Entrepreneurship driving the change of economic tides, ripples going global

It’s the new financial year for many across the world, India included. Business Line kicks off this new column focused on a space that is replete with new developments, courageous new players, ambitious expansions and quite simply, novel ideas. Start-up Island begins this month and will run every fortnight.

It hasn’t always seemed safe to go out on your own and realise a business dream. Have we not all sometimes got caught up in debates over how Indians do better outside India? But the Mittals, Ambanis and Birlas all began somewhere. Often not because environments were particularly encouraging in their home country.

The Start-up Festival held in Bangalore last month provided more than a bird’s eye view of the landscape in India at the moment. The four-day event reportedly brought together over 5,000 people and some 100 partners with an objective to make Bangalore one of the top 10 start-up destinations in the world. While the city has risen to becoming the largely undisputed technology capital of India, it takes such events to showcase business initiatives that could otherwise go uncovered. Besides creating a ripple effect across the country.

Mayura Kadur, a former dentist by profession, and Kaavya Nag, a wildlife biologist by qualification, share a common passion as friends – all things natural. They got together to launch ‘Do Bandar’, an outfit that specialises in natural body care products. Says Mayura (28) on the Start-up Festival, ‘What was exciting was that this wasn’t another IT story. Festivals like this give us a large platform, opportunities to network with our contemporaries and turn the spotlight on interesting businesses and new ventures. It was encouraging to just be there’.

Onward and upward

A closer look at the Indian start-up space over the last few years warrants the question: have we done a few things right? To begin with, we seem to have somehow nurtured so many entrepreneurs – some bright, young and brave as well as others who left the comforts of secure corporate salaries and many years of experience in mainstream industries to take on something new.

Over the last decade, we’ve even encouraged serial entrepreneurs and regardless of whether they failed or thrived, we’ve seen some change for the better here. The fact that many of these start-ups are no longer only in the technology space – a sector that India has been more easily accepted in – is expected to be a shot in the arm for India’s economy.

Many participants at the festival may only have been in their mid-to-late 20s. This is eye-opening to the extent that many of the forecasts and analysis on India’s growth over many years now has been tied to the demographics of both consumers as well as business owners here versus those in developed economies. It is said that we have youth on our side - younger consumers with more buying power, younger people taking up new ideas and kicking off the fuelling of our economy in diverse ways.

Dhivik Reddy, 29, Executive Director of Go Green BoV, the company that specialises in electric scooters, says, ‘India and China are being termed the next superpowers. One obvious reason why India will be up there is not because we’re necessarily always advanced, but because we have more and more young people displaying entrepreneurial zeal. I’ve been involved in the start-up scene for more than five years now. I saw people from far and near participate in the Start-up Festival. To me, that goes beyond words’.

Small ideas, big prospects

Vivek Prabhakar, Founder of Chumbak, took the plunge in 2009. He ventured out to specialise in the travel and souvenirs segment, but successfully branched out into apparel, accessories, stationery and the home and lifestyle categories.

“Even if the Start-up Festival felt like one breathless ride and everyone had to be everywhere at the same time, it is significant that 60 per cent of India’s start-ups are set up in Bangalore, and a lot of them aren’t necessarily in the tech sector. From that angle, this was advantageous to the cause of entrepreneurship in India.”

Is it possible then that we’re standing at the edge of an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? There seem to be enough small and medium sized businesses being set up in India and by Indians across the world to establish the country as an entrepreneurial powerhouse. We’ve always argued that the US is a robust economy in spite of global economic ups and downs significantly because people have a ‘can do’ attitude. But is it any different here? Is entrepreneurship not in our DNA?

Deepak Kuntawala, UK-based entrepreneur, founder of DVK and winner of the Global Entrepreneur of the Year awarded at the TiE UK Awards function not so long ago in London, comments, “I travelled through Mumbai in one of my earlier trips to India. What I perceived was whole slums generating possibly $2-3 billion of revenue. What is notable about India is that everyone is doing something. A lack of resources ensures creative thinking, and countries like India keep running even in tough, competitive environments.”

Beyond the face of it

The Western world is used to imagining ‘causes’ when it comes to India. However, trends like the increase of social entrepreneurship here and the world over help us view the landscape from under the surface.

The country has always presented an opportunity, if anything. Of course, commercial interest has to flourish for an economy to get strong.

But like Abhaey Singh, a UK British-born social entrepreneur and founder of Kauzala, who has recently made the move to base himself out of India’s financial hub Mumbai, says, “Businesses can have commercial incentives and still be focused on social objectives. There is social enterprise and socially focused enterprise. There is need all around us and a country like India cannot depend merely on NGOs or governments to address the issues here. Socially focused enterprises make money but they are in every sector that matters – education, health, you name it.”

Abhaey is also a debater, youth mentor and composer. His company Kauzala has interests in real estate and education, and the firm’s new entertainment business, Kauzala Entertainment, has been set up as a social enterprise.

Now for every Indian entrepreneur business that seeks to move out of the country, do we find another returning from conventionally ‘greener shores’? If so, is some tangible progress and genuine intent staring us in the face?

The Great Entrepreneurial Revolution

We’ve spent decades ruing the political and socio-economic upheavals in this country and discussing the various factors that make the setting up of businesses here challenging. And when the world outside is looking in, India has often looked mysterious and difficult to navigate. But dig a little deeper and we find that our brightest minds contribute to growth here and elsewhere through small ideas and big vision. We’ve have attracted sufficient international interest despite apparent odds.

What stands out as common among many budding entrepreneurs across the world is: vision, guts, drive and the will to take their ventures far. This column will seek to engage with as many kinds of entrepreneurs there are in as many sectors that exist and come up. While attempting to analyse entrepreneurship in India, it will also try to provide a worldview.

Bottomline: Start-ups anywhere present the opportunity for so many across the world to be part of something big. In spite of ‘Force China’ and other competing economies vying for global attention, India is on the rise.

(The author is a marketing communications consultant)

(This article was published on April 7, 2013)
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