Let Kerala Build Entrepreneurial Spirit on its High HDI


This is the first in a series of monthly jottings I will share with readers on the topic of creating an ecosystem conducive to entrepreneurship in Kerala. This is a subject that is receiving considerable attention in India today, with even the Prime Minister actively taking up the cause of startups through the Startup India programme.
In January 2014, The Economist magazine carried a special feature on this phenomenon titled ‘A Cambrian Moment.’ The metaphor employed was that of the amazing development which happened 540 million years ago that led to the multiplication of life forms from sponges and other simple creatures that existed till then. In a few million years, the planet saw the emergence of thousands of new life forms, a process that had continued through the stages of evolution to the present, creating us and the world we live in.

The article argued that in the business realm, something similar was happening: an entrepreneurial explosion. This has been enabled by the emergence of many technologies and capabilities and platforms that enable new ventures to quickly design and develop new solutions to old problems, often completely disrupting existing industries. Much of this has happened in the virtual realm, and has been made possible by the advances in information technology. This has enabled regions within developing economies like Bengaluru and Gurgaon to become fertile breeding grounds for new enterprises. A brotherhood of young caffeine-loaded people working out of cafés and shared facilities without bothering about the time of the day or time zones has emerged. This has created a tectonic shift in hitherto socially conservative communities, leading young people to look at starting enterprises of their own when barely out of school and college. This Cambrian Explosion is having far-reaching effects on business and society, disrupting traditional businesses and occupations.

Good work by the Kerala Startup Mission, TiE Kerala, CII, IEDCs in colleges, and several Incubators in the State have helped put in place important elements of the startup ecosystem in Kerala. I visit many of these regularly, and have sensed the buzz about startups growing in the State.

This issue of Destination Kerala looks at tourism, especially adventure and nature tourism, which offer scope for Kerala. New opportunities are opening up thanks to Airbnb and Uber making it easier and cheaper for people to travel to distant places. This can only benefit places like Kerala which, however, need to keep the State ahead of the curve in terms of value propositions others are unable to either match or quickly copy. With its high Human Development Index (HDI), social stability, syncretic culture, and ancient history of communal and social harmony, Kerala offers a wonderful value proposition for entrepreneurs to start businesses to meet the growing demand from larger numbers of travellers from distant countries as well as distant parts of this country. The Government and local bodies can assist this process by ensuring basic facilities like good roads, efficient garbage treatment, good healthcare system, stable internet connectivity and modern public transportation.

Entrepreneurs today are people in a hurry to get their solutions to customers, products to markets on time and execute jobs to agreed schedules. They will shun places that do not enable this to happen. Hartals and attimari are Luddite practices that will harm the case of Kerala, which otherwise is uniquely positioned through its ‘first world’ levels of HDI to attract many startups, not only in tourism and hospitality, but in other many hi-tech areas. Business and industry, government and politicians, and members of civil society must all come together to make this happen.