Now more than ever, innovation investment is vital to India’s dynamic startup story. A true digital economy can be sustained only when India positions itself as a game-changer in the innovation ecosystem.
Founded in 2015 with the larger vision of being a comprehensive support system that attracts the brightest startups and innovators to the state of Telangana, T-Hub has succeeded in being an innovation enabler poised to become a global powerhouse in the years to come.
In the following interview, Rama Iyer, Chief Innovation Officer and Sudhir CP, Vice President – Corporate Finance, speak with our editor, looking back on the five years of path-breaking work T-Hub has accomplished in the innovation space.
Editor: Congratulations on reaching this milestone! Please walk us though T-Hub’s early days. Were there any apprehensions at the inception of this journey?
Rama Iyer: Wow! It’s been five years of T-Hub. At times it seems like we were dabbling at something not so long ago and at times it looks like we have built an institution that a lot of people are proud of today—an inspiration and role model in the country.
It all started in 2015, at the dawn of the new state of Telangana that got added to the country’s map. There were a lot of inhibitions and a lot of anxiety about how Telangana will shape up and whether it will it be able to attraction investment, and so on. While this was happening, the dynamic and inspiring IT Minister Mr. K.T. Rama Rao had a simple idea—that we should be a ‘startup state’, given that we were literally ‘starting-up’ at the time.
While it was all fine and good, we did not know how this will pan out. There were enough startup ecosystem models that already existed around the globe. There were things that were easy to ape from them, but we knew that it will neither be sustainable nor will it go the distance. So, we mixed a concoction of picking low-hanging stuff, which will ensure the train starts chugging along, while simultaneously donning our thinking caps. We decided we should try different things and not worry too much about the outcome.
Editor: What makes T-Hub’s model unique in the global innovation landscape?
Sudhir CP: A unique aspect of T-Hub is its public-private partnership (PPP) model that has the Telangana government’s backing as well as support from industry leaders and premier educational institutes. T-Hub’s Board of Directors includes stellar names from the industry, IIIT, Indian School of Business (ISB) and NALSAR are T-Hub’s collaborators from academia.
What sets T-Hub apart from its global competitors is its self-sustained model. T-Hub is a Section 8 company that is registered as a not-for-profit organisation. It has designed and delivered 75+ programs for startups, corporates and other stakeholders—and doesn’t seek grants from either the government or the private sector.
Editor: When did T-Hub start getting noticed by the key stakeholders?
Rama Iyer: We went on to create multiple programs for each of those stakeholders and soon got noticed by several central government departments that were responsible to drive and push startup innovation in the country. They were zapped at the speed at which we had arrived on the scene, making ourselves impactful and meaningful at the same time. We started going head-to-head with some of the top incubators and ecosystems that existed before us and surpassed them in many ways.
Soon, T-Hub was frequented by most states’ IT and Industry departments to build their own startup roadmap and journey. We were happy to oblige and shared our best practices, encouraging them to identify those that would fit their ecosystem. As T-Hub grew, several other ‘hubs’ started mushrooming—all inspired by us! It felt nice that we did something which was worth emulating.
Editor: How do you lead a culture of innovation that sets an example for the ecosystem at large?
Sudhir CP: T-Hub is not only about its world-class building and facilities. It goes beyond that. The foundation of our success story hinges on the talented and creative people who strive hard to translate T-Hub’s powerful vision into tangible deliverables. Team T-Hub collectively fosters a culture of innovation that creates a strong network of stakeholders and effectively contributes to India’s startup revolution. We aspire to extend our footprint beyond Telangana and India to global frontiers through our steadfast commitment to fostering a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Editor: How has T-Hub impacted startups and corporates?
Sudhir CP: Since its inception in 2015, T-Hub’s mission and objective are to partner with startups that aspire to become disruptive innovators of the future, solving some of the world’s biggest problems. Looking back on these five years, we take pride in the fact that we have created value through innovation and empowered 1100+ national and international startups to gain access to better technology, funding, talent, mentors, customers, corporations, investors and government agencies
Today, T-Hub is in a unique position to accelerate innovation through holistic partnerships with corporates and help them enhance their business models. Our Corporate Innovation Program has impacted over 435 Indian corporates and MNCs, including Facebook, Google, HSBC and Boeing, among others.
Rama Iyer: We have gone from strength-to-strength, built a lot of international programs and won a substantial number of large corporate accelerator and government impact innovation programs. We also built a network of ‘ecosystem partners’ across the globe. This allowed us to build a broad global reach and access, helpful for sourcing startups for our corporates and identify international startups trying to build their India story. We also hosted a few innovation labs with some of the leading corporates and allowed them inside our ‘innovation playground’.
Editor: Were there any setbacks along the way?
Rama Iyer: Sure, we did try and fail at quite a few programs, but that did not bog us down and we were happy to move on to the next bright idea fairly quickly. This approach gave us the freedom and the zeal to pull off a lot of interesting program variants for our key stakeholders: startups, corporates, government, academia and other ecosystem partners.
Editor: What is the value-add T-Hub brings to the innovation landscape, especially in the Indian context?
Sudhir CP: At T-Hub, we follow a programmatic approach to incubation. We help sow the seeds early for startups by helping entrepreneurs jumpstart their business, identify problems, find innovative solutions and access new markets. However, we want all the participating startups to go through a programmatic approach to incubation, rather than only being physically present in our premises.
Startups that are identified for T-Hub’s flagship Lab32 program derive tangible benefits, such as office space, expertise, mentoring, networking, potential funding and job creation, among others. The Lab32 program has nurtured several success stories and helped startups to go beyond short-term tangible gains and create a true impact on the innovation ecosystem.
Editor: How have cross-border partnerships been integral to T-Hub’s strategic vision?
Sudhir CP: One of the major milestones for T-Hub has been the MoUs signed with foreign governments to help nurture the innovation ecosystem across geographies. International partnerships will provide growth opportunities for startups and act as a catalyst for radical, innovative ideas. T-Hub will provide soft landings for our foreign partners to access both the Indian and international markets.
- We have signed an MOU with the Hiroshima Prefectural Government to facilitate access and opportunities between the Indian and Hiroshima innovation ecosystems.
- T-Hub’s partnership with inQ Innovation, a Global Open Innovation ecosystem headquartered in Sydney, supports both Indian and Australian startups explore and gain access to their respective markets.
- Our partnership with Korea SMEs and Startups Agency (KOSME) aims to provide early-stage South Korean startups with access to customers and soft landing to explore the Indian market.
Editor: How do you see the next five years shaping up for T-Hub?
Rama Iyer: I guess, in some ways we have travelled quite some distance and hit some remarkable milestones. In some other ways it feels like we are just getting started, even as we embark to move into our own new campus (T-Hub Phase-II), which will put us among the top startup ecosystem plays globally.
We continue to remain humble and are happy to fall, learn, get up again, and walk the same talk that we tell our startups. We hope to continue rocking and making a mark for both Hyderabad and India on the global innovation map.
Thanks to everyone who’s played a part in our journey or has been our well-wisher. We will continue to count on your continuous and ongoing support.
Sudhir CP: In what is perhaps one of our most anticipated developments, Phase-II of T-Hub will soon move to a 3.5 lakh square feet of real-estate space spread over three acres making it the world’s largest innovation hub. It is estimated to accommodate 4000 startups.
Plans are underway to increase the number of virtual programs and replicate the Telangana model pan-India. It will foster the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship across the country.
We also have a great opportunity ahead of us to setup a satellite office in Hyderabad for the central government and our international partners.
The robust innovation ecosystem that T-Hub has built in the last five years has strengthened our resolve to constantly strive to ideate, innovate and improve in the years ahead. I daresay we would have truly arrived on the global innovation map if we can sustain this momentum and create opportunities for our key stakeholders to scale their organisations successfully.