07 Apr 2015
Originally published on Manorama Online
I've heard people talk about the 'unnecessary hype' about startups in Kerala. Even startup entrepreneurs are saying that hype is killing entrepreneurship in the state. This blog is in response to an article written a few weeks back by a fellow entrepreneur who supports this view.
To get some perspective, let’s go back to 2010. How many people in Kerala had even heard of the word "startup"? Hardly anyone other than entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts and people exposed to startup ecosystems outside the state/country.
Fast forward to 2015 - everyone knows what a startup is. The media, government, students, parents, colleges - everybody is talking about it! Now there is an actual “startup ecosystem” and hype around it.
Every startup ecosystem in the world evolves through 6 phases: seed, hype, independence, integration, expansion and contraction.
Kerala is now where Bangalore was four years ago. We’ve evolved from having no ecosystem to ‘seed’ and now the current ‘hype’ phase. Maybe by 2018–20, we’ll reach where Bangalore is today. The credit for this change goes to Startup Village and similar initiatives by the government and other agencies. As co-founder of the first startup to be incubated by Startup Village, and as someone who has worked closely with the people behind it, I know how hard it is to pull off something like this in Kerala. We’re a state that’s often criticised for our attitude toward entrepreneurship.
Hype exists - I won’t deny it. But the people behind these initiatives know that this is all part of the evolution.
Does this mean everything is fine? Certainly not! Like so many past initiatives, startups and incubators were given political commitments. Grand announcements were made. Several crores were allocated under various schemes for startups. On 15th April 2014 (the 2nd anniversary of Startup Village), Kerala's Chief Minister Sri Oommen Chandy had promised 1 lakh sq. feet of office space for Startup Village inside the Kinfra premises within a year.
The crores remain as promises on paper. A year has passed and the building is still under construction.
I don’t want to blame our leader here. He sincerely wanted to deliver on his promise to help startups. We’ve gotten widespread support from parties and officials. The situation wouldn’t have better if Kerala was ruled by some other government, because they would get stuck in the same system.
Technopark was the first of its kind IT-technology park (founded in 1990) in India. Yet we are still stuck with one Technopark and one Infopark, compared to Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. Why do these states leave us far behind when it comes to development and technology? Even the newly formed Andhra Pradesh government built a bigger Startup Village in Vizag. I want to know what is so wrong with our state that even a promise made by the Chief Minister himself is so difficult to realize.
SmartCity, Vizhinjam Port, Keltron - we already have a burden of such promises. It is time for change. Our elders wasted decades playing the blame game. Blaming is counter-productive - it just adds more fuel to the fire. Our generation should not copy this attitude.
Has my fellow entrepreneur's article improved the startup situation in Kerala? No. Did it bring down the optimism a bit? Yes.
It is not adding any value.
Everybody is talking about problems. We know there are problems.
Why don’t we try to find a solution?
All of us in the startup arena should think and find a collective solution. How can we move our startups to the next phase? I am writing this article hoping to bring everyone together and move an inch closer to the solution.
You want to change this. I want to change this. Ministers, government, officials, politicians and parties want to change this situation. We all want to change this. But how?
I would like to invite everyone to have an open discussion. Instead of the CM coming to Startup Village, this year, let’s go to Cliff House, cut a cake together and discuss the solutions we need. Let’s criticize by bringing new solutions, so that we are part of the solution and not the problem.
Personally, I feel it’s better not to worry too much about the quality of the startups or their founders. Only 2 startups out of 100 survive to celebrate their 3rd anniversary. They will be the ones with enough perseverance and passion to grow big and become a proper business. Time fill filter out the rest. We should work towards creating an environment for the good ones to grow and flourish.
Let’s criticize by creating.