Feature Story

Why a startup culture will drive India’s digital disruption

by John T. Chambers

startup culture India digital

From new jobs, to more innovation and a booming startup community – the opportunity in India has never been better.

India’s Prime Minister Modi’s Digital India initiative has brought a new dimension to the local economy – from new jobs, to more innovation and a booming startup community – the opportunity in India has never been better.   With roughly 4,200 startups, eight of which are valued at over $1 billion, India’s numbers are now directly behind that of the US and UK. And three to four new Indian startups are emerging every day. Fueling this dynamic startup scene is a cultural shift that inspires all employees to think big, take risks, and innovate fast to capitalize on market trends – a mindset that is new to much of the Indian business community.  I believe that government leaders can help foster the India startup culture, encourage it to grow and further drive digital disruption throughout the rest of the country.

The next big thing can come from anyone, anywhere, as long as individuals have the right environment and tools. A collaborative culture that celebrates open innovation, encourages citizens to come up with new ideas and ultimately not fear failure, will allow India to rapidly move into new areas and capture the power of digitization. Prime Minister Modi is laying the right foundation by providing broadband access for every citizen and aiming to train 400 million people digital skills by 2022. In January 2016 he took this a step further with Startup India, the country’s first ever agenda directly aimed at promoting startups. Part of this includes the Atal Innovation Mission, which will bring together academics, entrepreneurs, and researchers to collaborate on concepts that could potentially drive economic growth and job creation.

See also: India's digital revolution

Without support – including incentives and investments - new ideas cannot be realized. The Indian government gets this and has set up several initiatives to boost more entrepreneurs to launch startups. A 1.5 billion USD VC fund will invest in startups over four years, giving a financial boost to young companies. And it doesn’t just stop at funding. Incentives like cheaper and faster patent applications and an 80 percent rebate on patent costs have made India an attractive location for startups and have enabled the ecosystem to grow. Tax breaks for VC funds investing in startups, as well as for startups themselves will persuade more groups to provide help to the startup community.

An attractive business environment is already drawing attention from global companies to invest in India. For over 10 years Cisco has invested 240 million USD allocation to promote the growth of early-stage and growth stage companies and has supported 25 startups through direct and indirect investments. Other companies like Google and Intel are also working to provide mentorship, training and financial backing to the startup ecosystem. Through aiding more entrepreneurs to start businesses and by making it easier for more companies to invest, India can propel its industries to lead on the global stage.

As Prime Minister Modi has pointed out, the Indian business community isn’t just about billion-dollar companies, but instead is supporting the smaller startups that have the potential to create the majority of new jobs by 2020. It is this ecosystem of startups with cutting edge thinking that will help the country find digital solutions to some of its most pressing problems, such as meeting the needs of the growing urban population through smart cities and providing access to healthcare and education.

In a few days, I will have the privilege to meet with some of India’s brightest entrepreneurs receiving the MIT Young Innovators award for their ability to take risks and generate groundbreaking ideas. It is these very individuals that are fueling technological disruption in India. By continuing to foster programs that encourage new solutions, increasing collaboration across industries, and creating an environment where business can flourish, government leaders in India can capitalize on this momentum to create a unique culture that is ready for the Digital Age.