Startup20, an official engagement group established under India’s 2023 G20 Presidency, is arguably the highest stage for global startup policymaking, according to Dr Chintan Vaishnav, Chairperson of Startup20 India, and the Mission Director for Atal Innovation Mission (AIM).
“The hope is that this group will produce recommendations that will get woven into conversations between countries to make the life of startups easier in serving the world,” Dr Vaishnav told YourStory in an exclusive interaction during the Sikkim Sabha.
Dr Vaishnav also expressed optimism that Startup20 would continue to be a generative, inclusive, and eclectic forum that listens as much as it talks.
Startup20 serves as a dialogue forum for stakeholders of the global startup ecosystem, and aspires to represent the ecosystem to G20 leaders in order to address macroeconomic issues and challenges experienced by entrepreneurs.
Highlighting the importance of Startup20, Dr Vaishnav said there is no forum where issues of startups are discussed globally. While there are systematic processes to talk about, enable or promote matters related to large corporations or international trade, for startups, issues hare handled ad-hoc.
The engagement group not only aims to create a global narrative for supporting startups, it also intends to enable synergies between startups, investors, corporations, innovation agencies, and other key ecosystem stakeholders.
Dr Vaishnav pointed out that in many economies, startups that are ambitious may even run into situations where the risk appetite of investors is not as much as the risk startups take. Many of these startups migrate to other countries and find investors, but “there are no pathways to these explorations” and this forum “can create those pathways,” he said.
The engagement group operates through task forces–foundations, alliances, finance, inclusion, and sustainability–that are structured to develop priorities and bring forward topics for which recommendations would be formulated to support startup ecosystems globally.
Such recommendations would be conveyed through a communique to the G20 India Presidency and taken up during the G20 Summit this year.
Entrepreneurship in the North East
The second meeting of Startup20–Sikkim Sabha–concluded on March 19, 2023, after deliberations, discussions and furthering the agenda finalised during the inception meeting held in Hyderabad in January.
Prior to the start of Sikkim Sabha, Dr Vaishnav had remarked that the meeting “offers a unique opportunity to bring the startup world to the pristine North East of India and showcase its unique and growing ecosystem.”
Talking about the expanding startup ecosystem in the Northeast regions, he explained that generic models would not automatically take off in these geographies as elements such as the cultural dimensions and institutional capacity have to be taken into consideration. “A Bengaluru or a Gurugram model is not the Gangtok model,” he added.
Dr Vaishnav further elaborated, “As the Central and State governments come together, we have to think about what are those models that will get somebody from 0 to 1, as opposed to bringing those models that are taking people from 1 to 10.”
Bringing about the wave of entrepreneurship
In an effort to create and promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, the Government of India has built three Atal Incubation Centres (AICs) under AIM in Northeast India, including one in Sikkim. Similarly, government departments including the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Science and Technology have created centres in the northeastern region.
“These centres are to become the hubs that will connect the northeastern innovation ecosystem to the rest of the nation because they are the touch points of the nation’s overall ecosystem into this region,” Dr Vaishnav said.
AIC Sikkim Manipal University Technology Business Incubator (AIC-SMUTBI) nurtures early-stage entrepreneurial ventures from North East India at large, and Sikkim in particular. It has incubated 10% of all northeastern startups (about 78 startups), according to Dr Vaishnav.
Incubated at AIC-SMUTBI, O2 Himalaya is a Sikkim-based startup that produces portable Himalayan oxygen canisters, with medical-grade oxygen, sourced from the pristine air of the Sikkim Himalayas. It was founded with the intention to make portable oxygen accessible to everyone at an affordable price.
The government has built 69 AICs so far and it plans to increase the total number of AICs to 101, he said, adding that the government has also created 10,000 Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLs) that have sensitised over 75 lakh school students to innovation and entrepreneurship.
ATLs provides flexible workspaces where young minds can gain innovative skills, shape ideas via hands-on experiences, and work and learn. It organises a variety of events, like regional and national level contests, exhibitions, workshops and lectures to encourage student creativity.
These AICs have incubated more than 2900 startups that have created over 32,000 jobs, as per AIM.
Dr Vaishnav also spoke about Atal Community Innovation Centers (ACICs), a third programme under AIM, that creates community innovation centres in Tier II, Tier III, and beyond, to address the regional imbalance in the innovation ecosystem of the country.
“We piloted something called the Vernacular Innovation Programme, which we are now trying to scale nationwide to lower language barriers to entry in the innovation ecosystem of India,” he added. “Creativity has nothing to do with knowing English.”
AIM’s objective is to establish new programmes and regulations to stimulate innovation in many areas of the economy, to provide forums and cooperation opportunities for various stakeholders, and to build an umbrella structure to oversee India’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Meanwhile, Startup20 would develop a worldwide narrative for assisting startups that have become the engine for innovation-fueled economic recovery, reorientation, and growth for nations around the globe.
Startup 20 is a major effort under India’s 2023 G20 Presidency. India holds the G20 Presidency till November 30, 2023. During this time, Dr Vaishnav is optimistic about the global startup support system, and even after the end of India’s one-year tenure.
“We are really hopeful that Brazil and subsequently South Africa would want to carry the baton forward. We will do everything in enabling them to take this conversation forward,” he said.