Why hype is good for Kerala startups

And why we should look at the actual problem and find a solution.

This is the original version of the article appeared on Manorama Online.

I've been hearing people talking about the “unnecessary hype” about startups in Kerala. Even startup entrepreneurs are saying that this hype is killing entrepreneurship in the state. I recently read a similar article by fellow entrepreneur Vijay S Paul. This article is spot on, accurate and it is good actually, though the author is pessimistic about it. Since Vijay had mentioned my article in his blog, I think I need to write my perspective about this.

To understand things better, let’s go back 5 years. In 2010, how many people in Kerala might have heard the term “startup?”. Hardly anyone other than entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts and people exposed to startup ecosystems outside the state/country.

Come back to 2015. Everyone in Kerala knows what a startup is. The media, government, students, parents, colleges- everybody is talking about startups and entrepreneurship! Now there is a “startup ecosystem” and hype around it.

So what happened in the last few years? Let me explain. Check this out:

Startup ecosystem in 2012

This image is from Startup Genome report 2012 which shows the status of startup ecosystems 3 years ago. If you look at it, you can see that Bangalore was in the “hype” phase in 2012.

Basically, every startup ecosystem will evolve through 6 phases: seed, hype, independence, integration, expansion and contraction.

Kerala is now where Bangalore was 3–4 years ago.
We’ve evolved from having NO ecosystem at all to ‘seed’ and then this current ‘hype’ phase. Maybe by 2018–20, we could reach where Bangalore is today.

The credit for this change mainly goes to Startup Village and similar initiatives from the government and other agencies. As the co-founder of the first startup to be incubated and as someone who worked closely with the people behind Startup Village, I know how hard it was to pull something like this off in Kerala which is often criticised for its attitude towards entrepreneurship.

There is an hype. I am not denying it. But the people behind these highly ambitious initiatives were aware that this is all part of the evolution. This hype was expected.

But if you ask me whether everything is going well and fine- certainly NOT! Just like anything else in India/Kerala, startups/incubators were given commitments. Big announcements were made. Several crores were allocated under various schemes for encouraging startups. Just like anything else here, these crores never reached any of us. They remain as promises. On Startup Village’s 2nd anniversary on April 15th, 2014 Hon. Hon arable Chief Minister himself promised 1 lakh sq ft of office space for Startup Village inside the Kinfra premises within 1 year.

This is was what he promised:

Plan of the proposed 1 lakh sq ft building for Startup VIllage

Startup Village’s 3rd anniversary is in two weeks and the building is still under construction…

But I don't want to blame Sri. Oommen Chandy. He genuinely wanted to deliver on his promise and help startups. Many ministers and politicians tried to help us. In fact we have received support from all parties and officials. I don't think situations would have been better if Kerala was ruled by some other government. They will also get stuck with the same system.

I don't want to blame anyone at all. 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 materialize.

What happened to the 500 crores? What happened to the 1 lakh sq ft building? We don’t know. Nobody knows!

Technopark was the first of its kind IT/technology business park (founded in 1990!) in India. Yet we are still stuck with one Technopark and one Infopark. Look what happened in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad in this time period. Why these states catchup and left us far behind? Even the newly formed Andhra Pradesh government built a bigger Startup Village in Vizag.

SmartCity, Vizhinjam Port, Keltron… we already have a burden of such promises. This need to be changed. Our elder generations wasted decades playing blame game. Blaming is counter productive. Its just adding more fuel to the fire. Our generation should not follow this attitude.

Has Vijay’s article made the situation of the startup ecosystem in Kerala any better? No. Did it bring down the positive atmosphere a bit? Yes.

It is not adding any value.

Everybody is talking about problems. We know there are problems.
The startup ecosystem has problems.
But why nobody is talking about the solutions?

Vijay, me and everyone 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 and have an open discussion together. Let’s figure out some solutions. 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 found. Let’s criticize by bringing new solutions so that we are part of the solution and not the problem.

Also, I think its better not to worry too much about the quality of the startups or students jumping in to entrepreneurship. Only 1 or 2 companies out of 100 startups could survive to celebrate their 3rd anniversary. They will be the ones with enough perseverance and passion to grow big and become a sustainable business. Time will filter out the rest. We should work towards creating an environment for them to grow and flourish.

Let’s criticize by creating.

Thanks for reading☺ I'm Vivek Raghavan, Co-founder of WowMakers & CrowdStudio. We built and grew both these companies from Startup Village.