ET: Phase-1 of T-Hub was launched seven years ago. What would you like to say about its progress over these years?
KTR: I think innovation as a practice, as a culture is something that we wanted to bring into the new state. In fact, I call my state a startup state of India, because in 75 years of independent India, there have been very few states that have done as remarkably as Telangana in terms of innovation, disruption and infrastructure.
The first phase of the hub was launched in 2015. Now this is the next leg of it. T-Hub has India’s largest prototyping facility and is building the world’s largest Innovation Campus, where you will have thousands of youngsters working in the startup space. It will be creating a new generation of entrepreneurs, which in my humble opinion will also create a lot of employment for India and will put India on the global map.
ET: It has been more than a decade since the Indian startup ecosystem started to develop. What are some of the new sectors where startups can evolve?
KTR: I think mobility is one sector with a huge opportunity. As more and more youngsters from the Indian middle class have started becoming upwardly mobile, I think the affluence and the per capita spend is growing. Globally, mobility is one sector that has strongly aligning itself with climate change, and therefore, sustainable mobility is here to stay. I think that is an exciting field.
I’m also excited about medtech (medical technologies). After the pandemic, healthcare is one sector that is in everybody’s mind. Just behind this campus of T-Hub is Novartis’ second largest campus in the world. Further, Hyderabad basically does a lot of digital innovation. So it is a marriage of healthcare and information technology, marriage of biology and technology, so to speak. Thirdly, I think India has a lot of opportunities in BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance). In other terms, the fintech sector.
ET: What are some of the challenges that still exist in the startup ecosystem?
KTR: I think governments can only play the role of an enabler. We can’t drive innovation per se, but we can certainly encourage and enable innovation. We can be the first customer to innovators. I think that’s what the government has been doing, which I think is extremely important.
Secondly, I think, every innovator and investor looks at government and regulatory frameworks. And as technologies emerge and evolve, what is important for the government is to come out with a clear-cut strategy in terms of what is allowed and what is not. Therefore, we’ve been doing a lot of policy advocacy as well, in tandem with some of the most active technologies across the world. It will also create the necessary ground for innovators to come in and do more.
ET: In India, we have 100 unicorns but only 18 of them are profitable. Do you believe that being a unicorn is just a fad and that it is more important to be profitable?
KTR: Valuations in the startup world are of course important. But the bottom line for any company or unicorn is profit. Being a unicorn is of course a testament to the fact that the market or an investor actually buys into your idea, buys into the merit of your product. That means you have a platform to take it to the next level. Being a unicorn is a springboard to take advantage of.
I completely agree with you that only a few of the unicorns are actually profitable. But I think as the markets mature, you’ll see more and more focus on the bottom line and not just on being a unicorn. Sustainable businesses will actually give a return on investment, it means that these are the companies that are going to last eventually.
The acceptance of a product, acceptance of your service by the larger consumers and the sustenance of it will define the longevity of your enterprise … because sometimes, even the most successful startups in terms of raising capital may not have it in them to make a success of the capital.