Kerala’s Ecosystem: Startup-ready in Every Sense

Startup Ecosystem

Any discussion of a startup ecosystem will be replete with mention of Startup Missions, Incubators, Accelerators, Shared Services Facilities and Policy Frameworks. These are necessary elements, but are far from sufficient to lead to sustained startup activity and growth. There are other important factors as well which are necessary for the sustained growth of startup activity in a region.

A literate and educated population is one of the most important prerequisites for a startup ecosystem to establish roots and thrive in a region. For this, it is not sufficient to have a few ‘good’ schools and colleges producing a limited number of trained people, who will mostly be from the upper income group. A primary and secondary school system with universal enrolment is a basic requirement, as only such a broad base will help supply higher education institutions with young people having right caliber, intelligence and eagerness to learn. For more than a generation, Kerala has been far ahead of the rest of the country, devoting a significant part of the annual State budget to education-related expenses. Kerala achieved Western levels of literacy more than 20 years ago.

There should be a public healthcare system supported by policies aimed at social security for the low income sections to ensure that they are free from fear of insecurities arising from unemployment, sickness, old age and disability. A healthy population can not only assure that the education system works effectively, but also that those who find work spend most of their time on work and not at home or in the hospital due to illness. Children from the poorer sections should not have to abandon their studies to work to supplement family income. Healthcare outcomes that measure the success of public health systems including infant mortality, life expectancy etc. are far superior in Kerala compared to any other State.

A harmonious society and community is a third important necessary condition to help foster startups. Only a stable society that welcomes people of different faiths and communities to live and work together, can provide the ecosystem startups needs to thrive. Kerala, in addition to being the seat of Hindu philosophy and learning, has the oldest Christian and Muslim communities in the world. Kerala culture today is the syncretic product of centuries of mixing and interaction between these communities.

Startups need an urban environment to provide the essential services they require to thrive. These include local availability of skilled people, housing, shopping, entertainment and transportation. Kerala has a uniquely distributed model of urbanisation, with no giant urban concentration, with seven cities of more than 1.5 million population, and many more large and small towns scattered across its length. As a result, urban amenities are available in every district. These are all connected by a network of good roads. The combination of road and rail makes Kerala a land of commuters. This means startups can be started in any part of the State.

I have heard many business people say, while grudgingly accepting that high HDI is a worthy goal and measure of economic development, that they wish more had been done to promote business. But the record shows that Kerala has not lagged behind in seizing the opportunity provided by the growth of the economy, growing as fast as the rest of the States. In fact, in the past couple of decades, Kerala has strengthened its position as the leader in per capita GDP and per capita consumption expenditure.

Imagine an unborn female child being asked in which State she would like to be born in India. What would her answer be? I think she would like to be born in Kerala, where her chances of surviving from birth through childhood into adulthood would be high; she would be assured of school education; she would be assured access to healthcare, and she would be part of a community that, while still does not assure equal opportunities for females, is still more harmonious and cohesive than those in any other part of India.

I think an unborn startup, if asked this question, would give the same answer!