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The start-up ecosystem in J&K is growing, but there are many challenges too, as entrepreneurs in the valley grapple with funding woes, lack of skilled resources and, at times, perception issues as well
By: Ashish Rukhaiyar
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It all started for 24-year-old Moris Adam when he came home in Srinagar during his college vacations in 2019. He was trying to order a few things from online e-commerce majors like Amazon and Flipkart, when he realised that they won’t deliver what he needed to his place. “That’s the moment when I decided I will start my own venture,” says Adam, who was just 21 when he launched Koshur Store, a quick-commerce platform based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

Sheikh Sami Ullah, 30, who had heard many stories of deliveries getting delayed, or just not getting delivered to their destinations in J&K, even by some of the biggest delivery companies, has a similar story of starting up, too. “I was working with an e-commerce company in J&K and realised that farmers and craftsmen could not deliver their products to our warehouses due to a lack of courier services in the region,” says Sami Ullah, who co-founded FastBeetle—a door-to-door delivery start-up—along with Abid Rashid Lone in 2019.

Investors are not very keen to invest in start-ups in J&K. The geography of the region is the single-biggest reason, as investors feel that scaleability will be an issue going forward… even though the start-ups in J&K are profitable, [and] growing at a tremendous rate

Koshur Store

Adam and Sami Ullah are both entrepreneurs with their own start-ups in J&K. More importantly, they are part of a growing community of youth in the Union Territory (UT) who are looking to start digital ventures in various segments such as e-commerce, quick-commerce, food delivery, ride sharing and logistics, to name a few. According to government data, there are nearly 1,800 registered start-ups in J&K, though the UT features amongst those with the lowest number of start-ups in the country. Only the North-Eastern states along with Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh have a lower number of start-ups. Interestingly, J&K featured among the five “Top Performers” in the Startup India States’ Startup Ranking 2021 while scoring high on parameters like incubation support, institutional support and fostering innovation & entrepreneurship.

The nodal agency for the start-up ecosystem in the region is Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI), and one of the platforms that it has created for the region is StartupJK. Incidentally, StartupJK lists a number of start-ups on its website but has only five mentors listed on it; none with technology as an area of expertise. Their listed areas of expertise are in sectors such as agri-allied, services or manufacturing. Further, the sections for investors, accelerators and angel investors don’t have a single listing.

The start-up ecosystem in J&K comprises local versions or mimics of national and international players like Ola, Uber, Amazon, Flipkart and Zomato, as these companies have minimal presence in the region. More importantly, though, regional entrepreneurs have been quick to identify customer pain points and are working towards solving issues that are typical to the region, even as they strive to get the investments required to scale and take their start-ups to the next level.

Whatever successful funding I have seen in Jammu & Kashmir mostly has been from institutes [like IIT and IIM] through their incubation centres. There has been hardly any traction from angel investors or VCs

Namhya Foods

Flavours of the valley

Adam started Koshur in August 2019 with the purpose of providing a local and reliable e-commerce solution to the people of J&K, who just wanted to shop online like people from the rest of the country do. “Start-ups in J&K are providing basic necessities that a regular person enjoys in the rest of the country. We have local start-ups in food delivery, cab booking, or even the e-commerce or quick-commerce space. We do not have an Ola or an Uber here; even Amazon and Flipkart do not deliver to the entire region, and that too, only a limited set of products,” says Adam, whose venture started with 20 products and currently has over 10,000 listings.

Around 250 km away from Srinagar in Jammu, Namhya Foods Founder Ridhima Arora sells various kinds of Ayurveda-based tea and cereals online. “There is a different domain of health foods that exists and people in the metros are unaware of it. I decided to do something related to Ayurveda but in an interesting manner that makes it more edible and part of your daily life. We launched a series of products for thyroids, blood pressure, cholesterol, and periods. That’s how we started [online],” says Arora.

Although selling these products was a family business that started back in 1937, Arora has adopted the online channel to expand her market. “My grandfather and father were based in J&K and were into ayurvedic herbs and dry fruits,” says Arora, who studied in Delhi and worked in the corporate sector for a few years before deciding to launch her own start-up in 2019. Recently, her start-up also featured in the first season of Shark Tank India.

Prior to abrogation of Article 370, connectivity and internet were major issues, though they have largely been addressed. Currently, getting skilled human resources and funding are the biggest pain points for start-ups in J&K


While Arora’s start-up is an extension of her family business, Sami Ullah’s decision to launch FastBeetle was primarily with an intent to solve a problem that the much larger courier companies were failing to solve in J&K. “For my line of business, the market potential is huge in J&K, and while we started with deliveries within the region, currently we are delivering pan-India and globally as well, having delivered to around 50 countries. We have delivered things like dry fruits, shawls, fruits, and handicrafts, among other things,” says Sami Ullah, whose logistics and courier service start-up even has an office in the border town of Uri.

FastBeetle may well be a start-up, but it has come to the rescue of many other start-ups and MSMEs in the region as it has helped these ventures to ship their products to the far-flung corners of the region, apart from delivering them across the country and overseas as well. “Over 1,200 MSMEs have partnered with us and the interesting part is that a majority of those are managed by women. We help them deliver their products within the region and in the country as well,” he says, while adding that his venture clocked revenues of Rs 1.2 crore in FY22 and this year, he expects to register revenues of around Rs 3.5 crore, while targeting at least Rs 7 crore in FY24.

Interestingly, while the models of the start-ups in J&K may well be like any other in the country, they are not short on innovation in any manner whatsoever. Take, for example, Koshur that boasts of deliveries within five minutes in certain areas even as 10-minute deliveries are becoming the fad in most metros. Or FastBeetle that has set up excess baggage kiosks at Srinagar airport and has an approval to put up one more at Jammu airport. “If you have excess baggage then the airline charges a lot for the extra weight, but we deliver the luggage at your address for just a few hundred rupees. We have pitched our proposal to the Airports Authority of India to allow us to operate at other airports as well,” says Sami Ullah.

While innovations and growth are visible, start-ups in J&K are struggling to find investors, as they seem to be staying away from the region due to concerns related to scaleability of the ventures and the overall stability of the region.

The start-up ecosystem in J&K has been growing at a good pace. There was a time when we had only a few start-ups coming up in a year... now we have more than 350 start-ups in the region

Kashmir Angel Network

Also, till a couple of years ago, internet connectivity—a key requirement for digital start-ups—was also an issue but a ruling by the Supreme Court in January 2020 has ensured that the region is not subjected to long durations of internet blackouts. A combination of these factors have made the all-important community of investors stay away from start-ups in the region even as entrepreneurs say that the scope for growth is immense. “The key challenge for a start-up in J&K even in 2022 is to raise capital,” says Adam, who has approached more than 100 investors and managed to get just one. “Investors are not very keen to invest in start-ups in J&K. The geography of the region is the single-biggest reason, as investors feel that scaleability will be an issue, going forward,” he adds.

For Sami Ullah, whose start-up has delivered more than 1 million orders till date, the initial funding requirement was provided by family and friends, as he managed to get $130,000 as part of seed and pre-seed funding in 2020 and 2021.

Interestingly, the setting up of institutes like an IIT and IIM in the region has turned out to be a big boost for the start-up ecosystem of J&K. “Institutes like IIT and IIM are also changing the ecosystem. Whatever successful funding I have seen in J&K, most have been from these institutes through their incubation centres. There has hardly been any traction from angel investors or venture capitalists,” says Arora.

While it is the good intention of the central government to help start-ups scale rapidly, VCs are still not very confident of pumping in huge amounts of capital because of the political volatility in the state

9unicorns & Venture Catalysts

Indeed on one hand, the region boasts of a growing number of start-ups, but on the other, there is hardly any presence of local angel networks. But around a year and a half ago, Kashmir Angel Network was set up, and currently, it has around 10-15 angel investors in its network, who have already invested in three ventures, while seven more investments are in the pipeline. “The start-up ecosystem in J&K has been growing at a good pace in the past couple of years,” says Irtif Lone, a start-up evangelist and advisor working with the Network. “Every time a start-up from J&K had to raise capital, it had to reach out to investors in cities like Mumbai or Delhi. But with Kashmir Angel Network, the smaller investments that start-ups need at the initial stages are coming their way. The network also helps start-ups connect with larger networks,” adds Lone, who has earlier been associated with JKEDI as well.

Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, Co-founder of 9Unicorns & Venture Catalysts, believes that while a combination of factors like government incentives and setting up of incubators in J&K will help the youth of the region battle unemployment, certain uncertainties are still keeping investors away. “It is heartening to see that the start-up ecosystem in J&K is growing, with about 500-odd start-ups registered in the valley since the abrogation of Article 370. While it is the good intention of the central government to help start-ups scale rapidly, the VC ecosystem is still not very confident of pumping in huge amounts of capital because of the uncertainties and political volatility in the state as that leads to internet shutdowns,” says Sharma.

Start-ups can heal the youth community of J&K. If the ecosystem is built, developed, and nurtured, then it can channelise the energy of the youth in the right direction… in a very constructive manner

Borderless World Foundation

Waiting for Sunny Days

The road ahead for start-ups in J&K is not exactly paved but a start has definitely been made. The government is also putting in efforts and organising investment conclaves and sending teams to important events—last year a delegation of around five start-ups from J&K was sent to Dubai Expo. The UT also provides financial incentives to women-led start-ups under the J&K Start-up Policy-2018. “The market potential is huge, and the growth rate is already high, and we further expect to grow exponentially in the coming years because people here want all the services, and the demand creates the whole ecosystem,” says Adam.

Startup Grind, a global start-up community with around 3.5 million entrepreneurs, has a local Jammu chapter as well, through which it focusses on organising events for entrepreneurs across sectors.

Adhik Kadam, Co-founder of Borderless World Foundation—an NGO working in J&K—believes that start-ups or entrepreneurship is the way forward for J&K as there are not many job opportunities in the region and the government can only provide a limited number of jobs. “Start-ups can heal the youth community of J&K. If the start-up ecosystem is built, developed, and nurtured properly, then it can channelise the energy of the youth in the right direction. These new ventures can create job opportunities and heal them in a very constructive manner,” says Kadam.


Story: Ashish Rukhaiyar
Producer: Arnav Das Sharma
Creative Producers: Raj Verma, Nilanjan Das
Videos: Mohsin Shaikh
UI Developer: Pankaj Negi