BENGALURU: Engaging people and encouraging innovation is crucial for the state that wants to become an innovation hub and play a bigger global role, says IT/BT and Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge.The youngest minister of the Siddaramaiah government in the state, Kharge has taken a number of measures to encourage the start-up culture across the state. In conversation with Ramu Patil of Express, Kharge said, “The government is aware of problems such as traffic congestion, especially on Outer Ring Road in Bengaluru. We are trying to do our best to ease congestion and provide better facilities by declaring the ORR as a Special IT Zone.”
Bengaluru is well known around the world. What is the purpose of your branding initiative?
We are trying to weave an economic activity and ensure that the city gets a global branding like New York, Amsterdam and other big cities. Branding will ensure more tourist footfall, which will in turn help economic activity for the hospitality industry. Influx of tourists will be a stimulus for the tourism sector. More importantly, it will help bring in more investments and the industry. It is an experiment and we are trying to see how it works.
We will be the first city in India to take such an initiative for public, for tourists and all the stakeholders. People talk about Brand Bengaluru, but no one knows what it actually stands for. It is not just about IT, innovation and developments in the technology sector, but also about our culture, cuisine, hospitality, tourism and all other aspects of the city. This time in five days, we had around 392 start-ups from across the state.
How is ‘Elevate 100’ an initiative to help start-ups?
Elevate-100 is a tremendous success. In just 15 days of opening up, we got 1,700 applications and for the first time we went looking for innovations around the state and not just in Bengaluru. Over 400 of those applications came from tier-II cities and over 300 were from women entrepreneurs.
We had a rigorous selection process. We cut it down to 650 and from that it we cut it down to 300. We trained them one full day on how to interact with venture capitals. It was done by PWC. After that, they pitched to the industry experts, venture capitals and other stakeholders. Then 111 were chosen and we gave `22 crore to them in a day. We were trying to elevate these start-ups, taking them to the next level.
Is there any system to follow it up?
We don’t release everything in a single installment. Let’s say we are giving a grant of `40 lakh to a start-up. There will be a milestone-based approach in releasing the grants. Initially, we will release one grant and after that they will follow up with us and if they have achieved a milestone we will release the money. In the meantime we will also help them through our start-up cell. A lot of hand-holding will be done for them.
There was lot of buzz about the robot that was presented at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, that was made by a start-up in Bengaluru. Start-up India is recognising those start-ups that we had recognised earlier. That initial push that we have given is helping a lot of start-ups. Many people now proudly say that they were a part of Elevate or part of the start-up cell of the Karnataka government. That was not the case earlier. Now, people are interacting, engaging, harmonising, sharing and networking extensively with the government. This should continue. If we are serious about being an innovation hub and want to play a big global role, we should be engaging people more than ever before.
What are the efforts being made to attract investments in other cities and not just Bengaluru?
Our policies are well entrenched. There are subsidies and incentives and land is also available for those willing to invest in other cities. But everyone wants to be at the hub of action. The government has framed rules, put in place policies, but there is some reluctance on part of the industry as they want to be where there is action. It is a little known fact that over `4000 crore software exports happen from tier-II cities. We are improving. We are trying to ensure that innovation is across the state.
Those working in IT/BT firms spend several hours in traffic every day. What is being done to ease congestion?
I get asked more questions related to urban planning than my IT policy. Every time I interact with them (IT firms), they talk about traffic. We have to understand that it is the problem with every city. We are doing all we can to address the issue. We have built 46km of Metro in the last four-and-a-half years and Metro will come soon to other areas. We are coming up with much more planned traffic management, TenderSure and other initiatives. Since Bengaluru has tremendous potential and Karnataka is a large hearted state, people come here from all over.
We are going to concentrate more on Outer Ring Road (ORR). We are trying to see if we can declare it as a Special IT Zone and give it some special grants. We know the problem and we are trying to address it by doing our best to ease congestion in Marathahalli, Whitefield, Electronic City and other localities, improve water and power supply to those areas. We have already given `8,000 crore to BBMP alone.
What is the update on government’s plan to provide WiFi at public places?
All 11 corporations in Karnataka will have WiFi hotspots soon. By January 26, we will open 250 to 300 WiFi hotspots. Three months trial that was done earlier has helped us in coming up with this project.
What are the major initiatives to promote tourism?
We have a planned and strategic approach like taking one theme at a time and focusing all out efforts and pushing infrastructure towards that so people can experience and explore Karnataka. It is working really well. This year, we had focused on wildlife and the wild side of life. We have taken close to 61 initiatives to promote tourism.