I recently had the privilege of being on a global webinar with a 19-year-old entrepreneur from Sitamarhi, Bihar. Instead of pursuing studies overseas or seeking a government or corporate job, this young entrepreneur established a start-up that provides a unique service. It helps other start-ups in neighbouring towns and villages raise funds and scale up their business. These start-ups represent every possible sector: agriculture, waste management, e-commerce, education, medicare and artificial intelligence, among others. These innovators are not just the navigators of India’s growth story but its very engines of growth. They are the creators of this growth and the energy that is propelling us into the future, to a ‘New India’.
New India is framed not only by enterprises but also the enterprise of countless entrepreneurs, both young and the not-so-young. The story of start-ups in India is not just the story of economics or finance or even the story of businesses. This story represents the immense social, economic and political transformations occurring within India at present. The elements of these changes have come together to create a singular trajectory towards growth and prosperity. They have enabled the most unprecedented transformation — both in scale and pace — ever seen in the free world. The start-up ecosystem in India is emblematic of these changes. It paints a picture of a future that is yet more prosperous for India and, indeed, the world.
For a long time, these start-ups were concentrated in economic hubs like Bengaluru, Mumbai or Gurugram. But not anymore. The roots of our start-up journey are now spread in every corner of the country. During the pandemic, for instance, some of the most exciting start-ups — whether they made the best quality ghee or the most aromatic incense from discarded temple flowers — came from villages and small towns and cities.
These start-ups are reimagining the very value of India’s rich and diverse geography, teaching us to relook at our forests, our rivers and streams, our mountains, and the ingenuity of our people. India’s start-up revolution is neither all elite nor entirely urban. Its fastest-growing and most unique hubs lie in countless small towns and rural areas where entrepreneurs have used newfound digital connectivity as the anchor for profitable commerce. The movement is vigorously growing in every home, every village and every district. Indeed, of the country’s 739 districts, more than 600 have at least one registered start-up.
This flourishing of start-ups can be credited to the widespread internet penetration in the country. There are nearly 800 million internet users in India already. Every second, three more go online for the first time, two of whom are from a village. Today, India has over a billion citizens, each with a unique identity linked to a bank account, a billion with mobile phones and, in the next 24 months, a billion on the internet. This is an unprecedented, potent stack of access and opportunity.
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