‘Evaluating options for Tesla's entry'
Business Today|December 26, 2021
Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, holds forth on electric vehicles, start-ups, cryptocurrencies and more in a tell-all interview
Dilasha Seth

After successfully steering India’s startup movement, Amitabh Kant, 65, in his fourth stint as the NITI Aayog CEO, is driving India’s ‘Go Green’ mission by encouraging tech-led disruption in the energy and mobility sectors. Leading talks with US-based Tesla, the 1980batch retired IAS officer, along with other government departments, is framing a conducive policy to facilitate the world’s largest electric vehicle maker’s entry into India. In an interaction with Business Today’s Dilasha Seth, Kant says the recent IPO success of Zomato and Nykaa will boost the confidence of other start-ups in encouraging venture capitalists and private equity investors to back more domestic start-ups. Edited excerpts:

Q: NITI Aayog has propelled several transformative policy reforms. What have been the most exciting initiatives for you?

A: Whether it has been digitalisation, start-ups, innovation, improving learning and health outcomes, monitoring and evaluation as well as the transformation of the aspirational districts, NITI Aayog has played a key and critical role. We have also worked on a range of new areas of growth. Some of our initiatives such as Atal Tinkering Labs have been massively successful in fostering innovation in the country. We are at the forefront of driving clean mobility in the country. We have looked at the best practices across the world, and understood their applicability in the Indian context. We have been able to drive a very innovative spirit in India. Look at the phenomenal growth witnessed by the Startup India movement. This year we have seen the emergence of 40 unicorns in such a short while. We are witnessing a massive digital disruption in India, and technology is enabling India to leapfrog in the post Covid-19 era. We are pushing the limits on both going digital and going green.

Q: We’ve seen a lot of start-up action even in the IPO space. How do you look at that, given the fact that most are not even profitable yet? Some like Zomato have got what analysts feel are unrealistic valuations…

A: We started the Startup India movement in 2016... At that time, I had not imagined that in such a short time India would become the third-largest start-up ecosystem, behind the US and China. The start-up ecosystem has truly emerged now, and it will grow even faster. Investors are realising the importance of promoting these start-ups. Business sentiments matter a lot when investment decisions are made. On the issue of valuations, I feel market analysts would be best-placed to answer this. But, these start-ups have huge future potential.

Q: Do you expect the IPO successes of Nykaa and Zomato to encourage more entrepreneurs to go public?

A: The success of the recent IPOs proves that Indian investors have become more mature. Success stories in the start-up ecosystem will boost the confidence of other start-ups in encouraging venture capitalists and private equity investors to back more domestic start-ups. This will further strengthen the Indian startup ecosystem. Ultimately, this would give a massive boost to entrepreneurship. And the great thing is that the start-up movement in India is now being financed and supported by Indian investments and funds from within India, and the funding is coming from Indians.

Q: While you mentioned start-ups and their success stories, there is uncertainty among cryptocurrency start-ups. While legislation is coming soon, what is your take on the space?

A: We need a sound regulatory system. Massive adoption of cryptocurrencies or crypto assets as a store of value has taken place in India. If we go by the latest industry reports, there are more than 230 start-ups in the crypto space with almost $270 million invested in the Indian blockchain and crypto start-ups. From the retail and institutional investors’ point of view, about 1.8 per cent of India’s population has invested in crypto until 2021, a growth of over 2.2 times over a year. And therefore, what is becoming evident is that crypto, both from the technology and investor viewpoint, is rapidly picking up in India. RBI [the Reserve Bank of India] had earlier banned crypto, but that was struck down by the Supreme Court. Without getting into the merits, I feel what we need is a well-curated, pro-innovation-led soft touch regulation in this sector that can ensure protection of interests of investors and address concerns surrounding the misuse of technology. There is certainly scope to learn from the best practices currently extant around the world along with existing global regulatory templates. This can also provide a nudge for the participation of the aspiring and mature tech talent pool of India in the innovation cycle that crypto offers in the newly emerging decentralised Web 3.0 ecosystem.

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