India must nurture its home-grown digital entrepreneurs, here’s why.

Returning from Kerala –  my third visit in two years – I find myself impatiently counting down the days until I can return.  I have got to know Kerala over the past five years through working with a chain of Keralan restaurants in the UK.

Kerala has been a prominent spice exporter since 3000 BCE – drawing traders, explorers and adventurers from all corners of the world.  In Kerala, food is a passion, philosophy and a way of life.

Today Kerala is one of the world’s great culinary regions, which draws much tourism from the UK.  More recently Kerala, like other Indian states, is attracting more and more foreign business investment due to a highly educated workforce.  Another attraction is that India is on the verge of having the largest and youngest-ever workforce. While other countries are facing the consequences of a skills-gap, India is facing up to the challenge head-on and the world is sitting up and taking notice.

 I was invited to Kerala to talk about our training programme (Digital Futures) which aims to help inspire young people into becoming future Indian digital entrepreneurs.

My tour of talks and presentations took in rural and city colleges, Cochin University and Innovation Centre, the enormous Infopark – one of three international hi-tech business parks in Kerala – and discussions with State Government trade and industry leaders.

Digital India is a  national programme that aims to deliver a digital transformation to the Indian economy and this is why it’s vital:

Of the top 20 Internet companies in the world, 13 are American, 5 are Chinese, with 1 each for Japan and the United Kingdom.

Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, has a market capitalisation that is 25 times higher than that of Flipkart, the largest e-commerce company in India.  India has 227 million Internet users, but is overshadowed by 665 million users in China. Two out of every five Indian businesses has an online presence compared to almost two-thirds of firms in China.

This is surprising when you consider India is the largest exporter of information technology services and skilled workforce among developing countries.  For the moment India is trailing China in seeing the benefits of a digital economic revolution, when it has the potential to be amongst the best hi-tech creative nations in the world.

Digital India’s programme is looking to stimulate the comeback for India.  Work needs to be done to address connectivity challenges – the digital divide and skills gap.

Kerala has all the right ingredients for producing future digital entrepreneurs and tech start-ups with the potential to succeed globally.   It has a first-rate education system with an ambitious workforce who have a desire to connect with international business and benefit from the global economy.   The next step is for these highly capable creative thinkers to create the next generation of disruptive technology and apps.

Kerala has seen an influx of international companies employing and skilling-up Indian talent.  In Cochin there is Infopark which employs 25,000 professionals, less than half of the firms located there are international companies, but these companies employ the majority of the workforce.

Digital India could galvanise a region like Kerala to move to the fore of a digital revolution as it already has a track record of running successful state-wide economic and social programmes.

What Kerala must do is nurture and grow home-grown digital entrepreneurs and tech start-ups,  Kerala must not entirely focus on the outsource model of being the professional services hub of the global economy.  Much of this starts with a mind-set, and this is where I begin my work to help develop next generation Indian entrepreneurs and start-ups so they may understand the steps needed to gain confidence, investment, digital skills for now and the future.

About Claire Sully

Claire Sully is a Indian Digital Futures coach, trainer and builder of place brands.  She is owner and MD of Tickbox Marketing International has been trading over 10 years, working with some of the biggest organisations in the world, including multi-national AECOM and NHS in the UK.  Claire has conducted research and strategy for multi-million pound inward investment projects in the UK, and helped create branding and promotion for large-scale commerce and industrial programmes.  Tickbox has had a base in Cochin for over a year, employing locally.

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