When Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal proposed creating 75 unicorns during seventy fifth year of India’s Independence, cynics sneered and questioned the entire start up ecosystem that evolved organically in last six years.
On social media pages, these doomsayers even bracketed Indian start- ups as some kind of a scam in the making without recognizing the inherent talent, technology skills and aspiration of Indian youth that has gone in to provide multiple cost-effective solutions and businesses.
Cynics and naysayers should take a walk rather than questioning the pace with which digital enterprises have reported growth, success, attracted international capital and were toasted the world over. Many of these start-ups have not only moved up as unicorns with over $ one billion valuation each but effectively challenged established large technology companies with deep pockets.
There’s no reason why we cannot create 75 unicorns given that 44 such firms came into being in 2021 with eye popping valuation of $ 89.19 billion. This is more than unicorns that were created in the previous decade. Chasing US with 487 and China’s 301digital enterprises, India has upended as the fulcrum for third most valued technology start-ups with unicorn status. Today, India boasts being home to 82 unicorns valued at $ 274.17 billion.
As per independent research and consultancy firm Hurun Global, these unicorns spread across sectors like education technology, financial services, software services to e-commerce in pharmacy and groceries have made waves especially during Covid 19 when lock downs and movement restrictions have been a norm.
Every seventh unicorn created globally has been done by youngsters in India and Bengaluru emerging as the epicentre for these digital enterprises with immense value. Rightly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded emergence of a flurry of unicorns in just 12 months while celebrating the Swami Vivekananda Jayanti that marks national youth day.
There’s no denying that India has the potential to evolve as the unbeatable destination for unique digital enterprises given the country’s love for everything around technology, innovation and creativity that’s virtually flummoxed the world. Over 50,000 such enterprises are in various stages of development taking off from incubation.
From providing innovative security solutions, environment management, healthcare, space to industry 4.0, these start-ups have changed rules of game redefining Brand India as the mouse movers did in last two decades.
These start-ups were primarily responsible for upping the valuations of traditional businesses and moving India’s position on the Global innovation index to 46 last year from 74th position in 2016.
While a firm base for these lilliputian enterprises has been laid in last six years, shifting focus to manufacturing, automation, research and development start-ups may galvanise the traditional enterprises as well as businesses. Similarly, finding technology driven solutions faced day to day is an area that the unicorns as well as start-ups can add value.
Targeted expansion in number of decacons with a valuation of $ 10 billion and above can be attempted in next phase. Right now, India is home to just four of them in Byju’s, Oyo Rooms, Paytm and Flipcart. A comprehensive strategy to nurture at least ten decacons should be put in place by the government in partnership with the start-ups ecosystem.
Doubling the number of unicorns run by our women entrepreneurs to 26 next one year by the time we celebrate the startup day on January 16 is again doable. Let’s not forget that eight of the unicorns run by women emerged in just one year with Falguni Nayar (Nykaa), Gazal Kalra (Rivigo), Ruchi Kalra (OfBusiness), Divya Gokulnath (Byju’s), Ghazal Alagh (MamaEarth) and Saritha Katikaneni (Zenoti), among others made it to the list.
Union budget to be presented on February 1 should be the right forum to review, revise and make fresh booster dose announcements for the sunrise start-ups and unicorns that have not only evolved businesses in trying times but created work opportunities for talented youngsters.
Right now, start-ups pay only 20 per cent of patent filing fees. Barring a nominal fees, can we do away with major chunk of the compliance burden? Both product and process patents have seen a huge up tick at 28,000 last year as against 4000 in 2013-14. Start-up ecosystem has contributed big time to the high value patented products and processes.
If finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has the leeway, should she not consider providing 90 per cent discount on trademark filing fees for start-ups? Already, these digital enterprises enjoy 50 per cent discount on trade mark filing fees. Reduction in the compliance burden has in last six years has led to registering over 250,000 trademarks as against 70,000 in 2013-14.
Improving the patenting and trademarks regime apart from extending the zero-tax impost should help India top the high value start-ups game in next four years.
States like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana should in particular pick up the gauntlet to blossom a million start-ups by 2025.
Moving these start-ups the value chain with a mix of artificial intelligence, robotics and internet of things can be the next phase to look at.
Author is director and chief executive officer of Centre for lntegrated and Holistic Studies, a New Delhi based non-partisan think tank.