City Has the Appetite for Start-Ups: Chennai Entrepreneurs Speak

There are 55 operational SEZs in TN of which 18 are in Chennai, making the city a preferred spot for start-ups.

5 min read
City Has the Appetite for Start-Ups: Chennai Entrepreneurs Speak

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Manufacturing, automobile, engineering – Chennai tops the list, but what India and the world has failed to note is the city’s increasing popularity as a startup hub.

Chennai-based software companies like Freshdesk and Indix are already leaving footprints on the global map, and adding to the fame is Zoho – an enterprise software company.

So what has prompted Chennai to become the entrepreneurs’ den? Here’s what we know:


Why Chennai Is the Entrepreneurs’ Choice

Despite no startup policy, no updated infrastructure to accommodate the growing population, no government push for inviting industrial investment, what makes Chennai suitable to set up shop?

Chennai was nicknamed ‘Detroit of India’ for its automobile hubs.
(Photo Courtesy: BloombergQuint)
One thing Chennai has is the appetite to help startups and with the wide variety of industries available we have expertise in every field and can support all kinds of ideas. 
Navneet Agarwal, President, Entrepreneurs Organization - Chennai Chapter

There are Special Economic Zones (SEZ) which are basically areas where the business and trade laws are different, providing a competitive and hassle free climate, giving a single-window clearance and tax exemptions.

There are 55 operational SEZs in Tamil Nadu of which 18 are in Chennai which makes the city a preferred destination for start-ups or businesses.

Also, it is essential that the cost of living be moderate and in Chennai life is much cheaper than other metros - consumer prices and rent being 18% less than Delhi, 54% less than Mumbai and 13% less than Bengaluru.


Hiccups All the Way

The environment seems perfect, the city does have all that it needs to start a business but there are definitely marked reasons for the growth trajectory to not be very promising.

Infrastructure is far behind. Whether it is physical or in terms of research spaces, the city is opening up to high-end facilities of late.

A few years back, funding was a key issue but today several young entrepreneurs say angel investors are ready to open the doors. However, access to mentors and early-stage funding is yet to scale up.


Sometimes All You Need Is an Idea, Scooty and Unlimited Petrol

This year at the regionals competition of Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA)  the prize was bagged by 20-year-old, Shiv Shankar Ganesh.

The young founder has created an app Kaching, which lists all the best deals and discounts in bars and restaurants in and around your place. You might wonder you’ve heard of such an idea from several websites and applications but what has made this college dropout’s idea last this long is his deviation from the pattern.

Kaching is basically your friendly neighbourhood guy who is super funny, college-going, essentially telling you all these amazing deals he discovered in some pizza place, pasta place...never comes across as a corporate account sitting in this dull office. So this image resonates with our audience – which is mostly school, college kids and young people.
Shiv Shankar Ganesh, Founder, Kaching

But he says despite having the drive, the difficulty was to find people to teach how to start a business and the nuances of running it successfully. Armed with a scooter and unlimited petrol, he had to visit every restaurant in the city to understand the F&B industry better.

Chennai is still in its nascent phase of propagating startup culture – a relatively new concept for many.


The Story of Every Aspiring Chennai Boss

Last month, when I went to the Chennai Chapter of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), I saw a loose-T Shirt clad boy wearing dark-rimmed spectacles and chappals explaining to young adults what it takes to make or break a business.

This boy, 23-year-old IIT-graduate Daniel, helms a firm that specialises in cutting edge technologies to monitor assets. His team has devised the first sensor in the world which can monitor pipeline thickness in real time.

And he says whether success or failure, it is a win-win situation after all.

A group of fun, young, enthusiastic minds who are running a successful business.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ Detect Technologies)
If you get a job, you will get a decent salary. But even if you just try to build a startup, you are building skill sets at a much faster pace than how you much you would if you worked in a company. Companies will want to hire you anyway for your business, analytics and software acumen.
Daniel Raj David, CEO, Detect Technologies
Shivshankar and Daniel are successful entrepreneurs today but it took them years to formulate an idea, convince their traditional families that a regular job isn’t the only right way, find funding, constantly innovate and keep up with social media trends.

These entrepreneurs believe that if the institutions which shape children gives more room for innovation and career options (more than just doctor, engineer and if nothing works out, arts), Chennai can beat the other metros and become a pioneer.

“We have to give credit to North India which has been the money powerhouse where everything has been happening. Mumbai is the financial capital and Delhi is where all bureaucracy lies and Bangalore of course was at the peak of the Silicon Valley revolutions mid-90s, early 2000s so they had all that going for them,” says Shiv.

Chennai and South India has definitely been traditional in their outlooks and views. There have been a few legendary merchants, brands and companies who have built out here but not something which will find its place internationally. These people still were traditional...want to sell garments, household names and not go beyond.
Shiv Shankar Ganesh, Founder, Kaching

Businessman Balamurugan believes one of the biggest fears in the minds of parents is ‘Who will marry someone who runs his/her own business?’ ‘No pension. No security for the future.’

Adding to that, the traditional mindset that anything you embark on must be a fascinating victory. The effort and experience gained isn’t always valued.

What needs to be done is remove the mental block that an economical failure is a moral failure. It is a long way to go, not just for Tamil Nadu but for this whole country.
I A S Balamurugan, Chairperson – Chennai Chapter, Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

Industry experts strongly believe that if Chennai is given more opportunities, the government drafts a startup policy and invites more industrial investment, it would create a sea of change.

It won’t be long before Chennai marks its territory on the map in bold letters.

Shiv Shankar Ganesh, Founder, Kaching said, “People here are really smart and we are proving that if we have the access to technology...we can outshine the world like the Zohos, Freshdesks and hopefully Katchings of the world.”

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