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Kerala, India Inaugurates Digital Hub to Support Start-Ups

The Kerala state Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, recently inaugurated a Digital Hub at the Technology Innovation Zone in Kochi. It occupies 200,000 square feet of built-up space, set up by the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM). The hub has the capacity to support 200 start-ups, besides the 165 start-ups hosted in the adjoining Integrated Startup Complex.

The Digital Hub is expected to emerge as one of South Asia’s largest centres for technology start-ups, according to reports. The hub houses a design incubator, healthcare incubator, centre of excellence (CoE) for mouser electronics, co-working spaces, design studios, investors hive, and an innovation centre. The digital hub is the latest addition to Startup Mission’s Technology Innovation Zone (TIZ) as a global innovation hub for several technology sectors.

The CoE at the hub aims to groom shelter-related ideas and innovations and will function as a one-stop centre for all product design and development activities for software and hardware components. These include all sectors and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality, the internet of things, and natural language processing.

As a destination for designing and prototyping, the hub will be open to international organisations and institutions. While inaugurating the Digital Hub, Vijayan said that five years ago, Kerala had 300 start-ups and now they have grown to 3,900, a 13-fold rise. The start-ups have created around 35,000 jobs in the state. The Minister further stated that the Kerala government is preparing a centralised start-up park system because it is expected that by 2026, the state might be home to 15,000 additional start-ups.

A news report noted that the hub will upgrade the skills of younger generations in design for manufacturing and rapid prototyping, in association with fabrication laboratories (fab labs) and academic institutions. It will design studios established as a plug-and-play facility for designers, by leveraging the existing fab labs and mini fab labs. It will help map talent pools and private prototyping centres to meet demand from the existing system. Further, the digital hub can minimise entry barriers for hardware start-ups to relocate, creating more opportunities for designers. It can help widen the consumer base and channelise the inventory supply chain to cater to the prototyping consumable needs.

An official stated that initially, the hub will accommodate 200 start-ups, providing direct employment opportunities to 2,500 talents. The zone aims to create world-class infrastructure facilities for multi-sector technology incubators to incubate their start-ups and support homegrown enterprises.

The Kerala Bank, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), Kerala Finance Corporation (KFC), and Kerala State Financial Enterprises (KSFE) have jointly proposed to set up a venture capital fund of IN₹2.5 billion (US$34 million) to promote start-ups. If any start-ups attract investment from outside, matching investment will be made from this fund. Similarly, loans up to IN₹10 million (US$135,422) without collateral security will be made available for the expansion of start-ups which will help the government achieve its development goals in other sectors.

The Minister explained that the government will form a scheme to link start-ups with the international industrial and commercial network and to this end, the activities of the Start-up Mission will be expanded to an international level. Currently, KSUM provides interest-free loans to start-ups. The state will organise programmes like Innovation Challenges for the youth. Through these, participants will get government assistance to market their products.

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