Entrepreneurship itself is not new to North East India, with several small-scale industries in various sectors like agriculture, food processing, bamboo, and handloom already in existence since many decades. Since the early 1970s, there have been planned and systematic efforts to promote entrepreneurship in the North East, initially by the government of Assam and later by the North Eastern Council (NEC) set up in 1972. But, somewhere along the way, it lost its mojo and could not keep pace with other major cities like Bengaluru, New Delhi, or Mumbai.
The region lacked an ecosystem that would help traditional entrepreneurs mature into scalable startups. Formal investors and large corporates, except few in the telecom and oil & gas sector had by and large shied away from investing in the region.
But the engine has been restarted now and the lost mojo is back. And, this change is being led by Assam, the gateway to the North East region of India. Assam is the first port of entry to visit any other state in the region and its geographic proximity to the other ASEAN countries makes it a favourable destination for doing business.
This year, Assam hosted its maiden Global Investors Summit christened ‘Advantage Assam’. During the 2-day summit, 200 Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) worth Rs 100,000 crore were signed which marks a significant step towards realising the vision of Assam to become an entrepreneurial hotspot.
Delegates from across the world – US, UK, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, UAE, and Vietnam – participated and exchanged ideas at the summit.
To promote entrepreneurship in the region, the government has announced the Assam Startup Policy 2017. As part of this policy, it has committed to set up a mobile app-based startup portal which will include all relevant policy-related information and also act as a facility booking system through which startups can book government-owned infrastructure such as design labs and co-working spaces.
To facilitate funding, the government intends to set up an Assam Angel Network (AAN) comprising of high net-worth individuals, successful entrepreneurs, and experienced businessmen to cater to the early-stage funding needs of the startups. Under the “Sarothi” startup fund scheme, the government aims to provide financial assistance in the form of loan up to Rs 25 lakh @5% per annum to beneficiaries. The government also proposes to establish an Innovation Fund to foster research in Information & Communications Technology (ICT) and electronics.
Last year, the Ministry of Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER) launched the Northeast Venture Fund for attracting more and more youths to embrace entrepreneurship. The size of the fund would be about Rs 100 crore and the investments will be in the range of Rs 25 lakhs to Rs 10 crore. Jitendra Singh, union minister of state for the ministry of DoNER, said in a press note, “hundreds of queries are pouring in each day with the DoNER ministry and over 60 proposals are already in the pipeline for consideration.”
Interestingly, as per the Nasscom Startup Report 2017, while Bengaluru, Delhi/NCR and Mumbai retained their position as the key startup hubs in India, 20% of the new startups emerged from tier II/III cities. This is an indication that the epicentre of the startup action is slowly moving away from the metros and the North Eastern region (particularly Assam) is surely in a position to lead the action.
Over the years, the state also seems to have matured in the level of entrepreneurship transforming from the traditional bamboo and handloom to tech-enabled startups. The Startup Observer earlier reported on North East’s first app-based ride hailing app OGO in Guwahati that promises to change the mobility scene in the region forever. OGO functions in the same manner as Uber and Ola but has an increased focus on the two-wheeler segment.
In the e-commerce space, Ramina Haorokcham, a resident of Imphal, launched Gojilove, an online lingerie, pleasurable objects, swimwear and dresses collection store aimed at fulfilling the personal and intimate needs of adults. Ramina did her higher studies in New Delhi and her startup is based in Noida.
Similarly, PreciousMeLove is Nagaland’s first online fashion platform selling premium Northeast fashion designs, accessories, vintage clothing and handicrafts (dolls of Northeast). Led by Zuboni Humtsoe, PreciousMeLove is an all-girls’ team that is passionate about fashion.
Some significant investment announcements made at Advantage Assam
(Box item source: The Shillong Times)