Go Digital, Go Green: G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant’s Message To Startups At TiEcon Delhi-NCR 2023

TiEcon Delhi-NCR 2023: The Indian startup community gathered for one of the country’s largest-of-its-kind conferences, TiEcon Delhi 2023 on March 17-18. Organised by the NCR chapter of the Indus Entrepreneurs, the theme of the conference was, “Navigating The New World.” The conference looked at the multiple challenges thrown up by the post-pandemic geopolitical scenario, marked by a serious economic downturn. 

Speaking at the event, the G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant addressed several points that are looked for by the startup community. The session was moderated by Prashant Tandon Co-Founder & CEO – TATA 1mg. 

Amitabh Kant discussed at length about India’s digital transformation and opportunities for startups at TiEcon’s Delhi-NCR edition on Saturday. Kant touched on various key areas highlighting India’s achievements in recent years and also specified areas where the country needs to work altogether. 

Speaking on what excites him about the startup family as a whole, Kant said that when the government of India began the Startup India movement in January 2016 under the leadership of PM Modi, India had 452 startups. 

“Today we have over 90,000 startups, over 110 unicorns and we have been able to build the third best ecosystem in the world and I am quite sure that what we have done is a phenomenal journey,” the G20 Sherpa added. 

Elaborating on the journey of India to go digital, Kant said, “We have been able to build digital identities of over 1.4 billion people and between 2016-2018, we opened close to 500 million bank accounts.” He said that the government’s step to connect Aadhar with mobile numbers resulted in close to a billion people in the country having smartphones in their hands. 

Story Of India’s Digital Transformation 

Amitabh Kant spoke about India’s enormous journey to go digital. Talking about the digitisation of banking services, he said, “I have not used my debit cards, I have not been to physical banks, I have not visited ATM. For me, my mobile is my virtual bank.” 

He said that India has been able to demonstrate its ability to open source, open API, and to do interoperability. On the digital payment platforms, Kant stated that India is the only country where around 40 different applications are competing in this field with each other. 

Kant also talked about how digital lending has made its place in the Indian market citing examples of Mobiqwick, and Lending Card among others. He said that startups like Zerodha, and Upstock have created huge amounts of wealth in the market, adding that stock market wealth creation has also been made digitally available to all. 

Kant then moved on to talk about startups that are providing end-to-end digital insurance to consumers. “When I used to take my insurance from LIC, it used to take 5-6 months, but these give you the same within minutes,” he noted. 

He said,” What a transformational journey, from identity to bank accounts, payments, credit, wealth management and insurance. It has been a phenomenal journey of transformation for India.” 

He said that India is unstoppable given the startup potential and dynamism, adding ‘what we have done in India, no one in the world has ever done before’. 

Giving data about how countries across the globe have not been able to do what India has achieved in technology advancement in core areas, he told the startup communities that ‘your market is not India, your market is the world’. 

“So, the market is not the 1.4 billion people of India but the rest of the people of the world,” he said adding that the energy being demonstrated in India by the startup community, needs to be demonstrated to the world. 

Startups And G20 

For the first time ever, startups are the part of core G20 agenda under the G20 Startup Engagement meet. When asked how it would benefit the community, Kant said that the initiative was taken because the Indian model is a unique model. 

Differentiating among the different models around the world including the US, China’s big tech-centric and Europe’s privacy-centred model, he said that India built a model of tracks for private players to compete on. 

He said what India has demonstrated was the population scale model at a very low cost. He gave the example of Jio’s consumers and said that they were able to do this for a cost of around $1 per person. “Prior to that, the cost of acquisition in India was $25 per person while the cost of acquisition in America today is about $200,” he added. 

He further said, “We have made the cost of acquisition fall from $200 to $1 and that is the big thing in India.” 

Kant added that the ability to use digital identity and other areas he mentioned before prove India has great potential. Giving an example of his experience in Kerala working with the fishing community, he said that they were prone to drinking and it was a challenge to open bank accounts for them. But, he added, with digital banking with a biometric, everything became handy. 

He said that around $35 billion cash inflow happened in 2021 and around $27 billion in 2022, adding that money will never be a problem for the Indian startup community. A lot of Indian startups will keep on investing, he said, adding that cash inflow will always remain intact for Indian startups with good business models. 

Kant added that G20 contributed around 85 percent to global GDP and accounts for 25 percent of global trade and 90 percent of patents and this makes it very important.  

As for India’s Presidency, Kant said that so far India has been responding to the agenda set by the rest of the world and this was the first time India was setting the agenda for the rest of the world. 

Road Ahead: Go Digital, Go Green 

Amitabh Kant said that India was the fastest-growing large economy in the world and that the country was growing with a rate of 7 percent and was on track to become the third-largest economy by 2030. However, he added, that emphasis on raising per capita income was very important in India at present. 

He said, “If you grow at 7 percent, you take your per capita income from $3,000 to $15,000 in 2047. If you grow at 8 percent, you take it to about $18,000. And if you grow at 9 percent, you take it to $24,000.” 

“But if you grow at 10 percent, you will take your per capita income per annum to $32,000….so, we should not settle for anything less than 9-10 percent,” he added. 


Kant justified the argument by saying that countries like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China have done this for a long period of time. “They have been able to do this for continuously two decades because they focused on technology and sunrise areas of growth,” the former NITI Aayog CEO said. 

Kant emphasied that ‘if you don’t go digital, if you don’t get into the sunrise areas of growth and if you don’t go green, it will not be possible for you to grow’. 

He told the startups present at the event that all the capital and value will come if they are a digital company and going green as well because that is the future. 

He said when he was structuring the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, it was structured for E-mobility, solar energy, green hydrogen, and mobile manufacturing which are all new emerging areas of growth. 

Kant said that India needs to get into deep tech in a big way like in AI, Cloud computing, quantum tech, and space tech, but apart from this, going green should also be a focus. Talking about the issue of carbonising in the world, Kant observed that India was not responsible for it. 

However, he said, if India is to grow, ‘we must become the first country in the world to industralise without carbonising’. “If you do that, then the whole world will put money in your company because there’s a huge amount of money, but they will invest if you go green, Kant advised the startups at the TiEcon Delhi-NCR 2023. 

“Going digital and going green is really the way forward,” he said. 

Startups In India 

Talking about policy initiatives of the Indian government for the startups in the country, Kant said that radical reforms were introduced like one single Goods & Services Tax (GST) instead of 32 different taxes. He said the government brought in the Insolvency Bankruptcy Code so that people can come out of failure. 

To back his point, Kant mentioned how putting big packages to companies lead to the subsequent decisions of raising interest rates in the US that have now resulted in a banking crisis there. 

He added that the government brought in the Real Estate Regulation Act, re-defined the MSMEs which was pending for around three decades and brought down the corporate tax to the best possible level across the globe. Amitabh Kant said that it was due to the cutting down of corporate tax that a lot of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has flown into the country. 

He said, “Huge reforms have been done in the Indian economy and these reforms are going to pay you in the next three decades.” Kant further said that scrapping hundreds of laws, decriminalising certain activities, and easing business in the country will propel growth in India while the world slows down. 

“The way forward is to make India the easiest nation to do business in,” Kant added.  

He said that he believes no law should be more than two pages, no form that the startups need to fill should be more than 5-6 columns and no one should have the requirement of physical interface with the government. “It should all be digital,” Kant said. 

He made categorically clear that government should only do policy-making because wealth creation is the job of private players. “We will prosper if the government gets out of all business and private sectors to fill in,” he said to the audience. 

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