Karnataka’s Department of IT Rebrands Itself to Become the Next Global Leader in Innovation

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By Savita V Jayaram 

Department of Information Technology (IT) and Biotechnology (BT) Karnataka finally sees the light of the day to rebrand itself in a completely new avatar, aimed towards becoming the next global hub for industry-leading innovations in technology and biotechnology.

Embracing the Industrial revolution 4.0, the department of IT and BT in the State gets rebranded to be now called the ‘Department of Innovation Technology’, according to announcement made by Shri Priyank Kharge, Honourable Minister for ITBT, Government of Karnataka at the ‘Innovate Karnataka’ launch on March 1, 2018 at The Lalit Ashok, Bengaluru.

The department thus newly rebranded will focus its efforts on skilling in emerging technologies, creating a knowledge society for ideation, focus on collaboration with global ecosystems as industry partners, foster innovation and inventions to create opportunity for investments, these together will propel the State’s growth as global industry leaders.

Unveiling the brand initiative, the Chief Minister for State of Karnataka, Mr. Siddaramiah said, “Development cannot happen without innovation and no innovation is truly big unless it helps people. With ‘Innovate Karnataka’ we hope to start on the path to Mission 2025, where technology will help in the inclusive development of the state and better governance can be delivered to citizens. Our vision is to put people first in all of our schemes and programmes to see the state as the first global choice for innovation and technology. This will be possible by adopting policies that spur 100% digitization of health, agriculture and other domains to enable inclusive digital growth across geographies.”

Transitioning through time

The next innovation wave in Karnataka will be spurred by the Government of the state and partners who have consistently supported the growth journey. Dating back in time, the state was the first to craft IT policies for the country in 1999, further followed by a biotechnology policy in 2001. The city of Bengaluru contributes to 40.4 percent out of the total earnings from IT-enabled services of $167-billion.

Over the period of last two decades, the IT-enabled services sector in the state has further matured to provide ecosystem for development of many R&D centres in the city of Bengaluru, with close to 400 R&D centres and home to Fortune 500 companies in India. The city of Bengaluru provides the second largest ecosystem for growth of startups in the country, wherein the average age of an entrepreneur in Karnataka is 28 years old, as in comparison to the Silicon-valley entrepreneurs at 36.5 years.

Speaking about the convergence of various technologies and the need for putting innovation first, Kharge said, “We are at the cusp of technology revolution across the world and Karnataka is poised to be the global leader when it comes to innovation. We are already spearheading the startup movement in India, and ensuring that we are at the forefront of nanotechnology, blockchain, and artificial intelligence innovation. Now it’s time to take Karnataka into a safe secure future where technology solves real problems.”

The Roadmap Ahead: Projected Plans and Schemes

Predicting the roadmap ahead for growth of the IT and BT sector in the state, Shri Priyank Kharge expressed the need to build and develop skillsets in emerging technologies across sectors under the “Innovate Karnataka” project umbrella. To accomplish this objective, the government is targeting efforts at the grassroots level to groom talent to be industry-ready with the New Age Incubation Network (NAIN).

Kharge said, “Through this initiative NAIN, we are encouraging students and entrepreneurs of tomorrow to experiment with technologies quite early on, to ensure that they build applications and products that will solve real-life problems. The Government of Karnataka will be paying Rs.40 lakhs per college to ensure that these experiments are successful. What’s important here is not funding institutions to see if their experiments are successful in a controlled environment, but to see if the students and researchers find a potential in their product and are keen on commercializing the idea. The Government of Karnataka will then intervene to aid their efforts. They will be incubated at one of our incubators, provided mentorship and will be pushed to business incubators to get onsite experiences. The funding assistance and government support is not restricted to IT and ITeS sectors only, but will also cover biotechnology and life sciences as well.”

Biotechnology Skill Enhancement Program (BiSEP) will focus on upgrading lifesciences skills in emerging technologies.

Animation and gaming, being an another important sector, the government is making efforts to bridge the gap for students between fine art and digital art, by setting up Digital Art Centers. The State will have 50 digital art centers to be able to train and produce the best skilled animation and gaming talent in the country.

All of these initiatives together will be encapsulated into a single disruptive program called the ‘Yuva Yuga” e-Margadarshini program encouraging young graduates out of institutions, to get skilled and make them readily employable. Currently, only 7 percent of the engineering graduates and graduates from other disciplines are industry-ready to be employable immediately. This will perhaps be the only program in the country, which is industry-driven supported by partners such as Bosch, IBM, Intel, SAP, Oracle etc.

The government is also gearing its efforts to eliminate the problem of gender parity and ensure fairness of treatment regards gender-skilling for women, intending to return back to the workforce after a brief sabbatical in their career for maternity leaves and such personal reasons. Through a program called Prerna, the Government of Karnataka will ensure that the women who intend to return back to the workforce, after a long break are trained with on-demand industry skillsets.

Looking at the bigger picture under the “Innovate Karnataka” initiative the government is trying to train talent at the grassroot level in college and institutions with skillsets in emerging technologies, integrate these talents into incubation cells, and as an extension, set up Centres of Excellence (CoE) to train students in different specialization areas. Centre of Excellence (CoE) is a first-of-its-kind initiative by the Government of Karnataka in association with NASSCOM, under the private-public partnership model.

India’s only CoE in IoT (Internet of Things) is run by the Government of Karnataka for more than a year now. Other CoEs in aerospace, machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence will also be operational. The CoEs thus created will be responsible for promoting skills, academic activities, advocate policies and be the incubation and innovation hub for a particular centre. Once talent has honed the domain expertise, they will be integrated into incubation cells and guided towards pursuing entrepreneurship under the Startup cell. The State currently has 5,500 startups registered under the startup cell, of which 250 startups have received grants from the Government of Karnataka.

They will be provided access to mentorship, idea validation, and government assistance in piloting projects, world-class consultants for advice, networking opportunities across the globe, access to seed capital funding and VCs – an entire ecosystem will be provided to ensure the brilliant startup ideas do succeed. There will be a prioritization in the existing incentives and subsidies under the Startup Karnataka policy for emerging technologies such as Blockchain and crypto. A secured Blockchain sandbox environment will be created for prototype development.

Elevate 100 Program

The State of Karnataka has also come up with an Elevate 100 program in the country, which is a first of its kind to identify 100 top innovations in the State. The state received more than 1700 applications for the Elevate 100 program, out of which 450 ideas were from rural areas and tier-II cities, and 300 from women entrepreneurs. In view of the immense success achieved by Elevate 100 program, the Government of Karnataka is deliberating on the next Elevate 500 program, meant to identify top 500 innovations across the state.

Launch of RGEES to promote entrepreneurship

Since most entrepreneurs lack confidence and the ability to draw immediate returns from the startups thus established, the Government of Karnataka launched the RGEES (Rajiv Gandhi Entrepreneurship Encouragement Scheme) to boost confidence levels of the first-time entrepreneurs. Under this initiative, Rs. 30,000 per month will be paid to passionate entrepreneurs for the time period of a year. Necessary support in terms of idea validation, mentoring and networking opportunities will also be provided for them, to succeed in the competitive business arena.

Kharge clarifies, “Through launch of these initiatives we are not competing with the country and different states within India, but with the best across the globe. To set new benchmarks, the Government of Karnataka has constituted the International Cell. The cell will be responsible for holding continuous dialogue with institutions, create ecosystems, support collaborations, and provide incubation support to create networking opportunities across the globe.

Considering the need for government to adopt different technologies for various industries, Karnataka Innovation Authority (KIA) is constituted and officially announced as part of the Innovate Karnataka launch. The Innovation Authority will be headed by the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

Commenting on the policies adopted by any government in the country not just in Karnataka, Kharge stated, “The policies are retrospective and not prospective in nature. The technology is evolving faster than the policies, so we need to ensure that the startup growth is not hindered, because of the regressive laws of the land.”

An Electronics System Design and Manufacturing (ESDM) cluster was announced for Mysore and a Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) incubator in Hubli was launched, thus placing clear focus on not just Bengaluru but entire State development as well. An amount of Rs. 4 crore will be spent on each facility.

Launch of Innovation Legal Framework

The Government of Karnataka has set up an Innovation Legal Framework under the “Innovate Karnataka” umbrella, to be able to encapsulate any new emerging technologies, be it blockchain, artificial intelligence or crypto, to ensure business operations are least impacted by the need for change.

The Department of IT, BT and S&T has launched Grand Challenge Karnataka Scheme to facilitate generation of at least 25 innovative technology solutions with social impact in various sectors such as Urban development, Healthcare, Food security, Clean environment and Education for all etc.

The KBITS, Department of IT & BT will launch 5 grand challenges each year and it will be implemented in two phases. In the first phase, around five innovative projects selected to create an impact of social change will be funded upto Rs. 10 lakhs each for a six-month period. After completion of six months, one out of the five innovations shortlisted for pilot implementation will receive further funding support of upto Rs. 50 lakhs for a period of 12-15 months under Phase II. The awards were presented at Innovate Karnataka event to the shortlisted innovations by Shri Priyank Kharge yesterday.

Impact of Change in Policies and Programs on Economy and Governance

Salma Fahim, Managing Director, KBITS (Karnataka Biotechnology and Information Technology Society) presented important pointers with reference to the budget presentation made by the Chief Minister of State, Government of Karnataka, Shri Siddaramiah on February 16, 2018.

“Karnataka has always been the vanguard for policy formations and this year is no different in keeping with the legacy of the yesteryears. For the budget of 2018-19, we have come up with policies and programs that will have a far reaching impact on governance, the industry and also on the economy,” Faheem stated at the beginning of her announcement.

  • To promote startups in the State, innovation centers will be established in Kalaburagi in association with the Deshpande Foundation at the cost of Rs. 5 crores.
  • To promote hardware equipment and semi-conductor chip design and development, “Semiconductor fabless Accelerator Lab (SFAL) will be established in association with the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA).
  • An agro innovation center will be set up in association with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-Camp), a Government of India (GoI) organization to nurture and encourage promising innovations in the agriculture sector, lifescience and biotechnology space.
  • An archive of patents will be created to facilitate storing, corroborating and exchange of patents. This will promote innovation.
  • To promote design of products and the designs of entrepreneurs, a Centre for Excellence (CoE) in Designs will be established under a legal framework to bring new and emerging technologies, until appropriate law is enacted.
  • It is observed that there is lack of state-of-the-art skill to continue IT employment for women, who intend to return to duties after completion of their maternity leave or study leave. Distinct schemes will be formulated to assist such women for developing their skills.

These budget announcements will become operational in the coming financial year (2018-19), to take the narrative of “Innovate Karnataka” forward.

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Savita V Jayaram is a reputed journalist and senior writer with more than a decade experience into business journalism, covering feature reports and news stories of interest on different industry domains spanning from HR, media, technology, engineering, chemicals and pharma. Please get in touch with her, with your feedback, suggestions and critical comments on  info@thesmetimes.com.