The stakeholders of the Indian startup ecosystem are not too enthused by the Interim Budget. They say it does not provide any direct benefits to young firms and entrepreneurs, except for the establishment of the national centre on artificial intelligence (AI), which could give a boost to AI- and machine learning-focussed startups.

“They haven’t really said anything on startups or early-stage investors, except for digitisation of India and a national centre on AI, which will indirectly help startups in the future. It’s an Interim Budget and that’s probably the reason why the government is more focussed on macro issues,” says Anil Joshi, founder and managing partner at Unicorn India Ventures, an early-stage VC fund based in Mumbai.

One of the major expectations from the Interim Budget was clarity on angel tax but it wasn’t mentioned, though interim finance minister Piyush Goyal lauded the efforts of the Indian entrepreneurs, saying "job seekers are becoming job creators", catapulting India into the world’s second-largest startup hub. “We are proud of the hard work and innovative ideas of our youth,” he said.

Goyal was appointed the interim finance minister a week ahead of the Budget.

One of the high points, however, is the establishment of a national programme on AI, which has been envisaged by the government to take the benefits of AI and related technologies to people at large. The programme would be catalysed by the establishment of the national centre on AI as a hub along with centres of excellence.

In his Budget speech on Friday, Goyal said nine priority areas have been identified, without elaborating further. A national AI portal will also be developed soon, he said.

“The plan to set up a National Centre for AI augurs well for positioning India at the centre of global innovations,” says L.C. Singh, vice chairman, Nihilent Ltd, a global consulting and solutions integration company.

“A national programme on AI is a good step but I think it needs to be defined in depth and ensure data security,” says Suresh Narasimha, managing partner at CoCreate Ventures, a turnaround venture capital firm.

“Great to see govt’s continued support for new technologies like AI with the announcement of the national centre and a portal for AI. Much needed!  Equally important is commitment to re-skill India's youth for the new jobs that AI will create,” tweeted Debjani Ghosh, president of industry body Nasscom.

While the interim finance minister has not given any timelines for the establishment of the national centre for AI, media reports suggest that it is expected to be operational by July.

“A national centre on AI could help in boosting automation, help in innovation...for government applications and ways of public delivery. It could help by boosting the availability of AI-trained resources, incubate ideas, and commercialise offerings,” says Joshi.

In the meantime, Goyal said the government’s vision is to create Digital India, which will reach every sector of the economy, every corner of the country and impact the lives of all Indians.

“Digital infrastructure and digital economy of 2030 will be built upon the successes achieved in recent years in digitisation of government processes and private transactions. Our youth will lead us in this endeavour with innumerable startups creating digital India, and millions of jobs in this ecosystem.”

Sunil Sharma, chief actuary and chief risk officer, Kotak Life Insurance says, "Digitisation via opening of more common service centres (CSC) and plan to digitise 100,000 villages in the next year may help reduce the cost of distribution of financial services products in the rural market.”

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