“According to me, one of the major milestones from the startup enablers in Kerala was the Startup Village. It made startups more accessible to youngsters by making it equivalent to studies. So, if you are working on a startup based on the fundamentals of mechanical engineering, for example, it is as good as doing a course in the same.” — Raveendranath Kamath, CFO, Next Education India
Known for its massive tourism industry which has spawned countless stories, Kerala only accounts for only 2.8% of India’s population. Despite this, it has made invaluable contributions to the Indian startup ecosystem. This comes as a result of the strong social and intellectual infrastructure for innovation that the Kerala government and startup enabler community has built over the years.
This has given wings to ideas from budding tech entrepreneurs and created more jobs in the process.
Another vital cog in the state’s startup ecosystem is the Kerala Startup Mission or KSUM, the nodal agency that the government established with the goal of facilitating innovative startups from the college level right until the growth stage and beyond.
Thanks to KSUM and the enabler community that it has spawned, the state boasted of having over 2,200 registered startups with over 13 startups receiving funding, the total amount of which crossed $44 Mn, as per analysis by Datalabs by Inc42.
Here is a quick look at some of these enablers and the work they have done so far.
Incubators And Accelerators
According to the Kerala Startup Ecosystem Report 2019, the state has more than 40 incubators and accelerators working towards promoting startups.
The most prominent amongst these are:
- BIONEST: Providing incubator facilities, biotech instrumentation platforms, infrastructure and scientific support to startups and entrepreneurs working in the field of biotech, BIONEST is jointly run by the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), under the aegis of Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and KSUM.
- Maker Village: The largest electronic hardware incubator in the country, Maker Village is a joint initiative by central IT ministry, the government of Kerala and KSUM. Based in the sprawling Kerala Technology Innovation Zone in Kochi with an annexe at Technopark in Trivandrum, in 2018 alone it incubated over 65 startups from the state, according to DataLabs by Inc42.
- Brinc: The Hong Kong-based hardware accelerator was brought to India by KSUM to address the challenges faced by product and hardware development startups in the country. It helps startups understand the global hardware market and develop products accordingly.
- BRIC: Biomedical Research, Innovation and Commercialisation in Cancer (BRIC) is an incubator dedicated to developing solutions for cancer diagnosis and care.
- FOSS Incubator: Aimed at making Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) more accessible, this incubator facilitates the market entry and fosters Free Software Businesses (FSB) in the state.
- K-Accelerator: KSUM joined hands with Zone Startups India to roll out this programme to help startups get market validation for products, meet relevant customer and industry leaders and connect with potential investors.
- Hardware Accelerator: This 3-month programme is the first hardware accelerator programme launched in India by BRINC. It provides comprehensive support to mid-stage startups that already have a working prototype and are ready to move to their design for manufacturing (DFM) phase.
- B Hub: Located in Trivandrum, not only does B Hub provide coworking spaces to businesses, investors, students, freelancers, but it also hosts workshops and business meetups and 24/7 access to its facilities for its members.
- Centre A: Located on MG Road in Kochi’s main business district, this coworking space provides fully equipped private offices, meeting rooms and virtual office solutions to suit the needs of different businesses. It enables organisations to establish new offices without any capital investment.
- Spacebar: The first coworking space in Calicut or Kozhikode, Spacebar provides modern workspaces with facilities to enable new entrepreneurs to set up their businesses at a much faster pace.
- inQ: Another coworking space helping startups in the initial stages of their journey with facilities such as flexible workspaces, seed funding, mentoring, finding product-market fit, marketing capabilities, networking opportunities and more.
Investor Community In Kerala
- Unicorn India Ventures: An early-stage tech venture fund, it has a presence in Delhi, Mumbai and more besides Kerala. Investing in seed and early stages across various sectors, Unicorn also supports its portfolio throughout the early life cycle with seed and follow-on investments. With experienced entrepreneurs in its investing team, it also provides the startups with mentors and advisors to build success stories.
- Malabar Angels Network: The business division of Malabar Entrepreneurship Innovation Zone, Malabar Angel Network (MAN), is the first regional angel network in Kerala. Currently, it has over 50 members in its investments team. MAN works with the objective of nurturing and supporting local startups and in turn, creating an early-stage funding ecosystem in the state.
- SEA Fund: Though based out of Bengaluru, SEA Fund actively invests in the startups from Kerala. The fund helps tech entrepreneurs with early capital to ease the journey of getting to the market and build efficient and scalable businesses. It has invested in over six startups in India.
Investors And Mentors In The State
- Robin Alex Panicker, venture partner, Unicorn India Ventures
- Startups funded: VibeApp, Kochi, BuildNext Construction Solutions, Trivandrum and more
2. Anil Joshi, managing partner, Unicorn India Ventures
- Startups funded: SectorQube, Kakkanad, GenRobotics, Trivandrum and more
3. Raveendranath Kamath, CFO, Next Education India
- Startups funded: MobME, Kochi, Good Methods Global (CareStack), Trivandrum and more
4. Shilen Sagunan, chief executive, SS Consulting
- Startups funded: FarmersFZ, Kochi and more
5. Babu Sivadasan, president, Envestnet Retirement Solutions
- Startups funded: Good Methods Global (CareStack), Trivandrum and more
KSUM: The Proactive Promoter
KSUM has time and again proven just how crucial the government is for startups. The focus of the agency is right from the grassroots, to help students foster and develop their ideas, to the penetration of the international markets.
“After the establishment of KSUM, there was a strong policy framework around how to incentivise startups, what kind of support to give them and more. Since then, especially in the last four or five years, I think there has been a phenomenal improvement in the whole atmosphere,” added Kamath.
Helping early-stage startups with grants and seed loans for funding, KSUM also came up with Fund of Fund scheme to meet the funding requirements of the booming tech startups in the state.
Distributed across different cities and districts, KSUM and its sector-specific partner organisations have more than 3 Lakh square feet of incubation space, over 30 incubators and more than 200 innovation cells. These facilities include advanced labs for hardware, biotech, electronics, advanced computing and more.
Some of the benefits that it is providing the startups to help them in going to the market with their ideas are:
- Incubation – KSUM has enabled many budding startups in Kerala through its incubator programme. Offering an 18-month incubation programme for the state-based startups that have developed a minimum viable prototype (MVP) or proof of concept (POC), it helps the startups a shot at entering the market.
- International Entrepreneurial Exchange Programme – With this KSUM targets mature startups to provide them experience and exposure of biggest tech ecosystems from around the world such as Silicon Valley, London, Tokyo, Tel Aviv and more. Startups are reimbursed by up to INR 1 Lakhs per programme.
- Idea/Productisation/Scale-Up Grant – Startups also get idea grants at their idea, product and scale-up stages. For the same, KSUM gives up to INR 12 Lakhs to the startups, depending on the stage of the startup.
TiE Kerala Backs Up Efforts
Established in Kerala in 2003, TiE Kerala is one of the most active chapters in the TiE Global network with more than 75 charter members and over 700 CEOs of SMEs and professionals from across the industries such as IT & ITeS, healthtech, agritech, fintech, edtech, and more.
Working closely with KSUM, the organisation is promoting early-stage entrepreneurs in the state with mentorship and strategic support. In addition to that, both organisations have implemented many monthly programmes for startups for mentoring, startup showcases, failure labs, meetups and more.
Thanks to TiE, startups are also getting funding through Kerala Angel Network (KAN), formed by charter members of TiE.