Home / Companies / People /  ‘Startups will continue to grow, and so will the gig economy’

BENGALURU : A medical degree holder, Dr. C.N. Ashwath Narayan  handles multiple portfolios as minister of higher education, information technology, biotechnology, science and technology, skill development, entrepreneurship and livelihood in the Karnataka government. In an interview on the sidelines of the Bengaluru Tech Summit, he explains why he remains bullish about entrepreneurship and startups, and the reasons for the state government to push for development beyond the capital. He also shared how Karnataka is trying to address Bengaluru’s chaotic traffic and erratic power supply, besides improving road conditions. Edited excerpts:


How’s the response to the Bengaluru Tech Event, and what do you hope to achieve from it?

The idea is to strengthen, promote, celebrate and inspire while showcasing the talent and growth we have achieved throughout the year. We have received an extremely good response, with over 5,000 delegates, 350 speakers, and 575 exhibits, of which 350 are startups besides over 200 foreign delegates. 

Considering that you handle many portfolios, what is the overarching vision for Karnataka?

The 21st century is knowledge-based and is dependent on quality education. Hence, we need a very talented workforce to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to contribute to the country’s growth. We have been inspired by our PM, Narendra Modi, and are trying to further his vision. For example, in the light of the New Education Policy (NEP), we have been digitizing the entire higher education system. The Unified University and College Management System  unifies and integrates the functioning and the governance of all colleges and public universities in the state, ensuring uniformity and unifying the General and Technical Higher Education Institutions to centralize data availability on higher education at the grassroots.  We have also collaborated with bodies like Nasscom for non-technical skilling and with companies like Infosys Springboard (a digital literacy platform comprising digital learning solutions, gamification, live classes, industry certification, maker’s lab, and carrier guidance) to enhance the skills of employees.

How is the government’s ‘Beyond Bengaluru’ drive progressing?

In the digital economy, we need to grow, especially in the post-covid era. Many employees are virtually working from homes. Establishing ‘Beyond Bengaluru’ is helping them access and retain talent. The Cluster Seed Fund (wherein the government puts in 25%, and the rest  is funded by the private sector) is meant to mentor and facilitate entrepreneurship. Startups can now get 2-10 crore without any collateral—about 750 startups have benefitted so far from this programme. We have three clusters—Mysuru, Hubli-Belgaum-Dharwad, and Mangaluru. Earlier, we would recruit 1-2 persons from outside the city; now 40% are hired from beyond Bengaluru.

What’s your take on startup and tech layoffs, like those in the edtech sector?

Startups will continue to grow, and so will the gig economy. Even as they retrench employees, most startups are also recruiting. My belief is that those retrenched will be absorbed by other new-age companies. Startups will continue to transform India.

Even as Bengaluru is projected as India’s Silicon Valley, it has to battle with potholed roads, chaotic traffic, and erratic power supply. Your thoughts?

While fully acknowledging the limitations, we are giving topmost priority to public transportation. Metro service is being expanded to 250 km and we’re implementing suburban railways. The first phase of the metro is complete. Subsequently, entire Bengaluru will be covered by metro. We also have a peripheral ring road, 50% of which is complete. In addition, we are building satellite and interlinking roads. We are also trying to reduce congestion on roads with the help of smart technologies (such as Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence). 

Are you still bullish on global capability centres (GCCs) of MNCs?

GCCs were launched keeping cost reduction in mind; now they are hotbeds of innovation with a lot of intellectual properties (IPs), and enhancement of products. All this has helped MNCs expand these centres.

Tell us a bit about the progress that the state has made in the biotech sector?

During Covid, it was our biotech sector that shone in terms of dignostics and future treatment. India’s bio-economy was at $80.12 billion in 2021, and Karnataka accounted for 20.4% share of this. Karnataka’s biotech industry now comprises about 380 companies and about 194 startups, cumulatively accounting for 60% of all biotech companies in India. On an average, eight biotech startups were incorporated every month in 2021 (a total of 95 biotech startups were set up in 2021). Karnataka’s biotech industry also saw investments crossing $180 million in R&D. Biotech is also among the largest sectors that bring FDI (foreign direct investment) in Karnataka. We are expecting FDI worth 75,000 crore in sectors like biotech and startups. Developments in biotech like CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats or CRISPR is a gene-editing tool), gene-editing, genotyping, etc, hold the future.

What are the achievements of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics Park?

With a seed funding of $22 million from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the AI and Robotics Technology Park (ARTPARK) was established by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru with support from AI Foundry. ARTPARK received an additional Rs.60 crore grant from the government of Karnataka to create cutting-edge innovations in terms of new technologies, standards, products, services, and intellectual properties (IP) out of India. It is building a robot nurse, a pilotless air ambulance, and solutions in the mobility, healthcare, and education sectors. During the pandemic, ARTPARK developed a solution that would help doctors analyse any X-Ray scan in five minutes--10,000 doctors used it from across the world. We believe we have to be at the forefront of emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, web3, metaverse, robotics. We have the resources and talent for the same, here in Bengaluru. That is our strength.


Leslie D'Monte

Leslie D'Monte has been a journalist for almost three decades. He specialises in technology and science writing, having worked with leading media groups--both as a reporter and an editor. He is passionate about digital transformation and deep-tech topics including artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, crypto, metaverses, quantum computing, genetics, fintech, electric vehicles, solar power and autonomous vehicles. Leslie is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Knight Science Journalism Fellow (2010-11). In his other avatar, he curates tech events and moderates panels.
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