CHENNAI: Say ‘Indian Tech Start-up’ and the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is Bengaluru. But recent indications suggest that Chennai is rapidly catching up to the much touted Silicon valley of India in both the number of start-ups and the ecology necessary to sustain them.
While the number of start-ups coming up in the city has remained stagnant, around 600 a year, the number of start-ups dying every year has gone down from about 400 in 2011 to 200 in 2013.
According to the several entrepreneurs, support and community groups that have sprung up in the city over the last few years, Chennai has several advantages when it comes to nurturing this especially fragile ecology. Talk to Vijay Anand, founder CEO of The Start Up Centre — a startup accelerator that has been grooming baby companies since 2011, and you find out just what those advantages are.
“Chennai has a strong culture that arises from the slew of old businesses that have made their money here for decades. While it no longer takes two decades or so just to bring your company into the big leagues, the culture that eventually focuses on the bottom line is quite strong here,” he told CE.
And why is that important? “The point of any business is to make money. People who work in startups sometimes tend to get so wrapped up around the concept that they do not pay enough attention to where their money is going to come from,” he says with a smile. In Chennai though, according to him, a budding entrepreneur will eventually start running into questions that turn his or her focus on the bottom line.
Another important factor driving the growth of tech start-ups in the city seems to be the extensive support system that has sprung up in the last three years. Chennai now has no less than six active community meet-ups that focus entirely on helping entrepreneurs. And initiatives like the Startup Leadership Program (SLP) help in widening networks.
“Without a network, it is very difficult to find people and resources that a start-up requires to start and build up,” said Sabin Rodriguez, part of the SLP in Chennai and co-founder of the Big F Day, an event location service startup.
This is where community meet-ups and initiatives like the SLP and Open Coffee Club come into play. They widen an entrepreneur’s network and put him in touch with people who have already been there and faced the problems that he or she is facing right then.
“The most important thing for a startup is not the monetary part of things but moral and emotional support,” said one of Sabin’s co-members at SLP. “People who are starting up need to be in touch with someone who can provide a third person’s view into a problem. And more importantly, someone who can provide support from their own experience. It is comforting to know that you are not the only person in this fix,” he admitted.
Gokulraj G K, founder of MyCopie, a novel notebook designer and manufacturer, and Vikram Dileepan, founder of Solar Town, a solar power solution firm, concur. “Networking is important, and having people to talk to and brainstorm with is absolutely necessary,” said Gokulraj, also a program leader with SLP Chennai.
The examples of Chennai firms that have made it big in less than a decade, like FreshDesk and Zoho, are a huge inspiration to start-ups and their founders. In fact, it was FreshDesk, started in 2010, that brought attention to the tech startup scene in city. The firm, which provides a cloud-based customer support platform, attracted a significant investment from Google Capital just two weeks ago.
“I would say that FreshDesk has shown that Chennai based start-ups are getting on the scene in a big way and people are starting to take notice. The ecology and support systems here have a long way to go. But things are definitely on the right track,” concluded Vijay Anand.