Karnataka Digital Economy Mission road show makes a splash in the US

Ritu Jha-

“Startup innovation is no more limited to one country; it is a cross-border innovation. For cross-border innovation, startups in India need the support of startups in the US, and startups in the US need the support of startups in India,” says B V Naidu, Chairman of The Karnataka Digital Economy Mission (KDEM) told indica on what brings the Karnataka delegation to the US.

KDEM is a not-for-profit body created two years AGO as a bridge between industry and government. It supports the government for effective policy implemention. Representation in the organization is 49% of the state government and 51% of industry bodies. The budgetary support comes from the state government.

“In the past, we were primarily looking at larger companies and trying to tell them how India could be a great outsourcing partner. Now, that is proven, we have global capability centers. If this diaspora has to grow in the US with their own enterprises, they need the support of India, which eventually will help startups in India,” said Naidu, who was in Silicon Valley to attend TiEcon 2023 held May 3 through 5. A day before the conference, he and the team were hosted by Silicon Valley based organization American Tamil Entrepreneurs Association (ATEA), in collaboration with Mikro Grafeio Services Pvt. Ltd, a company based out of Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka.

Naidu, who has been in the IT industry for more than 30 years and has conducted road shows in the U.S. 25 years ago, said, “Bengaluru’s growth has been phenomenal. I saw Bengaluru grow from 13 companies in 1991 with an $8 million export to $85 billion exports now. I have moved away from government, but still continue to engage with them. I am supporting new organizations to help implement a new roadmap for Karnataka. When you have a complete road map, you need an organization with great talent. Government is not sufficient, that is the reason we created KDEM.”

He said the demands of the startups in India are changing so dynamically because the whole country is on an accelerated growth path. To take care of such a demand, you need an organization like the KDEM, which operates with a principal – by the industry, for the industry.

“This is supported by the industry at various levels and KDEM has a hybrid board – with representatives from the government of Karnataka and private industry bodies,” he said. “Our focus is beyond Bengaluru. Bengaluru is the leader and has helped many companies. Now, we are inviting people from the industry in the US to come and see what is happening in emerging clusters like Hubbali, and Dharwad. We are not calling them tier two or tier three cities. We don’t want to demean them. We are calling them emerging tech clusters.”

The delegation has already got more than 65 letters of intent (LOIs). “Maybe we’ll get 100 LOIs. So, we know that the message has gone through. People want to come to Mysuru, Mangaluru, and Hubbali. The objective of our US visit has been met. Karnataka is a progressive state, all its policies are written by the industry, for the industry. The government needs the industry, and industry needs the government. The success of Karnataka can be credited to a troika – government, industry, and academia.”

TiE Bengaluru President Madan Padaki who was part of the KDEM delegation said the idea is to promote Karnataka’s digital economy and that’s why it’s called the Karnataka Digital Economy Mission. “It is to help entrepreneurs, investors, and businessmen to come to Karnataka to understand what’s happening in the state. We’ve seen a huge number of start-ups taking off in Mysuru, Hubbali, Dharwad, and Belgavi. One of the objectives of this US visit is also to talk about the growth and possibilities in Bengaluru and beyond. This is the first time that we’re coming in as a delegation,” said Padaki.

“I am working on an initiative to encourage US companies to set up their satellite offices in small towns – tier 2, tier 3 cities – and provide job opportunities to graduates there,” Santhosh Mahalingam – Mikro Grafeio Services Pvt. Ltd, a company based in Bengaluru told indica on the sidelines of the event.

Mahalingam, who works with KDEM to help bring companies to Karnataka, says it is beneficial for the companies as well as the graduates as they do not have to migrate to the metro cities and deal with high operational costs.

“If I look at the past annual data, the commercial office space leasing market in India is roughly around $1 billion in terms of the value of transactions taking place. Of these investments, 90% go to 10 districts or towns when there are 766 districts in India. One can understand the kind of uneven growth which has happened and that has led to the Metro’s becoming overcrowded and growing beyond the point of what they could have gone. Had this been evenly distributed both in terms of real estate and companies going into the small towns, there would have been a far better, equitable distribution in India,” Mahalengam said.

Ram Kevalur, Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Mikro Grafeio, Business Transformation Advisor & StartUp evangelist, who was also part of the team told indica, “Close to 95% or more of the entrepreneurs we have met here are of Indian origin. And what we are seeing is Indian origin CXOs here are actually redefining the future of Silicon Valley. We have come here with not only an objective of understanding how we can be of help to them from an operations, cost, and capability standpoint. I think there is a lot of focus on also telling them that India is a consumer market that they should target. Because India is the largest populated country now with tremendous digital connectivity to every village. So, every solution has great potential to be consumed by India.”

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