Sunday, 19 July 2015

Big ideas from small towns

In this feature, published in The Hindu dt. 19th Jul 2015 under the column "Sunday Anchor", the writer profiles 10 tech ventures from small cities and towns across the country.

On Sundays, Rohith Bhat takes his daughter for a ride on a red Hero scooter through the temple town of Udupi. On other days, he is busy running a company that makes some of the best-selling Apple iOS apps from a traditional town known for its Krishna temple and a distinctive vegetarian cuisine.

“You don’t need to be in Bengaluru or Delhi to develop world-class products,” said Mr. Bhat, 43, the founder of Robosoft Technologies, the company behind popular apps such as Camera Plus. The app, used to enhance phone camera functions, has until now been downloaded 27 million times. “We could be in Udupi, and the rest of the world can discover and consume our products,” said Mr. Bhat, who hired local talent in the town to build the app’s technology.

Nearly 1,900 kilometres north of Udupi, in Jaipur, Nishant Patni’s start-up CultureAlley has till date helped 30 lakh users, mostly Indians, learn English through their mother tongue. Vadodara, the third largest city in neighbouring Gujarat, is home to Indusface, a small company in the business of protecting large customers such as Bharat Petroleum and the National Stock Exchange of India from cyberattacks and hacking.

Even as many new-generation start-ups sprout up in India’s metros, especially Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, the likes of Robosoft, CultureAlley and Indusface, among the hundreds of start-ups that exist today in the small towns and cities, are showing how ideas can be incubated and developed anywhere. These companies not only build products and services for a global audience, but their employees experience a far better quality of life compared to their metro counterparts. This is because cost of living is low, retention of talent is high, and there are hardly any traffic bottlenecks. “They are making their home in small towns because there is less competition for talent and it is much cheaper to operate,” says Sasha Mirchandani, managing director at Kae Capital, a venture capital firm that has backed CultureAlley. “Also, many people just want to work from their hometowns.”

At a later stage, though, when these companies grow and mature, they might find the small city environment challenging. That’s when they need access to more senior managers and also talent in large numbers. “They will have to move to metros like Bengaluru when they have to scale up their business and hire talent in large numbers,” said Rajan Anandan, Google India managing director and a top angel investor.

Thiruvananthapuram: Senzit -- crime detection

Bhopal: Appointy -- business of scheduling appointments

Hubbali: LabInApp -- interactive virtual laboratory tool

Tiruchirappalli: Dextrasys -- patent filing, prosecution and litigation

Udupi: Robosoft -- mobile applications and games

Coimbatore: Ampere -- electric vehicle manufacture

Jaipur: CultureAlley -- learn conversational English

Kochi: Sayabot Systems -- building robots for many purposes

Belagavi: SenseGiz -- create products that talk to each other

Vadodara: Indusface -- protect organisations from hackers

Read the full feature