Founders and CEOs of more than 120 SMEs from India, Nepal and Bangladesh taking part in the three-day annual conclave of the Sanford Seed Network (STN) here brainstormed their path to building a ‘purposeful SME community’ by seeking to configure the next-generation supply chain, ESG and sustainability and product showcasing. 

The timing could not have been more significant as the event unfolded in the backdrop of the COP27 meeting at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, says Zia Sheikh, Chapter President, STN South Asia, and Nirmala Sankaran, immediate past president. Stanford Seed Transformation program (STP) is a Stanford Graduate School of Business-led initiative ‘to end the cycle of global poverty by helping entrepreneurs build thriving enterprises that transform lives.’

Stanford Seed Network

One of the benefits of completing the STP is that the participant becomes a member of the STN, Sankaran told businessline here. The South Asian chapter comprises 200 SME ventures with a combined turnover of $600 million employing 25,000 people. STP brings together entrepreneurs from diverse businesses across South Asia and Africa. Run over a period of 12 months by renowned faculty and Stanford-trained business advisors, participants learn to apply classroom concepts, tools and frameworks to their unique business situations with the objective of achieving transformational growth.

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Four or five faculty from Stanford Graduate School of Business also fly in for the STN event held for a week every quarter, says Zia Sheikh. The STN has an India base operating out of Chennai that facilitates the event. There is also a 15-member Stanford team based in India itself. Sankaran said members of the faculty are specialists in branding, operations, marketing and sales, and other specific domains. Each participating company is allocated a special business advisor. 

“The advisor helps the company to transform itself by putting into practice what is being learnt,” says Sankaran. “The takeaways are always contextualised to its specific problems. Like, what is it that holds back growth. What should be its transformation pillars, needs on the sales and marketing or funding, or even setting up an advisory board…all these are discussed for early resolution. The network also helps members to share each others’ knowledge for mutual benefits. The STN’s vision is to become a dominant platform and a voice for SMEs in South Asia,” Sankaran added.

Give-and-take approach

There is no consulting fee involved since they are done on a reciprocal basis, according to Sunil Gupta, Managing Director of Mumbai-based Innoval Digital Solutions, member of the STN. This is more like institutionalising give-and-take within the network, added Sankaran.

One of the important selection criteria for a company is a component of the social impact it generates. Like pushing the UN SDG goals or demonstration of its commitment to create a good workplace, promotion of gender equality, education, quality drinking water, climate action or sustainability, Sankaran said.

Zia Sheikh recalled that the programme started in the African countries. But India is a focus now thanks to its strong entrepreneurial system. Most companies here are very small, often fail to scale and find various difficulties and resistance along the way. “In India, 200 companies have so far gone through this programme in the last four years and their number will reach 300 in the next year.”