI and Internet of Things have together created a powerful ecosystem for startups to grow, Kumar said.
Kerala can give a fillip to startup growth by remoulding curriculum to improve general, technical and vocational training, building a culture of entrepreneurship, leveraging natural advantages of the State to attract non-Keralites and involving Kerala expats to promote development, the KPMG India chief added.
Delivering the keynote address on ‘Leadership and Entrepreneurship Qualities through the Eyes of Mahatma’, Dr. Kiran Bedi, Lt. Governor, Puducherry said that as we celebrate 150 years of Mahatma, we need to imbibe entrepreneurial ideology that it is the person in the profession who is making the difference. Gandhi is considered as one of the greatest entrepreneurs who crafted freedom for the 300 million Indian people, she said.
“Facing the entire might of the British Empire and taking the struggle forward with a vision of a nation that rests on democratic principles require all the qualities of entrepreneurial leadership,’’ Dr. Bedi said.
“Gandhi always led by example. He came out of comfort zones, led marches and observed fasts for a cause. As business or social entrepreneurs, CEOs, general managers, we have to step out of comfort zones every time and take the lead which is crucial,’’ Dr. Bedi said.
MSA Kumar, President, TiE Kerala detailed the objectives of the eighth edition of the conference. “Building a sustainable business model in this digital world is one of the key challenges before young entrepreneurs. The conference seeks to discuss and develop newer industry-specific strategies to embrace the digital age.” he said. Sajan Pillai, ex-CEO, UST Global, spoke on the inspiring journey of building Kerala’s largest IT company, which today operates in 21 countries. Ajit A Moopan, Director, TiEcon Kerala 2019 also spoke.
TiE Kerala Awards
TiEcon Kerala Annual Awards in five categories were presented during the event. Pamela Anna Mathew, Managing Director, OEN and V K C Mammed Koya, Founder of VKC Group were honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award. Other award winners in four categories are Startup Entrepreneur of the Year – Shihab Muhammed, SurveySparrow; Entrepreneur of the Year – John Kuriakose, DentCare Dental Lab; Next Generation Achiever – Sabu M Jacob, Kitex Garments and The Ecosystem Enabler – Dr. Saji Gopinath, Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM). More than 1500 delegates from across the State attended the event.
Lack of Home-grown Funding options Posing Problems: Sivasankar
Speaking at TiEcon Kerala 2019, M Sivasankar IAS, Secretary, IT and Electronics, Government of Kerala stressed the need for a fervent push to promote home-grown investments for backing Kerala startups.
“We are an excellent prototype the world will want to engage with, because we are not about isolated city-based development but have an entire ecosystem that can support, and more importantly, nurture technology. But we are suffocated by a lack of home-grown funding options as Keralites still prefer more conventional models to grow their money. Despite the proven fact that investments in startups gain 25 per cent returns it is still the savvy businessmen from Gujarat and Maharashtra who pour into our corpus funds,” he said.
He later announced the winners of investments at Capital Cafe, the startup pitch fest organised by TiE Kerala.
Charting out a three-pronged strategy to infuse value and funds into the burgeoning startup sector, he said, “first, the established businesses must learn how to adopt promising startups. Our demographic and education dividends can be leveraged only if our community places trust in the ecosystem we have built. And secondly, as a logical extension of this, one needs to ensure that established businesses invest in budding business ideas. Thirdly, we need to celebrate our successes and learn not to overlook home-grown excellence.”
“As long as the organic funding options remain absent we will miss out on some available leverage,” Sivasankar said.
He recalled the launch of the corpus fund by the government in 2017 to channelise investments to several budding startups. Launched with an equal partnership from the industry, the Rs. 30-crore fund was supposed to bring in returns within a span of three years. In merely two years the investors not only identified the best startups, they were also ready to return the corpus amount and bring in another round of investment. To the surprise of the government, when it invested Rs. 30 crore and opened bidding to find more partners for funding, the corpus, with its stupendous return rate of 25 per cent, brought in investors ready to pump in Rs. 1000 crore.
“Our Sustainability should Define Our Worth”
“What is the world we should be leaving behind for our children?” Sunny Verghese, Co-founder and Group CEO, Olam International Ltd. and Chairman, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, opened his keynote address with the most pressing question facing the world today.
In his quintessential meticulous way he set off straight to the core of the issue. “We need to work with six metasystems on climate and energy to make our future real and promising,” he said. “Focus on decarbonizing the economy, infuse a circular rhythm to it, reduce waste, produce sustainable food for our burgeoning and increasingly vulnerable (geopolitical, climatic, economic or political) population and ensure the travesty of hunger ends,” he said.
“Our production techniques and population have killed the equilibrium between food and nature. Today, agriculture is the single biggest cause for climate system collapse and creates externalities of over $3 trillion every year,” Sunny said.
Extreme poverty and inequality, the breeding ground of violence, need to end, so does gender inequality and differential access to education. People should be equipped to adapt to newer technology or else we will lose valuable human resources, he said. He added that one must redefine the way s/he manages and calculates value. “It should be more in terms of intangible intellectual and futuristic value. Our sustainability should define our worth,” he added.
“To make sure we have a world to leave behind we need to brace up to the fact that we are not facing climate change but a climate emergency. The UN has alerted us to the fact that we have a mere 12-year window to fix things,” Sunny said.
Saying that the aspirational well-being of the world can be summed up in the UN Sustainability Goals, he called for an end to extreme poverty, promotion of good health, well-being, clean water and sanitation, education, economic growth, inclusive job growth, infrastructural development, sustainable cities, responsible production and consumption coupled with care for marine biodiversity.
Recounting his stint in Nigeria when the entrepreneurial bug bit him, Sunny Verghese advised the upcoming entrepreneurs among the audience to differentiate one’s business before scaling up. “Differentiation brings power and one has to be insightful and use one’s data wisely to get there, and lastly, stay exceptional, way above the ‘industry best practices,” he said.
According to Sunny, businesses that stay exceptional, leverage disruptions and they stay comfortable making politically incorrect decisions. Lastly, to ensure a bright future for all, businesses need to focus on sustainability – individual, organisational and sectoral – and the governments and innovators of tomorrow need to work together to ensure we all survive and survive well, he said.
Goodness Not Spurred by Money Alone: Gopi Kallayil
Gopi Kallayil, the Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing, Google Inc. took to the stage to provide an enigmatic account of ‘The Happy Human - An Entrepreneur’s Perspective’. “When an entrepreneur decides the purpose of his or her business, s/he applies the human element to it. This decides the happiness that the concern would build,” he said.
Speaking about the lures of money, he said: “When a rich Swiss backpacking tourist settles in a place like Kathmandu and runs a shelter home for 20 years battling the worst odds you know there are factors other than money that spur the spirit of success and goodness.’’ Closing his address, he drew an analogy between global sustainability and the Burning Man festival held at the Nevada desert in the US. A festival of radical self-expression and art set in the inhospitable stretches, the festival is the finest example of a trust-based economy that provides for all without any monetary transactions.
Digitisation Increases Efficiency: Kumar Vembu
Kumar Vembu, the Founder-CEO of Gofrugal Technologies, shared his insights into the “winning potential of digitisation in businesses.” Speaking on the changing trends in organisational management, he started off with a first-hand account of how his company weathered the disruption caused by GST. “We work with small and medium-level companies. Support calls were so emotionally charged that we decided our customer support system will shun all calls and operate through a chatbot. We used to scroll through the endless chats to identify friction areas and slowly, we sailed back to efficiency outperforming our competitors,” Vembu said. Brand building is shifting its focus to customer experience and businesses need to focus on transforming the customer journeys and on process redesign. Digitisation increases efficiency and satisfaction, both to customers and employees leading to organisational and cultural realignment.
‘Education, Innovation will Help Us Leverage Our Demographic Dividend’
TiEcon Kerala 2019 closed with a very illuminating talk by Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy. Speaking at the function to a gathering of young entrepreneurs and business and industry leaders, the guest of honour shared his thoughts about the estimated $5-trillion economy that our country aspires for.
“We need to grow at the rate of 10 per cent a year for the next 10 years if we have to pull our population out of poverty. We as a country is blessed with possibilities for agriculture. I know of no other big country that can grow crops for all 12 months of a year. What we need is agricultural reforms and I believe the earlier land reforms initiated by the Left have nothing but failed,” he said.
Stressing that we need a multi-pronged approach to deal with the macroeconomic problems faced by our economy, he said, ‘‘demand is our primary problem.’’
“The government made some huge cuts in the corporate tax recently, but I would say it isn’t useful to the economy or to the people. What needs to be done is abolition of personal income tax. The government should rely on alternate sources of revenue like the spectrum sale and this can offset the loss. Unorthodox sources of revenue like coal block allocation must also be a focus,” said Dr. Swamy.
Plan for Future
According to Dr. Swamy, there needs to be innovations on the macroeconomic level to solve the problems faced by the country. “No country made themselves better by saving money. Development happens when the economy leapfrogs as a result of innovations. We can solve our very pressing political issues like the Kaveri water dispute with technology. Seawater desalination can be the solution to the Kaveri water dispute,” he said.
Dr. Swamy said education and innovation together will help us leverage our demographic dividend. He, like most others who spoke at TiEcon, stressed the need for organic funding and support to the home-grown innovators.
We need to expand our target from becoming a $5 trillion economy to being a developed country, Swamy said. “TiE is the fittest organisation that can infuse energy into the macroeconomic imagination of this country. The young entrepreneurs pioneering revolution must be supported and the aversion to risk, very deeply embedded in the Indian psyche, must be wiped out and who better than TiE to help achieve this?’’ asked Swamy closing his address.