Despite being a big part of the “Silicon Valley of India" narrative—especially in the wake of the Flipkart-Walmart deal—which is crucial to the state’s image as an investment magnet, startup founders in Bengaluru are not overtly concerned about the Karnataka elections. “It doesn’t really affect us" seems to be the general mood—and this is not entirely a bad thing.
“Irrespective of the party or government, bureaucrats and professionals handling the interface between startups and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is unmatched in Karnataka," says serial entrepreneur K. Ganesh, whose entrepreneurship platform GrowthStory promotes startups like BigBasket, Portea Medical and BlueStone. “When I moved here from Delhi 20 years ago, I found the environment extremely startup-friendly and that culture continues," says Ganesh, adding that this is largely thanks to successive information technology and biotechnology (IT-BT) secretaries and IT department officials who have supported entrepreneurship and protected the ecosystem from the vagaries of politicians. “They work around regulations to support innovation. They don’t throw the rule book at you. This is extremely encouraging," he adds.
According to Ganesh, the bar has been set high and this has led to a “virtuous cycle".
Indeed, in 2015, Karnataka became the first state to announce a startup policy, with a five-year time frame from 2015-2020. Under the policy, which has the stated aim of “(giving) wings to startups in the state through strategic investment & policy interventions by leveraging the robust innovation climate in Bengaluru", the state government has set up a corpus of Rs300 crore to be disbursed in the form of grants equity to startups and micro and small enterprises.
However, awareness about these policies and funds are low in the startup community. Very few startups actually want to approach the government for funding, reveals a startup founder in the health-tech space, requesting anonymity. “The first choice of founders is to seek out venture capital. Taking money from the government is not seen as ‘cool’ enough and there is fear of interference as well," said the founder.
Anuradha Agarwal, founder of edutech startup Multibhashi, which promotes language learning through its Android app, says the government has not done enough to engage with startups. “Yes, there is a fund, but how many people know about it? How many success stories have you heard about a government-funded startup? They need to improve their digital marketing strategies," says Agarwal.
Ganesh agrees that awareness is low, while maintaining that government involvement is necessary in spaces like agri-tech, waste management and low-cost healthcare, which are not seen as glamorous or profitable. “But there needs to be more aggressive promotion—creating some success stories and tom-tomming them. A high-profile startup policy will create larger impact," he says.
“I can’t honestly say that founders are watching the elections very closely," says Rashmi Daga, founder of food-tech startup FreshMenu. “Yes, certain sectors like transport are more policy-dependent and they may be more sensitive," she adds. Mint reached out to cab-aggregator Ola and food-delivery service Swiggy for this story. However, they refused to comment.
As a food business requiring licenses, Daga says her interaction with government has been mostly positive and she has found IT-BT minister Priyank Kharge to be approachable and accessible. “As a citizen and owner of a business that depends on city infrastructure, I do want to see improvements in infrastructure from the next government," adds Daga.