Can J&K be a startup hub?

Karanvir Gupta

We recently basked ourselves in the glory of 70th Republic Day. In a few months from now we would be participating in the 17th Lok Sabha elections to elect the 15th Prime Minister of our country. The journey has not been easy but recent years have spurt the growth at socio-civic and economic fronts. And this success belongs to widespread demand locally and the think tanks who have been working day in and day out to culminate regulatory policies, procedures that enable this movement of growth for the nation as a whole.
One such step has been the Startup India initiative which was launched in January 2016, 3years ago. In order to ensure that the epicentre of growth and development is not concentrated to Tier I cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, or Bangalore alone – the startup capital of India or Silicon Valley of India as it is popularly called. The idea was to take this movement to other cities of India. As PM said during the launch, “Yes, we have a million problems but at the same time we have over a billion minds.” And the ideas that come out of these minds need to be nurtured, mentored and incubated to make them into a viable business proposition so that we can prosper as a nation rather than in silos.
As a result of this, 19 states are a part of this grand initiative and I beamed with happiness when I realised that J&K too is a part of this. Because we always have been a state invested in primary activities. Agriculture, Handicrafts, Tourism and Education – the focus of the state and other private businessmen have been hooked on these. They naturally make sense because of low risk of making loss. But to accentuate the growth – it is important that we see beyond the comfort zone. How do we create a seamless smart system that can cater to our changing needs of changing demographics. How we cater to the day to day activities and lifestyle and revolutionise the way we operate and transact in the process of becoming a Smart City.
A few years before, Go Veggies – an online delivery for grocery became popular in certain sections of Jammu. What it did well was to identify that there are households who need immediate cut vegetables either because of lack of helpers or lack of folks at home to go shopping. Similarly, another startup more than marketing – a digital marketing agency realised that while there are businesses running all around – there is a lack of branding and digital marketing activities that happen around these. It aims to bridge that gap. Had it been not for the founder of these startups to identify the challenges our society is facing – it would have been run of the pseudo mill solution. And I am sure there would be more people trying to bridge the challenges with their solution but have not been able to get the right resources and help.
But does the buck stop here? No. There is more to what needs out-of-the-box solution. From advanced agri-techniques, smart street lighting solution, intelligent car-park solution in congested city areas, organised transport, promoting local handicrafts at the national and international stage (e-commerce), cleaning of water resources, tagging of natural resources, sports and adventure tourism – there is so much that our state deals with. The challenge lies in how do we identify these challenges at the grass-root level, how do we ideate solutions for these and how do we produce a Minimum Viable Product and build it to scale. There needs to be a financial cover that eases foraying into off-beat business ideas. A platform that can help you with starting up on its own, with required capital and regulatory and legal framework. To have an ecosystem that promotes and supports other established startups to let into the state for competitive advantage. On talking to founders of a few months old The Law School Project Cafe about the entry of Zomato, they said “it is great to have these startups in the ecosystem. While it takes a hit on the margins, at the same time it increases accessibility to a larger audience.” To ensure that we let startups breed is important.
And how do we get there? Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute under has all the details of the J&K’s Startup Policy which helps you understand on how to go about setting up a business. If you think you have identified a challenge or a need for a product/service in the J&K’s ecosphere, the site will help you get started. For JKEDI, it is important to conduct workshops for awareness in collaboration with all graduate and post-graduate institutions across the state so that more and more people know about this opportunity. There needs to be a formal process where startups in various domains are evaluated, shortlisted and guided from incubation to maturity. JKEDI should invite more startup and founders from across the nation and the world for conferences, trainings and interactions and engage them in the state’s challenges and startup ideas. With this JKEDI will not only help these mushrooming startups but also help J&K get relieved off some of the basic challenges with the help of local talent by creating a favourable ecosystem.
We have always been known as a state marred in political turmoil. We have been battling with the militancy, disturbances of the past and tarnishes of the same. It is time we build a new state with new ideas and overcome the challenges that hamper the day-to-day life of our citizens. Let us create opportunities out of challenges, solutions out of problems and give a platform to let these ideas nurture and grow into fully formed businesses. Ideas will lead to business and business will lead to prosperity. Let’s make use of this Startup Policy of J&K and make it a haven where startups culminate and harvest. Because The Power of Idea is mightier than the plain idea of power!
(The author is an IIM Shillong Alumnus and a Mentor of Change with Niti Aayog.)