Speaking to TNM, StartupTN Chairman Arun Roy, IAS said Tamil Nadu has all the necessary components to build an ecosystem that can compete with other mature startup ecosystems in a short period of time.

In a bid to achieve the ambitious goal of “creating 10,000 startups in the next four years”, StartupTN, an agency of the government of Tamil Nadu, plans to set up startup incubation centers in the districts of level II and III. Startup incubators are organizations run by private or public institutions that offer multiple forms of support to fledgling businesses. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MP Stalin virtually inaugurated three startup incubation centers in Erode, Tirunelveli and Madurai on August 3.

TNM spoke with Arun Roy, Head of IAS and Chairman of the StartupTN organization, about upcoming incubator hubs and how the government plans to achieve its ambitious goal of “creating 10,000 startups in the course of over the next four years by targeting socio-economic development.

What will the regional incubation poles do?

Currently, more than 60% of startups in Tamil Nadu are centered around Chennai and Coimbatore. The three regional start-up hubs in Madurai, Tirunelveli and Erode will work to create regional networks of mentors and investors, networks of incubators and entrepreneurship cells and business engagements. They will also organize events such as hackathons, ideathons, startup competitions and facilitate pitching in front of investors. These hubs also organized events to inspire, educate, imagine, incubate and develop startups in their catchment areas.

The startup framework document released on August 3 states that “transforming incubators into powerful institutions of socio-economic change is StartupTN’s priority.” How will this be done?

The framework is not just a ranking mechanism but a tool to transform incubators into powerful institutions of socio-economic change. This will be done by helping incubators understand their current level and providing them with the support needed to scale up. Incubators that need support will be connected with experts and mentors from well-established incubators and pillars to move to the next levels of maturity.

This exercise aims to raise the bar and set high standards for incubators to be ready to meet the rapidly growing demands and expectations of startups, without neglecting any sector. The incubation centers will not only be the focal point for tech-focused startups and unicorn creation, but also for non-tech startups, focusing on job creation in Tier II and Tier III districts.

How will incubators bring technological advancements to Tier II and III districts even though they will be located in Chennai?

One of the main objectives of Tamil Nadu Startup and Innovation Mission (TANSIM) is inclusive entrepreneurship at grassroots level across the state. Although Chennai has a higher concentration of incubators, there are similar facilities throughout Tamil Nadu, making it the state with the highest number of incubators in the country. The government establishes the Rs 75 crore facility for StartupTN in Chennai not only because it is the capital, but also because it has the largest startup ecosystem in the state. However, we also focus on Tier II and Tier III districts. The launch of three regional hubs in Madurai, Tirunelveli and Erode before establishing the Chennai facility demonstrates our commitment.

Will the incubator be modeled on the Telangana (T Hub) model? If not, how will it be different?

The Rs 75 Crore State Startup Hub Center to be established in Chennai is not just an incubator. Incubation will be just one activity at the state-of-the-art facility. TANSIM works to strengthen the entire startup ecosystem of the state by empowering all stakeholders, rather than being at the forefront of all these activities.

In striving to emerge among the best startup ecosystems in the country and the world, we will not only follow the best practices of other states, but we will also offer high benchmarks in incubation and support for startups. We are exploring different models while building our own thought process to accommodate all sectors and come up with different types of incubation and acceleration models internally.

Hyderabad and Bangalore have established themselves as “start-up capitals”. Has Chennai wasted time establishing itself as a start-up capital? How will the city make up for lost time?

The models from Bangalore or Hyderabad are inspiring and will certainly be able to guide us. Tamil Nadu may be a little behind in some aspects but the state is the Indian leader in SaaS (Software as a Service) and also has the best incubators in the country like the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras. We need to better project our existing ecosystem. Tamil Nadu has all the necessary components to create an ecosystem that can compete with other mature startup ecosystems in a short period of time. We are more focused on building an ecosystem of Tamil Nadu startups rather than an ecosystem focused solely on metropolitan cities.

Will there be continued support even after a start-up has reached a more mature stage? If yes, how ?

Mature startups have sufficient access to resources and support systems. Unicorns cannot be created, they emerge. But, we will ensure that there is an ecosystem conducive to all startups, whatever their stage, in particular through our initiatives of ease of doing business and facilitation of MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises).

Startups, especially tech, are still a male-dominated space. Are there any special initiatives that will be undertaken by StartupTN to make it more inclusive?

Trends change. Sixteen of the 31 start-up startups that received Rs 5 lakh each as seed grant funds under our Tamil Nadu Startup Seed Grant Fund (TANSEED) program on August 3, had a woman as their founder or co-founder.

The first step in getting women to pursue innovative, tech-focused startups by identifying them and organizing programs specifically designed for them and for students. We are working to bring back talented former IT employees who are now housewives. We are also planning special campaigns to connect them with women-focused incubators, accelerators and funds. Regional startup hubs will also be used for this purpose.

The startup framework document also mentions that mature incubators will act as an “entrepreneur community hub”. How will this be facilitated?

Mature incubators have the ability to connect all stakeholders in the startup community. One of the attributes of the mature incubator is building a strong network of mentors and providing a platform for startups to interact with them. Mentors include technical, financial and startup facilitators who have the experience and knowledge required by the startup. ‘Entrepreneurs Community Hub’ will include start-up entrepreneurs and the stakeholders mentioned above who may have regular interactions within the community.

StartupTN will encourage incubators to establish this platform and network of mentors to be recognized as “mature incubators”. Startups that approach StartupTN will also be connected to the right incubator. We will also connect investors and mature startups present in the region with incubators for better collaboration.

One of StartupTN’s goals is to create 10,000 new startups over the next four years. Besides the regional centers, what else will help the state government achieve this goal?

Regional hubs are just one of our multi-pronged approaches to achieving the goal of creating 10,000 new startups over a four-year period. We have planned a series of initiatives and projects such as sector accelerators, incubator initiatives, fab labs, investment conclaves, open innovation, startup circles, industry forums, a startup launch pad, startup support services, a startup learning portal in Tamil and mentor networks to achieve this goal in quantity and quality.