J&K: Startups in Kashmir Struggling due to Lack of Infrastructure, Mentorship
Srinagar: In three years, Rayees Ahmad's catering service, 'Tiffin Aaw', has grown exponentially around Srinagar city. It is one of the most successful startups in the region, where many entrepreneurs continue to struggle due to a lack of a proper ecosystem.
For Ahmad, who serves "affordable" home-cooked food to students and offices from the capital city's Rajbagh locality, his business journey has been marred with multiple challenges and difficulties caused by factors ranging from weather to human resources.
The 33-year-old has not yet received outside support as he mainly depended on his family and friends. He, however, believes that it is time for seeking help from investors that would help him grow bigger and faster.
"I started with just two utensils, and today, I am catering to over 250 persons daily. I see a lot of scope for growth, but it would require investment. I have received calls from several investors, but I need to decide," Ahmad said.
Based on his experience, Ahmad says there is a lot of scope for young entrepreneurs in the valley in sectors like agriculture, dairy, and technology.
"There is a need to address the mindset both from the perspectives of those planning ventures and those willing to provide administrative support," Ahmad told NewsClick.
But, Ahmad says that he could not afford the time requisite for training and guidance, something he says would cost him in work.
Prominent investor and mentor from TiE Global Mahavir Pratap Sharma believes that a lot needs to be done to create a vibrant ecosystem for startups in Kashmir.
"It is still very nascent, but if at least one or two success stories emerge from the region that can manage at least two rounds of investments, it will encourage others to follow, and we can see a rapid transformation," Sharma said.
Sharma, who recently attended a startup mentorship workshop in Srinagar, added that there is a lot of potential in agri-tech as Jammu and Kashmir is established in the sector producing the best saffron, almonds, and apples.
Sheikh Ashiq, trader and former head of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), told NewsClick that they plan to provide mentorship to youth looking for encouragement and help from mentors and investors.
"As of now, the first thing our youth need is exposure. They need to know where and how to pitch," Ashiq said.
In the mentorship program, Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, director of Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI), said that the administration is committed to supporting budding entrepreneurs.
"There will be no more delay and hassle of documentation. Our doors are always open; anyone can approach us physically or on call. We are committed to providing proper guidance, training and counselling," he said.
Bhat added that the JKEDI has recognised and registered about a hundred startups. He added that the current startup policy is being amended and updated for Jammu and Kashmir with an aim to create the “best such policy in the country.”
“We have proposed 3,000 startups in five years which will be later sent to the government for approval,” Bhat told NewsClick.
Rashid Ahmad Qadri, deputy chief executive officer of the J&K Khadi and Village Industries Board -- meant to promote the village and micro-level industries -- said that in the last three years, they have supported as many as 23,226 entrepreneurs.
"We have provided them with a loan of the total worth of Rs 1563 crore, of which Rs 520.88 crore was provided as subsidy amount. I am glad to share that of these, 38% are women," Qadri said.
Many, however, believe that only a few ventures in Kashmir have scalability potential. One of the major problems is the geography of Jammu and Kashmir, which, according to experts, limits the potential and scope of many innovations.
Jahangir Hamid Lone, a student at the University of Kashmir, has been trying to look for investors for one of his prototype products. He has already spent about Rs 70,000 on it and has patented it. It has been a rough journey for him, like most of the startups in the region.
"I am hopeful, but there is no infrastructure to create or convert my prototype to a market product. It would have been much easier for those outside," Lone said.
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