US-based Silicon Valley entrepreneur Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande is a known name in the business. Although he has a primarily expertise in IT and telecom sector, the Karnataka-born serial entrepreneur has went on to play the role of a mentor to several profit and non-profit ventures, and is also a philanthropist. And now, he as added another feather to his cap as Desh's philanthropy arm, The Deshpande Foundation, has decided to launch India's largest startup incubation centre yet at Hubballi (earlier Hubli) in Karnataka.

Spread over an area of 85,000 sq ft, the startup incubation centre will be built alongside the new campus of information technology giant Infosys and will be able to house 1,200 people at a time. Currently, the biggest incubator in India is Nasscom's 40,000 sq ft warehouse in Bengaluru with a capacity of 100 startups and 500 people.

The Deshpande Foundation's startup incubation centre will be built at a cost of Rs 30 crore, and is expected to be completed by September this year. Once completed, the centre will boost of a makers lab, a 3D printing lab, hardware labs and Internet of Things (IOT) lab.

With this move, the foundation, which aims to promote entrepreneurship in India’s tier-II and tier-III cities, is trying to encourage entrepreneurs from any background and across the sectors, to come up with innovative new-age solutions.

According to a statement given by Naveen Jha, chief executive at Deshpande Foundation India, India is currently in need of 10 million new entrepreneurs and roughly a million of them will be come from the country's tier-I cities.

While over the years, Bengaluru has acquired the status of being called India's startup capital, Desh strongly believes that smaller towns and cities, if given a chance, are capable of playing a crucial role in giving birth to new companies and jobs in the country. This very belief had encouraged him to set up the Deshpande Foundation about ten years ago in this city, and thus establishing a ‘sandbox’ location to entrepreneurs where they can test and nurture their ideas right from scratch.

Talking about the foundation, Desh said, “It takes a lot of patience and experimentation. Maybe the next one does not have to be this long and this expensive. It’s taken about 10 years and Rs 200 crore but seems to be working. The sandbox is a cultural change, and a cultural change cannot happen top-down; it has to happen bottom-up."

The IIT Madras alumnus feels that if entrepreneurs wish to efficiently solve local issues, they should be situated in close proximity to the problem. According to him, while Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad might be on the path of becoming world-class startup hubs, but in order to solve the various issues of the 800 million countrymen that even in the 21st century do not have basic amenities, ideas/solutions will have to come from around them.

This is the reason that the Deshpande Foundation has built two more sandboxes, one in Varanasi and the other in Telangana.

According to sources, while the Hubballi startup incubation centre centre will be completely funded by the Deshpande Foundation but for its new ones, the foundation is currently on a lookout for other philanthropists with a vision to do similar work in the field. This means, as of now, the plan is that the foundation will either help in setting up these sandboxes or make them function with funding received from external sources.

[Image: Shutterstock]

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