In his role to develop disruptive start-ups culture in Karnataka, Priyank Kharge, Minister of State, IT, BT and Tourism, Government of Karnataka, has been much more than an ‘ordinary minister’. Apart from announcing start-up friendly policies, he is directly in contact with all the ventures the government had supported over the years. A people’s person is what Kharge can be called, as he approaches the start-ups by asking for updates just like a regular venture capitalist or fund. Here’s the new-age minister with the attitude of an investor and mindset of a leader.
Last year when we had you at our Entrepreneur India event, several initiatives were announced by you, how far is the government on all those fronts?
Last year when I was here I spoke a lot on policy. This year, it was more about how we are implementing those policies. We have come a long way and there are a lot of learnings as well. Now we are figuring out how we can accelerate the start-up growth. Last year when I was here, only 27 start-ups had registered with the government. But, today the count is more than 2,500. Moreover, we are looking for opportunities to provide much more - whether it is idea validation or mentorship, grants, subsidies, networking opportunities. This is something we have managed to build over the last year.
The way you interact with entrepreneurs, it’s very much involved. How do you get to the right connect?
It’s a part of my job to be involved in their business. I have to know what’s happening and the best way to structure policies or programs is by spending a lot of time with people and the stakeholders. Everyday is a new learning for us especially when I spend time with startups, SMEs and corporates.
When these policies are structured, how much the people in the ecosystem have a say in it?
Every scheme or policy that has been announced by the government always involves people from the ecosystem. We have a bio-tech vision group with Kiran Mazumdar and another group where Kris Gopalakrishnan is directly involved. On the other hand, there is a start-up council vision group, an IT vision group and an AVGC vision group. The entire process is driven by the ecosystem.
“The easy way to get support is to register with the start-up cell and ask for an open house, showcasing your product to a committee of experts, If it passes their verdict, then you can get a grant of up to Rs 50 lakh,” says Priyank Kharge, Minister of State, IT, Bio-Technology and Tourism, Government of Karnataka.
Karnataka is the first state to introduce a start-up policy and other states came with such policies much later. What competitive advantage does Karnataka have?
We are the only state in the country that gives you a complete 360 degree ecosystem. Right from ideation, innovation, investment and everything that you can think of is done here. We have a skillset and that is something that cannot be easily taken away. So any state which comes with a policy, have a lot of catching up to be done.
The focus has always been on the tech space. Is it now moving towards manufacturing?
I think we have matured as an IT services industry. And we have thought leaders in the emerging technologies whether it is manufacturing, electronics, artificial intelligence, big data, space, aerospace, cyber security. We have leaders in it all. Defense and electronics manufacturing is huge. So we have hardware accelerators. Grants have already been announced. A big validation was when Apple chose us for their phase I as partner state.
A lot of support is given at a start-up stage, they start well with this cushioning but only one out of 10 succeed. How would you make sure that they go to the next level of growth?
Start-ups are not looking at GoK only for money, we give ideas, tell them if their ideas are valid. Does it have the potential to grow in the long run? We try to reduce the number of start-ups, 95 per cent of them fail. We give them networking opportunities to meet people, get mentoring and they get validation whether their idea will be successful or not.
The main start-ups have come up only from biotech, tourism and IT, what’s the mix right now?
We have a bio-venture fund so they got funded heavily. Our policy allows us to look at companies right from aerospace to agriculture, AI, manufacturing, healthcare, urban planning. We are funding as long as they are playing a role of disrupter in the ecosystem. We are helping them everyway.
Is there a benchmark to support any number of start-ups?
Policy envisages is to have a target of 20,000 start-ups in next five years out of which there would be 6,000 product start-ups. And for 20,000 we need to look at two lakh start-ups.
(This article was first published in the June issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)