BENGALURU: India’s a land of opportunities for entrepreneurs. And these startups stars would know.
The country’s technical and professional talent base, easy access to powerful new technologies and a multitude of problems were seen as the right combination for creating a perfect ecosystem to build innovative businesses for India and the world. That’s the message from speakers at the second edition of The Economic Times Startup Awards 2016 in Bengaluru on Saturday who underscored the potential of Indian entrepreneurs.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys and the first chairman of UIDAI, the government body that issues Aadhaar cards, said the biggest opportunity today is that Indian consumers and businesses will be data rich before they are economically rich. “This provides a big arbitrage opportunity,” he said, indicating that the vast amounts of digital data being created, combined with the high-trust network available on the back of initiatives like Aadhaar, can potentially drive numerous online businesses.

Union minister for roads, transport, highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari asked entrepreneurs to team up with the government to unlock the “Rs 10-lakh-crore opportunity” in reusing waste products. “People talk about turning knowledge into wealth, I want us to also turn waste into wealth,” he said, noting how waste from hair salons in Nagpur was being effectively used in bio-fertilizers for agriculture and how waste and plastic was used in building the Delhi-Meerut highway.

Sachin Bansal, co-founder and executive chairman of Flipkart, bemoaned traffic woes in big Indian cities like Bengaluru. He, however, pointed out to Gadkari that it is also a multi-billion dollar opportunity for private enterprise. “Today, there is a law in Karnataka that doesn’t allow anybody to compete with the BMTC (the city transport corporation). That’s a big problem. About 45% of Bengaluru’s traffic goes on 7,000-8,000 buses. We should allow private players to make use of the opportunity,” he said, hinting at the app-based private bus aggregator services that state governments appear loathe to encourage.

The awards night saw a galaxy of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors and government officials. It started with a panel discussion, followed by an interaction with Gadkari, the awards presentation and finally a music show. The Indian startup ecosystem has been surging in recent years — Kavin Mittal’s Hike became the 10th Indian unicorn (private ventures with a valuation of at least $1 billion). Times Group CEO Raj Jain noted the concerns around the slowdown in funding for startups. He, however, said given the low and negative interest rates globally, there will always be capital available for innovative and sustainable startup ideas.

Gadkari’s presence provoked many in the audience to highlight transport issues in big cities. To a question on the backlash against cab aggregators, he asked the startups concerned to absorb traditional players, such as the kaali-peelis in Mumbai, into their businesses. To a question from Tarun Mehta, co-founder of Ather Energy, which is building an electric scooter, on creating charging infrastructure, Gadkari promised a prompt policy resolution. Gadkari also said efforts were on to increase central funding for city transport infrastructure.

Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant admitted the government needed to do a lot more to simplify regulations and minimise paper work to encourage startups. But Kunal Bahl, co-founder of Snapdeal, noted that it is far easier to do business today than it was 25 years ago. “We must make use of that opportunity,” he said.

Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of Ola, described India as a land of creative opportunities. Ajit Isaac, chairman & MD of Quess, which had a hugely successful IPO recently, said, “We are living in the best time for opportunities. I have more opportunities than my father had and what my daughter will have.”