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Dr. Saji Gopinath is the Chief Executive Officer of Kerala Startup Mission, the apex body of the Government of Kerala for supporting the technical entrepreneurship and Start-up ecosystem in the State. Before joining Kerala Startup Mission in April 2017, Dr. Gopinath served IIM Kozhikode for over 17 years as Professor, Dean- Academic and Dean-Development.

A Mechanical Engineer with Ph.D in Management from the Indian Institute of Science, Dr. Gopinath consults many corporate, Public Sector Units and govenment in the area of Operations Excellence, Business Strategy and Sustainable Development. He is a recipient of several national and international awards for his scholastic and professional achievements. Supported and mentored more than 50 startups during the period 2013-15.

As we enter the fifth stage of the COVID pandemic, it is not just the country, but world itself is on the edge. These are the days of caution and care. Expatriates are flowing in and more are to come. Though the government has put in place many plans for rehabilitation, job creation and physical and mental care for these people, entrepreneurship is still popular with many. In an interview with TheGulfIndians.com Dr. Gopinath talked about the opportunities that the start-up eco-system that the State has to offer the Non-Resident Indians with skill-sets who have an entrepreneurial streak in them.

We have been going through many changes, big and not so big, in the days of COVID-19. One of the most important of these is job-related changes. Self-Entrepreneurs such as Start-Up Mission can be a great comfort for expatriates who have lost their jobs. What are the opportunities that the KSUM has to offer?

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One of the biggest challenges or changes of the COVID era is moving away from the pre-existing big business ideas and narrowing it down to the concept of small enterprise. We can see this in agriculture already. There is potential for such small scale entrepreneurship not only in agriculture but in other areas as well. Not just that. There are many SMEs in various sectors. Similarly, manufacturing related to the healthcare sector is increasing, as seen in the production of masks and sanitisers. With the advent of COVID, social distance has to be maintained. The idea of digital shopping has really taken off. As a result, there is a need for new digital transaction companies.

Earlier, we could travel from one place to another very quickly. In the present situation this has changed. We cannot resume such travel until one is cured of the infection or a vaccine has been found. This means that our mobility has been vastly affected. So is the situation with the service industry. Experts in this field have a lot of work to do in the specific fields. In Remote Working and Digitalisation. Additionally, there ae opportunities in the skilled and unskilled areas. This is because nearly two lakh migrant workers in our State have already left for their home states. In their absence, employment opportunities are available for those who are interested in this field. We can utilise the skills of the returning NRIs in a more productive manner or even better.

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In short, the world that relied on small-scale enterprises in the 19th century became big enterprises in the twentieth century. Now we are treading the same old path again. This is very beneficial for a place such as Kerala. There were space limitations here. Unlike that, small entrepreneurs are more likely to integrate those enterprises into a digital platform. So we can overcome this situation when it comes to companies that can come up with technology integration. Because of that, human resources, technology and infrastructure to set up small businesses is now possible. We can now work without depending on anyone else. Also, we can hope for a self-sufficient future.

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How long can the existing start-ups hold on in the days of COVID-19?

There are many start-up whose business shot up. At the same time, there were start-ups that had nil business as well. Tourism sector is an example. One of the products that saw business growing and becoming popular is ‘Robert’. It had garnered much media attention. Other than that, the start-up company that was involved producing disposable masks has been able to overcome the challenges of the COVID days.

What are the criteria for Non-Resident Keralites to begin start-ups?

Nothing in particular. If they can come up with new and unique ideas, KSUM examines if their projects can attract funding. We linkup those with possible angle funding or venture funds. One should have skillsets. Those lacking it can’t set up start-ups.

Can you expect any monetary help from the government?

The mission is not giving any financial help. We put those who come up with unique ideas in touch with appropriate partners. We extend help and cooperation for finding financial partners.

Can senior citizens, not just youth, set up a start-up?

There is no age limit for this. Those who have experience have more chances. That’s all.