In Irish folklore, the leprechaun hides his mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You know it is there for the taking, but you must turn several tricks to reach there - follow the rainbow, spot the leprechaun, dodge his disappearing skills - and you still might not be able to reach the pot. All the same, you know that the pot of gold is sitting right there. This is exactly how the benefits of the ambitious Start-Up India Plan might at times feel to entrepreneurs of the country. You know that there are these impactful, well-intentioned doles sitting there; you just do not know how to claim them.
But, wait, we are getting ahead of the story. Here is the real story. India, for the first time ever, has seen a government that thinks of startups as not just a cog in the wheel of the economy, but an important and independent sector that needs policies and interventions custom-built for it. The government has met pretty much all the startup focused sound bites it created in its first year with commensurate actions over the next year and a half.
Most entrepreneurs will agree that outside of the core customer-facing business activities, two of the most time-consuming and nagging tasks on their to-do whiteboard are fund-raising and compliance. And the government’s proposed reforms last year hit the bull’s eyes on both the topics, and more.
With measures like setting-up of a professionally-managed Rs.10,000 crore fund, relaxation of the regulatory framework via measures like single-window clearance, tax exemption for profits in the first three years, slashing of patent fees by 80 percent and schemes for women entrepreneurs, this government has already established its credentials as a guardian angel for startups.
Other recent measures like creating a digital economy, electronic payments have also been benefiting startups which by and large look for transparent, technology-driven ways to operate.
The pot of gold is well and truly created. It is high time now that the smokescreens on the way to it be dealt with. The process to get registered as a startup is, in itself, cumbersome and contingent on certifications from a mix of entities like government-recognised incubators, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) and the Indian Patent and Trademark Office. It is not that some of these entities may not be as fleet-footed and lithe as startups typically themselves are, thus making the certifications a time-consuming and iterative process.
It is also that several startups will simply stay away from interacting with these entities for lack of time and energy or worse, for fear of the sarkaari apathy and lack of sacrosanct timelines. Although the average Indian entrepreneur may look like he is part of a group of 22-year old IIT Bombay graduates, filling up long forms and running after certifications is simply not what most early-stage startups are either equipped to do or would like to do.
Also, the requirement on developing a certified 'innovative' product or service may unwittingly preclude startups from providing competition to deeply entrenched corporates. Enough time has passed since these initiatives were declared. The government should review if dependence on an inter-ministerial body led by DIPP and specific incubators is making the already hazy concept of 'innovation' more indeterminate than ever.
Who is to say whether selling phones over the internet, delivering food to customers, providing services like plumbing and salon-at-home qualifies for true innovation or not, but these exactly are offerings from some of the most successful Indian startups.
One could definitely argue that startups need to meet the government half-way, but then you would be missing the point. The back-breaking hard work that the government needed to do to bring in start-up friendly reforms is largely done. Why not do just a little bit more to ensure better distribution of the intended benefits? Here’s hoping that the fate of Start-up India’s 'pot of gold' turns out nothing like that of the one in the Irish folklore that remained untouched forever.
(The author is Co-founder, BigStylist.com - beauty and wellness services marketplace startup)
Updated Date: Jan 26, 2017 14:24 PM