India’s leading startups and top policymakers will meet later this month to brainstorm ways to make the country more entrepreneur-friendly, at the beginning of a multiyear effort to identify the next million young founders of innovative ventures.
The effort will kick off at InnoFest, organized by the Indian Software Product Industry Round Table, or iSPIRT, an industry lobby, at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on Aug. 22.
While India is celebrated by local media as a rising startup nation, its ranking as a source of genuine innovation plunged 10 places in 2014 from the previous year, Sharad Sharma, former CEO of R&D at Yahoo India and a founder of iSPIRT, told reporters in Bangalore on Tuesday.
InnoFest aims to address such problems by taking the cause of creativity to the grassroots level -- to small-town India, to ignite the minds of the next million youngsters to chase their dreams of building something and bringing it to market, to tell them that there is a willing ecosystem ready to partner with them, with mentorship and money.
India has been a country of "jugaad" (Hindi slang for "make do") for as long as anyone can remember, with systematic research and development given short shrift outside specific areas such as the country’s space programs and nuclear energy efforts.
India’s rise as a startup hub could change this, with private enterprise taking the lead in attempting to build a deeper ecosystem of enabling factors for entrepreneurs to thrive in a country better known for its bureaucracy, corruption and lack of physical infrastructure.
InnoFest will bring together leaders of early successes such as Flipkart, the country’s largest e-commerce company; InMobi, a global mobile ads technology startup largely built out of Bangalore; and Ola Cabs, the country’s biggest ridesharing services provider.
The program is a start in reaching out to an India beyond the English-speaking 5 percent of the country. To that end, InnoFest is also looking for young people who would have typically come from India’s small towns and attended local colleges outside the network of the premier Indian Institutes of Technology.
It will introduce them to partners such as Workbench Projects (a company that provides physical space, 3D printers and other tools for prototyping of hardware product ideas), teach them how to participate in challenge grants, or raise angel funds and seed capital, so they can “make the jump,” iSPIRT said in a presentation.
After the Aug. 22 event, InnoFest will continue with similar events in other cities and towns across India over the coming years to create awareness about entrepreneurship and startups in the country.
The Internet has brought people full circle from self-sustained tiny villages to one large global village where everyone acts as producer and consumer for everyone else, said Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education, one of the country’s largest private college chains.
“Imagine a young person from Tumkur (a small town outside Bangalore, India’s tech hub) dreaming of placing a rover on Mars,” he added.