There is a lot of buzz around Bengaluru being the start-up capital of India. Start-ups are normally associated with private capital and risks and returns, but several other enabling infrastructure make a start-up ecosystem thrive and grow.
For Bengaluru, the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) in 1909 was a key enabler followed by other key institutions like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (1940), Bharat Electronics Limited (1954), and BEML (1964). Even in the technology industry, two of the world-class companies today in the IT world were start-ups established in Bengaluru in the early 80s.
What has helped the garden city of India to reach this pre-eminent position? The most important influencers are the ambition, vision and quality of entrepreneurship displayed by the early successful companies like Infosys and Wipro. N.R. Narayana Murthy [Infosys co-founder] and Azim Premji [Chairman, Wipro] demonstrated that ethical and sustainable global businesses can be built by promoters, by adhering to high quality governance and transparency.
The success of these organisations helped create aspiration and nurtured a cadre of high-quality entrepreneurs, who have gone on to build many successful organisations and the flywheel effect of this is visible today.
Beyond visionary entrepreneurs is the ecosystem which has been built over the last 40 years. Here, I would like to highlight the key role played by the State government in enabling the growth of industries.
Starting from early Chief Ministers like S.M. Krishna, political leaders realised the job creation potential of start-ups and supported that fully. The State also had several forward-thinking bureaucrats who evolved policies that helped the industry grow and thrive.
Karnataka was among the first States to have an evolved policy for start-ups, The ‘Elevate’ programme has been a major success, and the ecosystem is not being confined to Bengaluru alone but moving to other major centres, like Mysuru, Hubballi, Belagavi, and Mangaluru, to name a few.
The State is possibly an early mover in establishing strong links with the industry, and efforts like the ‘IT Vision Group’ have greatly helped enhance government-industry cooperation. The role that industry leaders like Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys have played in enhancing this strong collaboration between industry and government is commendable, and the State stands as a role model in enabling such an ecosystem.
Beyond industry collaboration, the State is also very proactive in collaboration with industry associations like CII, Nasscom. The first start-up warehouse in collaboration with Nasscom was set up almost six years ago by the State and that has evolved as an effective incubation centre for start-ups.
While a lot of buzz around start-ups in Bengaluru is about technology businesses, we must not forget that world-class businesses are being built in several other industries also.
Biocon, with its success, has demonstrated the depth of biotechnology talent in Bengaluru and how a global business can be built out of Bengaluru with visionary and committed leadership. Business services providers, like Quess Corp and Teamlease, are proving that it is possible to build other category leaders in this town, beyond technology businesses. The sustained success of high-quality entrepreneurship across sectors is motivating several other people to experiment with their ideas.
While many will credit Bengaluru’s success to its salubrious climate, the growth of the start-up ecosystem was also accelerated with the availability of adequate risk capital to support early stage companies. The role that early venture capitalists, like Prashant Prakash of Accell, Sudhir Sethi of Chiratae, played in building the ecosystem is commendable. Coupled with that is the role that successful entrepreneurs, like K. Ganesh of GrowthStory, have played in helping many successful start-ups evolve and thrive.
Building an ecosystem takes time. It took almost six to seven decades for Silicon Valley to reach where it is today. Today, a lot more is talked about the growth pains of Bengaluru, like traffic woes, but growth always has its implications. Afterall, in the U.S. was the traffic on Freeway 101 not a topic of discussion during the boom days of Silicon Valley? Every evolving centre will go through its pain points, but I am confident that with the foundation of a healthy cooperation, which the State has established between the industry and the government, many of these problems will be addressed.
The future of Bengaluru is not just the start-ups. The city is evolving as the intellectual capital of India. For instance, Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Yojana, etc. were conceived and executed in Bengaluru. We will continue to see Bengaluru with its intellectual capital leading the way in driving technology for social good and building world-class businesses with high quality governance and great value creation for all stakeholders. Traffic in Bengaluru being what it is that will not stop the city from raising and shining.
(Krishnakumar Natarajan is the chairman of Nasscom Foundation and managing partner, Mela Ventures.)