As a part of the Smart Cities Mission, Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Surat Smart City Development Limited (SSCDL) aimed to setup an institution to catalyse innovation and startup ecosystem to promote growth, entrepreneurship, investment and employment opportunities in Surat and make it a global Smart City. Hence, Surati iLab was formed. In conversation with Hemangini Kanth Rajput of Elets News Network (ENN), Ravin Sanghavi, Chief Executive Officer, Surati iLab, talks in detail about the startups ecosystem of Gujarat.
What is the idea behind Surati iLab?
Surat is vibrant due to its business and trade. A need was felt to harness newer technologies for the businesses so that city can remain dynamic. For that, Surati iLab was formed to welcome the ideas from various directions at various levels. The new innovations can also be applied to various other cities as well. Popularly called as Surati iLab (Surat Ideas and Innovation Lab), it is a Section 8 company (Non Profit Organisation) incorporated as wholly owned subsidiary (SSCDL), which is in turn, is an SPV jointly formed by Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Government of Gujarat under Smart Cities Mission of Government of India. Surati iLab is first of its kind initiative in the country by any Urban Local Body (ULB).
What are the challenges you have been facing in the implementation of projects?
Surat being an entrepreneurial city, is flourishing due to traditional businesses of diamonds and textiles. It is the need of the hour to engage and encompass the new technologies so that business stays relevant. Technology has become the backbone of every business being done nowadays, especially in the increasing global scenario. Technologies like data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, newer innovations in manufacturing can be helpful in traditional businesses.
Hence, it is essential that innovations and incubations remain the foray of conventional trades and they are also aligned industrially. If civic amenities improve, the revenue also increases. Surat has to be a thriving market. Surati iLab facilitates a common platform and also the linkages between the academia, industry, startups in consultation with the requirement of the industry. We also want to develop city and city’s youth to align itself with the changing times. So trade facilitation, skill development and the establishment and nurturing of the startup ecosystem are the key focus areas of the Surati iLab.
What is the process for the startups to register themselves with the Surati iLab?
The definition of startups is clearly defined under the Startups Mission of the Government of India. In phase I, we are setting up an incubation centre with a capacity of 120 seats. It will be operational in the next few months. This will be developed in the existing building. We will also be applying to various Government schemes for which we are eligible for. This will include initiatives by NITI Aayog, Atal Innovation Mission, etc. There is also National Initiative For Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI) which has several schemes beneficial to startups and we will be applying to their schemes as well. The Government of Gujarat has various proactive policies for startups since 2015. It is in fact, one of the few State Governments with a focused startup policy.
After 2016, another policy was introduced-IT & ITeS policy-which is conducive for the growth of startups.The role of State Government has been very supportive. After our selection in various schemes, we will be taking different startups under our fold. We will be offering them co-working space. It is very fundamental to today’s growth. We will be providing funding, mentoring and business linkages to them. For registration and other information about events and activities, one can visit www.suratiilab.org. One can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org for any query.
What is the status of first phase I of Surati iLab?
We have registered the company in April. The Board is constituted. We would have the advisory board, pool of mentors, and then further recruitment will take place. In infrastructure side, we will be building phase 1. It will have seating capacity of 120 seats. It will take care of our requirement for atleast 12 months. Parallely, we are working on a new centre which will be iconic in terms of startups ecosystem, facilitation and the skill development, etc. In the second half of this year, our phase I will be ready. We are developing phase II, from the ground level, right from the identification of right place for the building which will take 12 months or so to complete.
What are your expectations from the Government of India?
The Government of India is taking various initiatives to foster the environment of innovation and incubation. We are happy to get shortlisted for setting up Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) of NITI Aayog for which we are eligible to get good grant. We hope that with such encouraging schemes, the Government of India will continue to strengthen startup ecosystem in the country. It will be our endeavour to promote ‘Make in Surat’ and ‘Brand Surat’ through various initiatives.
What is your message to young entrepreneurs?
There are various ideas floating around and it is the most opportune time youth could be in, if we compare the environment that was there in the country 20 years back. Certainly, the environment is getting more comfortable, adaptive and receptive for entrepreneurs. At the same time, it is very challenging because there can be thousand ideas. Now how they can be converted into sustainable, scalable business is very important. For new entrepreneurs, it is very important for them to understand the business environment, challenges in terms of developing anything new. The most critical aspect is the execution part i.e. developing the business and market, establishing the products and at the same time remaining flexible and agile, cost effective in the initial days, building the right team etc. Funds will flow once startups prove their mettle.
Is there any strategy to promote “Made in Surat” through Surati iLab?
The idea is to motivate the local youth through its various programmes. Surati iLab will be doing it with its various partner. The relevant events, talks, trade shows, job fairs where internship could be offered by startups, talks by the successful entrepreneurs, learning by the entrepreneurs who have jumped from one business to next business, etc will be conducted. In fact, we would be inspiring youth in South Gujarat region, say from Bharuch to Vapi. It will be our endeavour to catalyse the newer economic activities here and this way we can facilitate development of new businesses.