After having made their mark in India, startups such as OYO, Ola, Zomato, Zoho, CureFit, and Freshworks, have ventured out to the overseas market to expand their business and find new growth opportunities. This serves as inspiration for the many startups that have hit the ground running and are exploring growth avenues beyond the domestic market.
There are many challenges that startups face when entering the global market, including understanding the local culture, consumer behaviour, creating a local business network and bringing in sales from new users. Uber’s failed attempt to expand to China and then selling its business to the local rival Didi Chuxing serves as an example of how difficult it can be to navigate foreign markets. Having the right business connections and an understanding of the market is absolutely crucial for international expansion.
For many startups, this happens through the network their investors create. However, the role of the government in making expansion possible for startups cannot be understated. Governments have the greatest access to foreign markets and can impact global trade through specific arrangements and pacts. In India, we are increasingly seeing state governments tie-up with international companies and foreign governments to drive local employment and industry. At the same time, some state governments are taking the innovation and tech created by India’s startups around the world.
Kerala has set the example for state governments with its incubator-led focus on the startup ecosystem. And now the state government is doing groundbreaking work through the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) to help startups go abroad. The state’s nodal agency for startups has been coordinating with the government to promote the growth and expansion of startups, not only within the state but in global markets as well. With initiatives, schemes, events (national and international), and tie-ups, the state has helped as many as 130 startups expand and reach overseas markets.
KSUM’s Drive Towards The Bigger Picture: The World Market
Promoting entrepreneurship at every level, KSUM takes a holistic approach towards startups. Its work begins at the school level with schemes such as Atal Tinkering Laboratories, Startup Box and more, which target young entrepreneurs and school innovation. The aim of KSUM is to remove hurdles in the path of entrepreneurship at every level.
The Kerala Startup Mission brought Brinc, a Hong Kong-based hardware accelerator, to India to address the challenges faced by product and hardware development startups in the country. India’s first international accelerator, Brinc supports startups in understanding the global hardware market and develop products accordingly. The Startup Mission has also established an accelerator for startups, the K-accelerator programme with the support of Zone Startups, which supports fund-raising and helps startups come up with a go-to-market strategy.
Leveraging Opportunities From Events
Besides its efforts to keep the startup ecosystem robust and healthy at a local level, KSUM is also looking at global events to help local startups onboard international clients, meet established investors, figure out market needs and know the competition in the international market. These events are a means for the startups to showcase their products in the market and expand their outreach.
Boosting Participation In Global Events
Some of the events that KSUM has tied up with include the leading tech conventions around the world, which brings unmatched opportunities for smaller Indian startups are:
London Tech Week: Most recently, Kerala Government, in association with the IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India), arranged for the participation of 10 startups from the state in the London Tech Week 2019. Amongst them were startups such as Inforich Technology Solutions, 2Hats Logic Solutions, Riafy Technologies, and Neovibe Innovative Technologies. Besides setting up meetings with potential investors and business partners, these startups were allotted stalls to showcase their products or services.
TiEcon: Startups from Kerala were showcased at TiEcon, the mega tech conference, which saw over 5,000 participants from 22 countries last year. Startups looking to scale up networked with the international tech community and explored expansion to the US market.
Slush: The primary objective of Slush, held annually in Helsinki, Finland, is to facilitate founder and investor meetings and build a worldwide startup community. KSUM entered some of its partner startups at Slush to open up opportunities for expansion outside India, including Splendre, a digital advertising platform, Mashinga Tech, a SaaS platform, and Evelabs, a healthtech startup.
GITEX Future Stars (Dubai): With a focus on technologies such as blockchain and AI, this event is ideal for startups in deeptech sector. KSUM has a pavilion at GITEX for all the startups that want to leverage the platform and showcase their products here. Kerala government took 30 startups for the event, including Agrima InfoTech, an AI products developer, Sastra Robotics, which leverages HMI to provide solutions to its clients, Clootrack, a customer perception platform and more.
Hosting Events Of Global Outreach In Kerala
Besides taking startups abroad, the Kerala government hosts a number of events that see global platforms come to India.
Huddle Kerala: Asia’s largest startup ecosystem congregation, Huddle Kerala, offers tech startups a platform to pitch their products and interact with top-tier investors, executives and media from around the world. Its primary focus is on the emerging sectors such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, IoT, gaming and esports, cybersecurity, digital entertainment, AR/VR, AI, UI/UX design & egovernance.
Global Innovation Startup Festival: This upcoming festival and startup convention is expected to be one of the largest in the state. It will act as a platform for local startups to interact with their global counterparts.
Global Exposure Scheme
While events are a platform for startups to expand their network, KSUM’s Exchanges/Global Immersion Programme opens up even more opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs. Under its International Entrepreneurial Exchange Programme, students and young entrepreneurs from Kerala are given exposure to the international startup ecosystem.
As part of the programme, the selected participants can undergo an exchange programme to startup destinations such as Silicon Valley, London, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Singapore etc. to interact with startups and clients in these markets. This not only opens up funding opportunities but also provides startups with an international platform to showcase their products. The state also supports students and from colleges to renowned universities such as Harvard or Stanford in the US to study the local startup ecosystem.
KSUM takes care of as much as 90% of the travel expenses and around 80 startups went abroad last year under this programme.
In addition, entrepreneurs from around the world have worked with startups in Kerala thanks to international startup delegations led by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) among other organisations.
Forging Relations In The Global Market
Networking and building relations with governments, international companies and universities can work wonders for startups. While there is a continued need of attracting more global companies to improve R&D in India, the Kerala government works diligently to form international affiliations within the state.
The government of Kerala recently partnered with US-based Unity Technologies, a game development engine, to launch a Centre of Excellence for AR/VR and gaming in Kochi. It also signed an MoU with Airbus BizLab India, Airbus’ global aerospace accelerator, to set up an Aerospace Innovation Centre in the state’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
In the quest to boost funding and growth prospects of women-led and women-centric startups, KSUM collaborated with She Loves Tech to promote women entrepreneurs in the state and in India. The challenge is a global platform committed to creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs while building a technology and innovation culture.
Some other international affiliations of KSUM are MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, Fab Foundation, University of Illinois, Singularity University, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design and Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) among others.
Here are some of the startups that have gone global owing to these initiatives by the Kerala government:
- Agrima InfoTech: A startup that deals with providing AI assistance to our everyday tasks
- Sastra Robotics: This startup uses human-machine interface (HMI) to provide solutions to industries such as automotive, aviation and electronics
- Iboson: AR VR company with an AR Platform named Unite AR. This product has got wide acceptance in the international market
- Truefin Advisory Services: A financial advisory firm, Truefin is both an online and offline hub for services catering to investments, loans, credit cards and more
- Clap Research: With its focus on blockchain and smart contracts, this startup is providing solutions to issues regarding commerce, trading, supply chain, security etc, to businesses
- 1074 Vectors: This startup is dedicated to making 3D programming fun and leverages the same to provide its clients with project-based solutions
- Greenturn Idea Factory: This startup works with the aim of energy conservation and sustainability. It aims to bridge the gap between energy wastage and the challenges in optimising energy spends
- Inforich Technologies: This startup leverages technology to fill the gap present in the healthcare industry
- Adfinity: A digital advertising platform, aims to provide customers with the right digital media platforms for their needs
- Mashinga Tech: Leveraging HMI and multitouch technology, Mashinga provides products such as multitouch tables, memos and more
- Evelabs: A healthtech startup, Evelabs has made its name with patient monitoring and display products
A part of KSUM’s involvement at Unbound Bahrain was Ganga Raj, cofounder, I Love 9 Months. “KSUM has helped us a lot in terms of accessing relevant mentors at various stages of our idea, to prototype, to growth lifecycle. Unbound Bahrain was a great opportunity for us to showcase our startup and explore market opportunities in Bahrain. We are in the process of signing a joint venture with a Bahrain based company. The support extended by KSUM team was excellent and the entire trip was hassle-free” Raj said.
The Progressing Kerala Startup Landscape
This year KSUM plans to host over 15 global startup events and wants to support 150+ startups in their global expansion journey. The participation in global events ranges from 10 startups to as many as 30 startups at marquee events such as GITEX.
KSUM is currently in talks with countries for the LaunchPad programme which will bring global startups to the Kerala market and take Kerala’s startups abroad. “Kerala has been taking international delegations to different parts of the world and found out the potential in becoming a corridor for startups from across the globe to be part of the Indian startup ecosystem. This will make India a global destination for startups. Kerala has set up a launchpad programme in Kochi and found that a lot of countries are interested in the same. We are optimistic that we will be able to rope in two or three countries this financial year for the same,” said Ashok Kurian Panjikaran, Manager, Business Development, KSUM.
While the Kerala government pushes for startups to reach the global market, it has not lost sight of the scope for these startups in the domestic market. Be it providing networking opportunities with industry as well as state government, acting as an incubator, or giving the right financial support on seed grant, it has helped many startups tremendously to pilot services and products in the Indian market. Now with the focus on startups who have made a mark in India and are eyeing the international market, KSUM is on track to help them reach their global dreams.