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Bengaluru: Apart from being a seasoned politician, who wears a white khadi kurta-pyjama and a Nehru jacket to office, Karnataka’s new information technology (IT) minister Priyank Kharge is a charged up entrepreneur who has co-founded and exited four start-ups so far. The 37-year-old is the youngest legislator inducted into the cabinet of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah in last week’s major reshuffle. Kharge, the son of senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, is a certified computer professional and his appointment has raised hopes of a much-needed reboot in the way start-ups are governed in India’s Silicon Valley, Bengaluru. In an interview with Mint, Kharge spoke about six changes he wants to implement immediately. Edited excerpts:

Townhall every month

Just like how top start-ups do it for their employees, the government will hold townhalls to hear the grievances of people working in start-ups and the IT industry every month, said Kharge. The is because existing government policies for the sector are at least a year old—too long a time in an industry where change is constant.

“This is a sector that metamorphoses very quickly. What we are planning to do is to have an open house, once a month, for start-ups and for industry people... wherein they register with us, they set an agenda for us, my team and I will sit with them and try to understand what their problem is and see if we can try to sort it out. This will start from July onwards. Registration will be online," said Kharge.

Making sense of start-up cell

Karnataka has a cell meant to handhold start-ups. But no one really knows where to find it or what exactly it is doing, admitted the minister. “Even if you go online, you will not find it on our site. So we are going to pull that out entirely from the department of IT-BT (information technology and biotechnology), and reconstitute it," said Kharge. He said he will hire people to handle the reconstituted cell and its social media functioning. And then? “We are going to push funding through it, push mentoring, legal help, accounting help, you can say the A to Z of start-ups... So that it won’t be like you go and meet this ji and that ji (to find out about the start-up cell)," he said.

Giving away money

Karnataka is sitting upon close to around 200 crore of start-up funds, but the fact hasn’t been publicised enough, said Kharge. The government has funds for biotechnology start-ups, IT start-ups, funds to take ideas to proof-of-concept level, funds for agriculture-related start-ups and flagship schemes to provide primary levels of funding for start-ups. “We are going to put all funds which are not being utilised completely under one umbrella. So that it will help people come forward," he said.

Giving away more money

Kharge said he also wanted to expand the ticket size of two existing funds—the animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (AVGC) and fund of funds. “These are the two new funds that we will be launching. We are trying to get into talks with well-known venture capital firms for this, to bring more trust in this whole system," he said.

“If you have an idea, come to us. If the idea is good, the government is going to fund for proof of concept, if the proof of concept is good, we might also take it to the venture capital level or even get mentoring or even facilitate legal and accounting services," he said.

Single point of contact

Kharge said the IT department can also play the role of a single point of contact for all concerns, including those related to infrastructure, raised by the bigger and more established software exporters like Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd. “If they want a last-mile connectivity of the metro, I can go ahead and say to the concerned minister this is what the industry captains are saying. As a minister of IT-BT, I can stick to my sector. But my responsibility also lies in addressing the concerns in the sector," he said.

Vertical-agnostic

Kharge wants to rope in start-ups from different sectors to the IT department platform and has been reaching out to them. He said that anybody with an idea for a start-up should be able to reach the department. “From IT to aerospace to manufacturing, we are trying to get start-ups from across sectors on the board. In that aspect, we will be vertical-agnostic, so if you have an idea come to us," he said.

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