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Uttarakhand Startups Fight Mentorship Challenges In Hilly Terrain

Uttarakhand Startups Fight Mentorship Challenges In Hilly Terrain

Uttarakhand is predominantly a mountainous state with only 10% of the land being plains

The terrain poses challenges such as movement of goods as well as access to good mentors

Most startups in Uttarakhan are from agriculture, health and tourism

Uttarakhand is primarily a mountainous state with only 10% of its geographical area falling under plains, which poses a challenge for the movement of goods, services as well as people. But technology, internet penetration and proliferation of smartphones is changing the game when it comes to product and service adoption. Naturally, this is a great opportunity for startups, even despite the challenges in Uttarakhand, which are different from the issues startup hubs face in other parts of the country.

For one, the geographical location of Uttarakhand has led to the lack of good mentors in the state. “Mentors do visit the state on government’s invitation but I feel that there is a certain unwillingness to travel among these advisors. This could be because of their time constraints or because the startups here are not as mature as in Tier 1 cities,” said Rajat Jain, founder, Sunfox Technologies. 

Adding to Jain’s observation, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) associate dean – incubation, Dr. Ajit Nigam said that mentors visit Uttarakhand without any regularity, comparing them to parachute visits. “They’re here for two or three days, and then they’re out. But when you use the word mentoring, it has to be much more consistent, and not on a day to day basis,” he added. 

Similarly, S C Nautiyal, director – industries & nodal officer, Startup Uttarakhand, also noted the primary challenge for startups in getting access to appropriate mentors and reaching out to venture capitalist firms and investors. However, he added that the state government is working on creating a pool of such people.

Uttarakhand Startup Policy was announced as recently as 2018 and has since then recognized 66 startups, out of which 13 have been provided seed funding. The state government reported having 88 registered mentors with the state and six state recognised incubators. 

One of the major impacts of the startup policy is said to be the boost in the number of startups in the state. “Before the policy launch, there were hardly three to four companies here. But since the state government started offering seed capital to startups, startups became a viable opportunity for many ideators in the state,” said Rajat. 

Prominent Startups From The State 

“Uttarakhand startups are totally different from the standard ecommerce ventures which one finds in larger cities. Uttarakhand has developed its own way of doing things, instead of aping Delhi or Bengaluru,” said Nigam. 

Some of the prominent startup sectors in the state are tourism, food processing, health, agriculture, and hospitality. The startups are working on innovative ways of solving problems like waste management in the tourist locations, water management solutions to transfer water from one hill to another, and more local issues.

Here are some of these startups that have gained recognition over the past few years:

  • Sunfox Technologies: Dehradun-based healthtech startup was founded by Rajat Jain and Arpit Jain in 2016.  The company has built a portable ECG device called Spandan, which enables anyone to use this medical equipment with or without any medical knowledge. 
  • Pravartan Technologies:  Founded by Dr. Shiva Jahuri and Manish Srivastava in 2013, Pravartan Technologies has built a wireless ECG platform, which enables mobile-connected miniature ECG device and cloud-based consultancy sessions with experts. 
  • Fermentech Labs:  Roorkee-based biotechnology startup Fermentech Labs was founded by Sidharth Arora in 2017. The company is involved in the production of two enzymes — phytase and cellulases at lab scale. Another mission of the company is to help increase the farmer’s income. For this purpose, Fermentech Labs is purchasing crop stubble farmers around Roorkee and using it as a substrate for the production of enzyme and feed pellets. 

Enablers Supporting The Ecosystem 

While the lack of mentors is a big challenge, the array of enabling institutions in Uttarakhand and increased government focus has created a good support ecosystem for startups.  This includes the likes of TBI Graphic Era University, Tula’s Institute, UCIE, UPES University, and Startup Incubator and Entrepreneurship Development Society, Pant Nagar, IIT Roorkee. Funding opportunities in the state are majorly limited to state government incentives, noted Pravartan Technologies cofounder Jahuri. 

Further, talking about the growth opportunities and existing support system in the state, Sunfox’s Jain added, “Unless and until we have one or two successful startup stories from the state, and local founders don’t start helping new startups. I don’t think any opportunity will travel from outside.” 

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