As one of the top performers of the Indian State Startup Ranking Framework, Kerala has had one of the most progressive startup culture in the country. The state has now taken another step towards boosting funding for startups and has collaborated with Unicorn India Ventures, Exseed Electron Fund, Indian Angel Network and Speciale Incept Fund for an investment of more than INR 1,000 Cr ($139.6 Mn) in the state startups over the next four years. The announcement was made by M Sivasankar, secretary, Kerala electronics and IT department during the fourth edition of Seeding Kerala which was held in Kochi on January 5.
During the late 1960s, India’s southern states were struggling with appropriate job opportunities for well-educated individuals, due to which the region lost many brilliant minds to other progressing states and countries. One such gem to move countries due to unemployment is Dr P Mohamed Ali – the man who built the most successful construction company of Oman. Around the same time, Ali, with a diploma of Civil Engineering in hand, moved to Mizoram due to the dearth of vacancies in Kerala to serve the General Reserve Engineering Force under the Ministry of Defence. Simultaneously, the Middle East was booming with options for young individuals, becoming an attractive place for aspiring business leaders to start their entrepreneurial journey. Instead for letting his circumstances perish his passion; Ali took the onus in his own hands and moved to Dubai in 1970. Watching Omani nationals sourcing talented resources and commodities from Dubai for starting their business, Ali, who was then working with Port Rashid construction found his calling and launched GALFAR with his partner Sheikh Salim said. Over the years, the company played an instrumental role in shaping the infrastructure of Oman. The success inspired Ali to bring the same experience to his birth nation, marking the birth of MFAR - a diversified business conglomerate headquartered in Bangalore. In an exclusive interaction with Dr P Mohamed Ali, Entrepreneur India explores the entrepreneurial journey of this visionary. Leveraging the expertise MFAR’s parent brand acquired in Oman, the conglomerate was launched through its construction vertical in 1996 before branching out to development, hospitality and carbon. In each these ventures, MFAR has established itself as a class apart from the rest and placed paramount focus on socio-cultural impact. Talking about the transition of construction from Gulf to India, Ali expressed, “Those days, in the 90s, the construction methods prevalent in India were premature and conventional. I brought good safety systems, modern construction methods and tools. I feel very proud to have introduced new technology to the field of Indian building construction.” Ali’s history is a proof enough that the enterprising entrepreneur feeds off the philosophy of grabbing the opportunities as they present themselves. Upon landing back on the soil of Kochi, he realized that there was only one hotel there with 36 rooms and the city needed a big change to happen. Among MFAR’s very first and relevant constructions is the city’s first convention centre at Meridien Hotel. The initiative was lauded by Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog. Having roots in Kerala, Ali has worked closely towards the development of the state. He was among the first players to see the region’s coconut capacity as a great opportunity for activated carbon production. “Activated carbon is used in gold mining purification, lead and mercury recovery, and in all the environmental protection works,” Ali explained. Over 2 decades, MFAR has worked with a line of prestigious players from various industries and has worked on equally prominent projects to achieve the status it has today in the market. While MFAR Constructions boasts of clientele like Wipro, ITC, The Prestige Group, GAIL, Hero Cycles among other, MFAR Developers that focus on creating quality workplaces that balance technology with ecology has an impressive list too. Some of their clients include Philips, IKEA, ABInBev, AXA, Capgemini, NXP and Monsanto. Specifying that big clients always look for reliable, reputable contractors or reputable associates to deal with, Ali said, “Whenever we undertake a job or responsibility we do it passionately, sincerely, and deliver on time without any hassles to the client.” Apart from the Meridien Convention Centre in Kochi, MFAR Manyata Tech Park is also a fine sample of the company’s expertise. MFAR Activated Carbon harnesses energy from coconut shells in order to create cleaner solutions across industrial, food & beverage, pharmaceutical, petroleum & gas, automotive, defence and metal extraction sectors. Serving as the chairman of the empire, Ali’s philanthropic aspirations led to the founding of PM Foundation, a venture that promotes excellence among students, teachers and the residents of Thalikulam - Ali’s hometown. Being driven by the philosophy of ‘creating value for all’, MFAR has placed paramount focus on socio-cultural impact. Initially launched in the 1980s, the foundation aims to promote the excellence and help the economically weaker students with scholarships and financial assistance. They were the first the first ones to give interest-free financial loans to the students but the activity stopped when the government started providing such loans to students but they are still helping the students in other ways. “We are giving many scholarships to students studying in prestigious colleges including providing another kind of support. Every year, we select 10 students who will receive support for their higher education. Overall, we have supported over 30,000 students and many of them are in good positions today and I am very happy about what PM Foundation has done,” Ali explained. Besides supporting the educational dreams of unprivileged children, the PM Foundation has also been involved in healthcare. In association with other NGOs and hospitals, it has been running a medical assistance program which provides financial support to patients in need of a range of medical interventions: cardiac, surgery, critical and cancer care.
Ernakulam: Gazing at apartment complexes coming up amid the greenery from a high-rise in Kerala’s Ernakulam where he is at work, Tasleef Ali smiles: “Without Kerala, I won’t survive." Clad in jeans and a white shirt, the carpenter, in his 30s, beats the stereotype of a distress-migrant-turned blue-collar worker, although he is a migrant who came to Kerala looking for work. Growing up as a carpenter’s son in Western Uttar Pradesh, Ali hated carpentry. Despite working long hours, his father was barely able to make ends meet. Ali would help his father after school so he could continue studying till Class XII. At 16, he left his village in Moradabad for a job, joining thousands of others in a part of the state that has seen several communal riots. Like many of them, he eventually arrived in Kerala, where the number of locals leaving for foreign countries is matched by those moving in from other states. While about three million Keralites work in Gulf countries, an estimated 2.5 million people from outside the state fill the gap in the local workforce, gaining from the state’s booming consumer economy. Ali has done so well as a migrant worker that he does not want to return to his village. “Daddy had to work really hard; for me it has become very easy," he says. “The main part is that we now have several tools that have reduced physical work. All the work involves technology; so, if the power goes off for some time, we are practically jobless." In Kerala, migration to the Gulf changed the local landscape, economy and lifestyle, with swanky houses springing up everywhere. The building boom, in turn, boosted demand for skilled carpenters like Ali, who tied up with local architects and engineers for bulk contracts. After three years in Kerala, Ali called 25 of his young neighbours from the village amid a rising demand for workers in the state. “The pay is quite good here. I’m managing a team of eight people and learning new things every day. I also renovated my parents’ house, and I’m also building a second house for myself. In my childhood, I would have thought it impossible to do all of these with just carpentry," Ali says. As long as he can do carpentry, he says, his children will be saved the undernourishment and overwork he had to face as a child.
KOCHI: In its efforts to build a stronger startup ecosystem in Kerala, the government has managed to tap into private investment funds to raise Rs 1000 crore in corpus funds for budding entrepreneurs, to be available over the next four years. Kerala Electronics and IT Department secretary M Sivasankar said Unicorn India Ventures, Exseed Electron Fund, Indian Angel Network and Speciale Incept Fund are the investors who the government has selected in response to a tender floated recently. “Since the pact mandates investing 25 per cent of the volunteered amount in the next four years, the state is guaranteed with a minimum investment of Rs 300 crore by 2022,” said Sivasankar. He was speaking on the sidelines of ‘Seeding Kerala’ summit here on Tuesday. The fourth edition of the summit, organised by the Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) in association with investment platform LetsVenture, brought together the state’s high net-worth individuals (HNI) to provide them with opportunities to invest in potentially rewarding startups. The first two editions (both in 2017) of ‘Seeding Kerala’ summit strove to introduce angel investors from outside of Kerala to the state. The state got 34 Expressions of Interest, from which four funds were invited to the KSUM endeavour on developing the state’s startup ecosystem, he said. Among the four, Exseed will invest solely in startups based in the fields of space and IT, Sivasankar said. The state will also encourage funds for startups working in the sectors of cancer treatment and disaster management, he said. KSUM CEO Saji Gopinath said the selection of the four funds would help the state tide over its problem of insufficient funds. Startups anyway required decentralised operations, he said.