Has Indian Startup Economy Grown Much To Fit Political Narrative?

Amidst the fervor of General Election 2024, delve into the nation's narrative shift from politics to startup promises. Discover how the Modi-led NDA government has fueled the meteoric rise of India's startup ecosystem.

Shreshtha Verma
New Update


India is in the thick of General Election 2024. But that's not the whole story. This time, the narrative has shifted in each phase of the elections, from the development to religion, and even to deepfake AI videos of  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. However, one agenda that bodes well is the focus on the Startup Economy and the promises surrounding entrepreneurship and employment generation. An economic narrative in politics is always a good sign.

With a staggering 141.72 crore individuals poised to exercise their voting rights, the anticipation surrounding the outcome is palpable. As the Modi-led NDA government nears the culmination of its second term, a retrospective glance reveals a remarkable phenomenon: the meteoric rise of the Indian Startup Ecosystem. Indeed, within these two terms, this sector has not just grown; it has been conceived and carefully nurtured. The Indian Startup movement began back in 2016 with the launch of the Startup India program.

Throughout this period, the nation has borne witness to the emergence of a staggering 1,12,718 startups recognized by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT). Yet, the narrative extends beyond mere numbers.

1,12,718 DPIIT Registered Startups & Beyond

India has solidified its position as the third-largest ecosystem for  startups globally, boasting an impressive count of 1,12,718 DPIIT-recognized startups spread across 763 districts as of October 3rd, 2023. Garnering the second spot in innovation quality among middle-income economies, India shines particularly bright in areas such as the caliber of scientific publications and the excellence of its universities. Notably, the spirit of innovation permeates across a wide spectrum of industries, with startups tackling challenges across 56 diverse sectors. These include 13% in IT services, 9% in healthcare and life sciences, 7% in education, and significant contributions from agriculture and food & beverages sectors.

The Indian startup ecosystem has witnessed an extraordinary surge in recent years (2015-2022), marked by a 15X surge in total funding, a 9X increase in investor participation, and a 7X rise in the number of incubators. Flourishing amidst the fast-paced and dynamic economic landscape, Indian unicorns are not just pioneers in developing groundbreaking solutions and technologies but also catalysts for substantial job creation. The growth trajectory of unicorns has been particularly remarkable since FY 2017-18, with a staggering 66% year-on-year increase in the addition of these esteemed entities. As of October 3rd, 2023, India proudly hosts 111 unicorns, collectively valued at $349.67 billion. Among these, 45 unicorns, valued at $102.30 billion, were born in 2021, followed by 22 unicorns, valued at $29.20 billion, in 2022. 2023 witnessed the emergence of Zepto as the sole unicorn for the year, further underscoring the robustness and dynamism of India's startup ecosystem.

Total Unicorns in India

As of October 3rd, 2023, India boasts a staggering tally of 111 unicorns, collectively valued at an impressive $349.67 billion.

Despite the global socio-economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian entrepreneurs have demonstrated remarkable resilience and ingenuity. In a year marked by unprecedented challenges, 2020 witnessed the birth of over 10 unicorns, underscoring the unwavering commitment of Indian startups to contribute not only to economic growth but also to COVID-19 relief efforts. The momentum continued into 2021, aptly dubbed the "unicorn rain," witnessing the emergence of an astounding 45 unicorns, with many more poised to join the ranks.

At the epicenter of India's high-tech landscape, Bengaluru reigns supreme as the nation's unicorn hub, hosting the headquarters of the largest number of unicorns, followed closely by Delhi (NCR) and Mumbai. While Tier I cities remain hotbeds of unicorn activity, the startup ecosystem's reach extends far beyond, permeating every corner of the country, down to the remotest districts.

While traditional sectors like e-commerce, fintech, and supply chain & logistics continue to dominate, the unicorn arena is witnessing a burgeoning wave of innovation across unconventional sectors such as content, gaming, hospitality, and data management & analytics.

Every unicorn's journey is unique, with startups achieving this coveted status in varying timeframes. Mensa Brands, for instance, achieved unicorn status in a mere six months in 2021, exemplifying one of the fastest unicorn success stories in Asia. From rapid ascents to prolonged journeys spanning over two decades, the Indian startup landscape is a testament to the diversity and dynamism of entrepreneurship in the country.

Jobs Created by Startups in India

The startup boom has been a significant contributor to job creation, with over 1 million jobs generated across various sectors. This employment surge not only addresses the pressing issue of unemployment but also underscores the role of startups as engines of economic growth and social mobility. Moreover, with 31 states implementing dedicated startup policies, there is a concerted effort to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurial ventures, fostering innovation-led development.

Government Initiatives for Startups

India has been actively promoting entrepreneurship and Startups through various initiatives. Each Ministry and Department has had a significant role to play in promoting Startups in their respective sectors. Some of the Central Government initiatives undertaken toward strengthening the Startup ecosystem include:

Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX)

IDEX is a scheme by the Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence which aims to give impetus to innovation, design and development, and support Startups and innovators for successful prototype development. The Scheme facilitates financial support to nearly 300 Startups, MSMEs, individual innovators, and around 20 partner incubators.

Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship Development Program

This program supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare aims to promote innovation and agri-entrepreneurship by providing financial support and nurturing an incubation ecosystem in the country. The scheme aims to boost agri-Startups in the country by 20% from 1176 Startups in July 2023.

Atal Innovation Mission (AIM)

AIM has established 10,000+ Atal Tinkering Labs, which engage more than 75 L students across 34 states and UTs. AIM has supported more than 2900+ Startups and created 6100+ strong mentor network across the nation. Bridging the gap between inclusion, innovation, and sectoral penetration.

Promoting Innovations in Individuals, Start-ups and MSMEs (PRISM)

This scheme aims to support individual innovators to achieve the agenda of inclusive development. The Department of Science and Institutional Research sanctioned 132 proposals for establishing Startups.

Role of Private Ecosystem

The synergy between the public and private sectors has been a defining feature of India's startup journey. Private stakeholders have played a pivotal role in providing funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities to startups, amplifying their growth trajectory. The collaboration with over 250 corporate partners has not only facilitated access to resources but also catalyzed innovation through corporate challenges and partnerships. Additionally, the surge in venture capital funding, with investments reaching $38.5 billion in 2021, underscores the confidence of investors in the Indian startup ecosystem.

India Startup Ecosystem: Looking Ahead at Sustaining Momentum

As India's vibrant startup ecosystem continues its upward trajectory, it stands at a pivotal juncture, poised to sustain its momentum and navigate through evolving landscapes. Amidst the fervor of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections 2024, the spotlight on the startup sector underscores its significance in driving economic growth and job creation.

Looking ahead, ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities will be crucial in nurturing a diverse and inclusive startup ecosystem. Moreover, fostering a culture of innovation in traditional sectors holds immense potential for driving sustainable growth and addressing societal challenges.

Collaboration between academia, industry, and government will play a pivotal role in fueling innovation and driving synergies across various domains. By streamlining regulatory frameworks and enhancing the ease of doing business, policymakers can create an enabling environment for startups to thrive and innovate.

India's startup journey is not merely a tale of economic progress but a testament to the nation's entrepreneurial spirit and resilience. As the ecosystem matures, it holds the promise of driving inclusive growth, technological innovation, and global competitiveness. By harnessing the collective potential of startups, India can emerge as a powerhouse of innovation on the world stage, charting a path towards a brighter and more prosperous future.

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