Hard Talk

Critical to nurture and grow entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tier 2 cities:Vivek Pawar, industry leader & entrepreneur

The fast growing technology landscape is transforming the startup ecosystem in India. Technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are redefining product innovation, and disrupting the startup space. The convergence of hardware and software is driving newer opportunities for startups to collaborate with the ecosystem to integrate key skills and capabilities into their organization.

There is a lot that the ecosystem can offer startups to grow faster, feels Vivek Pawar, Director, NETRA accelerator Foundation; Founder of Sankalp Semiconductor and Trustee, Deshpande Foundation. In an interaction with the Intel India Maker Lab team, Pawar, a technologist, engineer and an advocate of entrepreneurship, offers his perspectives about the ecosystem and startup landscape in India.


What are your views on the tech and business trends that would shape the hardware/systems startup landscape in the next few years?

Vivek Pawar: The technology space is becoming highly disruptive with fast emerging innovative models and newer use cases. There is an ever increasing focus on software. Going forward, I feel hardware will be important, but software will be critical to create a differentiated value. One should blend hardware and software to create end-to-end innovative products/solutions and also mandatorily have a platform to develop customized solutions.

The opportunities in Internet of Things (IoT) are huge, especially in industrial adoption. Artificial Intelligence and deep learning are gaining momentum, and it is important to realize how startups can integrate these technologies into their solutions. One needs to constantly upgrade research and development (R&D) to be able to address the problems of the future. Today, everyone is into IoT and have specialized chip sets and security blocks, but what matters is how one can bring in a differentiation to their solution.

Based on your experience of leading a successful technology venture, what are the opportunities for the ecosystem to nurture and develop more successful hardware startups?

Vivek Pawar: In its effort to accelerate entrepreneurship and innovation, the fast evolving startup ecosystem has provided a barrage of opportunities for startups to explore and experiment. Still there is scope for more. Apart from technical and business support, ecosystem needs to factor in other requirements of startups like finance, HR, recruitment and legal entities. This gives ample scope for startups to focus on critical areas of their product development, business and grow faster.

Four critical areas for any startup include technology, marketing and sales, finance and operations. Not all startups will have expertise in these areas. They need to identify and partner with one big company, rather than multiple small companies, that complements their strengths. They also need to be open to merge with big companies in earlier stages.

The other ways the ecosystem can help startups include:

1. Early stage funding: Unlike software startups, the requirements of hardware startups are varied in terms of equipment, testing lab, etc. To meet their financial needs, accelerators can identify prospective startups with commercially viable product, and help them get access to venture capitalists.

2. Market access: From product development to marketing, startups need to know their potential customers. That is where the ecosystem or accelerators can assist them in finding the right customers and also help them connect.

3. Collaboration: In this customer-centric era, expectations are high around end-to-end solutions. No company can have all the expertise and capabilities under one umbrella. Startups can partner with other companies and accelerators to complement their capabilities. It can be in the areas of marketing, finance or operations.

Your advice to hardware startups in developing and scaling their businesses?

Vivek Pawar: The opportunity for hardware startups is in solving specific customer problems. In the initial stage, they must start with a customer, understand their demands, their affordability, and then create the solution. This experience of customer use case scenario will help them create a platform which enables easy customization of products to meet other customer needs. This makes customer acquisition affordable. If startups don’t create a solution that is upgradable, either he/she will lose customers or the competition will displace that product/solution. It’s not like you create a solution once and it is the end of it.

What is the role of ecosystem in amplifying entrepreneurship and innovation beyond Tier 1 cities?

Vivek Pawar: Basically there is a need for mindset change. We have seen amazing innovations from Tier 2 startups, but they haven’t been talked about much. As ecosystem players, we have got to amplify and showcase their success for the world to believe in their abilities. 

Entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tier 1 cities is already existing. It is critical to create a similar ecosystem in Tier II cities to nurture and help startups grow. Now, they lack basic entrepreneurial needs like mentoring which is very common in Tier 1 cities with involvement of organization such as TiE etc. Ecosystem has to create an environment of mentoring for Tier 2 startups and enable access to market and funds. Without which it is not easy to get differentiated product startups, especially in the area of hardware, where costs are high for productization and multiple product revisions.

Next, the most critical aspect of ecosystem is availability of talent.

Getting the right talent in Tier 2 isn’t easy. We have got to explore newer ways to accelerate entrepreneurship through education institutions. Model has to be different. In the past student incubation in campuses has not worked. A sustainable model will be to enable senior professionals or serial entrepreneurs to be mentors for student startups. We have done this in KLETech, BVB College in Hubli where 50+ startups have been enabled on campus. This model ensures students see the value in entrepreneurship and develop the mindset of problem solving.

It’s more about how we train students to create jobs rather than look out for jobs. It’s possible with entrepreneurial ecosystem in campus.

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