The government of Telangana, India’s newest state, is ambitious. Hyderabad, its capital, doesn’t have the entrepreneurial clout of Bengaluru or Mumbai yet, but it will. The state was founded in June 2014, and just over a year later Hyderabad was put firmly on the startup map by becoming home to T-Hub, which claims to be India’s largest space dedicated to entrepreneurialism. The 70,000-square-foot building is located at the IIIT-Hyderabad Campus, and was founded by the state’s IT Minister KT Rama Rao and some of the university’s professors.
The city’s academic and research institutions, including the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the University of Hyderabad, are key to the growth of the startup scene. ‘The talent pool has increased five-fold in the last five years, whether in artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning, big data or blockchain tech,’ says Prabhu Ram, managing director & group CEO of Hyderabad-based Payswiff.
But even before T-Hub, the city had long been considered an IT and pharmaceuticals hub. It boasts offices for Facebook, Amazon, Qualcomm and Hewlett-Packard; and, in February 2016, Apple announced a US$25 million investment in a 250,000-square-foot facility in the city.
At the most basic level, though, Hyderabad is attractive for founders because it’s affordable. ‘When I returned from the US, I had multiple cities where I could have settled down, and on the top of my list was New Delhi,’ says Raj Phani, founder of digital payment startup Zaggle. ‘But when I weighed the options, Hyderabad came out tops. It is not a metro but a decent-sized city with lots of scope to grow and a high level of local talent available; and costs were low. This helped us quickly set up an office and we were able to scale up the business faster.’
Lower pollution, better traffic control, lower rents and, all importantly, a government that is thirsty for startup successes make for an attractive environment for founders. Now it needs one big breakthrough startup – and the whole world will be looking its way.
KT Rama Rao
There are not many people who can claim to be instrumental in the creation of a new state, but Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao is one of them. He and his father were among those driving for the creation of India’s youngest state, Telangana; and now, as minister for the industry and commerce department, as well as the information technology department, he wants to put it on the world map.
Known as KT Rama Rao, or even just KTR, the minister is ambitious. He has set out to double IT exports from Telangana in the next five years. Big names including Amazon and Apple are now in Hyderabad, and the outlook is good. He told Ritz magazine: ‘While the country’s IT exports grew at 13 percent, ours grew at 16 percent. We were able to create more than 50,000 new jobs. We have made our presence felt in the US, Hong Kong and Dubai.’
In February, KTR announced a partnership with NASSCOMM, the Indian IT trade association, to open a Centre for Excellence for data sciences and artificial intelligence. However, for startup founders, the creation of T-Hub in November 2015 was KTR’s key achievement. It is one of India’s largest facilities dedicated to entrepreneurship and has become the heart of Hyderabad’s startup community. KTR is now aiming for T-Hub to become one of the top 10 incubators in the world and, with that, for Hyderabad to become a gateway to India for startups worldwide and a launching pad to the world for homegrown talent.
The Product: Electric Rickshaw
In 2011, brothers Rahul and Raja Gayam started to research the viability of an electric rickshaw. A year later, they founded Gayam Motor Works (GMW). Now their compact vehicles are being used across India, delivering groceries and goods for e-commerce sites like BigBasket and Flipkart; transporting rubbish to disposal sites in Hyderabad; and carrying people. Fully charged in three hours, the vehicles have a range of 110 kilometres per charge. They can reach a maximum speed of 55 kilometres per hour and can carry about 500 kilograms.
Chief operations officer Sri Harsha Bavirisetty says the rickshaws’ key features are their lithium-ion batteries and the battery swapping system, whereby users can exchange an uncharged battery for a fully charged one at designated stations. ‘India lacks charging stations and [having] long charging times during peak hours isn’t an option for drivers,’ he says. ‘Also, most of these drivers don’t have space at their homes to park and charge the vehicle overnight. This battery swapping system enables drivers to swap their vehicle batteries in less than a minute.’
The company will attempt to enter the retail market by creating more charging and swapping stations. However, Bavirisetty acknowledges that as India’s green ambitions grow, GMW will face growing competition. ‘The Telangana state government is about to launch an electric vehicle policy… to chart out a roadmap for the adoption of electric mobility,’ he says. However, he believes that time is on GMW’s side. ‘Anticipating the market potential early and building in-house technologies has given us that extra edge.’
What to watch
Who am I
Diagnostics company MapMyGenome offers tailored preventative healthcare created through genetic tests. Users collect an oral sample, which is used to determine predispositions to diseases.
With more than 1,000 corporate clients and 250,000 app downloads, digital payments company Zaggle is riding high. ‘It’s our dream to be the first unicorn (startup valued at US$1 billion) from Hyderabad,’ says founder Raj Phani, who aims to achieve this goal by 2023.
Stay in touch
Sri Charan Lakkaraju was one of four entrepreneurs from Hyderabad to make it onto Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2008. He co-founded Stumagz, an intranet system that connects students and staff at more than 300 universities and growing.
Cathay Pacific flies to Hyderabad from Hong Kong four times a week