I was part of the final jury that was judging business models at a weekend hackathon in Jabalpur. It was a massive event with almost two hundred teams competing to build the best solution to different problems. I was impressed by the progress that some of the teams made in the short span of 40 hours.
The Executive Director of Jabalpur Smart City Limited (also the organiser of the event), Mr. Chandramauli Shukla encouraged the audience of over 400 budding entrepreneurs to work with the government. He committed to the top 30 teams that the government would be the first tester or consumer for their solutions, since they were working to solve problems that had been put forth by the government itself.
There was a palpable energy at the venue, and the teams presented with confidence regardless of their preference of language. It was powerful stuff.
Even outside the venue, Jabalpur is a town on the move. The city is getting a rapid upgrade with the implementation of multiple projects under the Smart City program. Roads are being concretized, filthy lakes are being cleaned and beautified, garbage bins are being given RFID tags and the data from them is being analysed. There are multiple but unheard-of restaurant chains like Chai Sutta Bar that are choc-a-blocked with teenagers. The city will also get an autonomous traffic management system soon. I was told that the citizens have responded positively to all these developments and I even met people who have moved back to Jabalpur after emigrating to developed countries like China!
What I saw was a stark contrast to the image I had in my head of a Tier 3 start-up ecosystem like Jabalpur. I was pleasantly surprised.
Just under a year ago, I had written about the transforming effect that Jio and GST would have on the Bharat that exists beyond India and the importance of positioning my VC investment gun on start-ups that cater to these underpenetrated ecosystems. Since then, I have made a conscious effort to visit the start-up ecosystems of Bharat like Udaipur, Kharagpur, Kanpur, Goa, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Mysore, Guwahati, Indore, Surat, Raipur and now Jabalpur. During my visits, I witnessed the wave of change that is taking place with my own eyes and I cannot emphasize any harder (as I already have before) that the next wave of start-ups will come from Bharat. However, after the visit this weekend, I realized I have underestimated the speed and the size of that wave.
A truly Mera Bharat Mahan & Jai Hind moment for me.