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Incubation: The cradle for start-ups

Walmart’s $16 billion investment in Flipkart for a 77 per cent stake in the summer this year turned the two founders into billionaires.

The startup ferment in Bengaluru must be seen to be believed.

Picture this. On a cold, wet Saturday morning early this month, more than 400 had gathered inside the plush auditorium of the Indian Institute of Management on the outskirts of the city to listen to four professionals speak on pivots to startups, or, in my language, ‘how to learn that your fledgling enterprise has reached the takeoff stage.’ More than 250 in the audience were young entrepreneurs, and the rest on the threshold of a life dedicated to software. They were all in the race with complete confidence and self-belief.

Today in Bengaluru startups are the latest mantra for those finishing tech schools and colleges. “There are two things that the streets of Bengaluru are full of – bars and software developers,” wrote a correspondent in London’s Guardian daily a few months ago. “Take a watering hole of your choice, and it won’t be long before you hear murmurs of startups, VCs (venture capitals) and funding at a neighbouring table.”

It’s a marathon…

“The startup journey is a marathon,” said Binny Bansal, co-founder of Flipkart. It was 11 years and one month ago that he and a fellow Delhi IIT graduate Sachin Bansal, both former employees of future rival Amazon, founded the outfit, starting with selling books. If in the early years they proved themselves good for the 100-metre dash, they did the mile with success and have now completed the marathon. In style. Walmart’s $16 billion investment in Flipkart for a 77 per cent stake in the summer this year turned the two founders into billionaires. The deal valued Flipkart at more than $20 billion. Binny Bansal recalled the tough early days when, working out of an apartment, they found that of the 40 booksellers they contacted in the first month only two agreed to work with the novice e-commerce platform.

Today the Bansals are a role model.

Reverse brain drain…

If the first IT revolution was founded on cheap tech labour, today there are clear signs that the opposite is happening to the benefit of India. Last year, the World Economic Forum named Bengaluru as the world’s most dynamic city. The state is twice blessed in that it has young leaders with vision ready to tap and benefit from the booming entrepreneurial spirit. The government earlier this year launched an incubator fund to offer assistance and advice to fledglings in a variety of fields, including IT and biotechnology. Karnataka’s IT/BT Minister Priyank Kharge, son of the Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, announced a set of policies to spur innovation. He also launched a new entrepreneurship scheme under which Rs 30,000 a month would be provided to an entrepreneur for a year “while they incubated their ideas with the state’s startup cell.” There are other government and private initiatives aimed at supporting the tech scene.

Facing severe competition for the IT pie from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Kharge also announced plans for the creation of centers of excellence in what is termed “deep tech” — data science, machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and cybersecurity, all initiatives under the Innovate Karnataka platform. More recently in pursuit of the policy of social inclusion, he announced that his Social Welfare Department has had discussions with more than 200 companies across different sectors under schemes for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates to provide not just employment but the option to be entrepreneurs. His department has earmarked Rs 500 crore for the entrepreneurship programme, according to Kharge.

The half-day interaction at the IIMB was a typical event that the NSRCEL organises on a regular basis. Much like an in-house organisation, it is the hub of entrepreneurial activity at the IIMB which is supported by the government (NITI Aayog) and corporate and institutional partners. It offers several courses and workshops for those on the threshold of entrepreneurship such as students and young and budding entrepreneurs.

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