Kochi: A coast of opportunity

August 7, 2019

It was familiarity that drew Rajith Nair back to Kochi. When the IT professional relocated to his hometown in Kerala from Bengaluru in 2007, he was also relieved that his four-hour commute was reduced to less than 30 minutes. Seven years later, when he decided to turn entrepreneur along with Prashanth Thankappan, his colleague at Wipro Technologies, Nair was pleasantly surprised to note that Kochi not only provided him the comfort of home, but also the support system to start up with immense ease.

Startups have seen many firsts in Kerala. It was the first state to formulate a policy for the development of a formal startup ecosystem in 2014. Today, it has over 1,500 startups, with 37 percent of them based in Kochi. “The government of Kerala has established Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) as the state nodal agency for the development of technology startups in Kerala and enable faster development of the startup ecosystem,” says Dr. Saji Gopinath, CEO, KSUM.

In January this year, KSUM also set up the country’s largest startup incubator inside a 1.8 lakh sq ft complex at the Technology Innovation Zone in Kochi. It has facilities like Bionest that promotes medical technologies, Maker Village that promotes hardware startups, and BRIC, the country’s first cancer technology incubator for developing solutions for cancer diagnosis. Charles Varghese is another entrepreneur, who, like Nair, quit his job and moved cities to launch a startup. His NAVA Design and Innovation, set up in August 2016 and incubated at Maker Village, uses automation to extract ‘neera’ or coconut sap from the inflorescence of coconut trees. “India is the third-largest country in the world for coconut production [after Indonesia and Philippines],” Varghese explains. With Kerala accounting for over 45 percent of the total coconuts produced in the country, there was no better place than Kochi for NAVA to set up.

The startup was set up with a ₹6.8 lakh grant from the Kerala Startup Mission and ₹15 lakh grant from Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). Recognised by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), it has registered patents in 12 major coconut-growing countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Kerala government is also known to promote student entrepreneurship and there are many enterprises started by students right out of college, some of which have gained national presence, says Gopinath of KSUM. “That said, over 60 percent of startups in Kochi are founded by professionals with strong technical expertise and experience.”

Tech startups SurveySparrow and Agrima Infotech are two such ventures. The former, a cloud-based customer engagement platform, was founded by Freshworks’ Shihab Muhammed and former Zoho employee Subin Sebastian, in October 2017. “With its Conversational User Interface (CUI), SurveySparrow lets users [companies] create and share mobile-first surveys that are more conversational. It identifies a proper delivery channel. For instance, instead of email, which has a low open rate, we use SMS or WhatsApp. The platform also helps organizations manage customer experience surveys, employee pulse surveys, and market feedback surveys,” says Sebastian.

In April 2019, SurveySparrow raised $1.4 million in seed funding from Prime Venture Partners. It has conducted over 20,000 surveys with more than 10,000 customers in 108 countries. Some of its clients include corporates like Siemens, FedEx, SAP, and Deloitte.