R Srinivasan

Comedy is serious business

Updated on: Mar 19, 2014
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Entrepreneurship is coming of age in India, with a new breed of ‘creative’ businessmen

One could be forgiven for assuming at first glance that Spandan Banerjee is a beach bum. He looks the part, after all — long hair, straggly beard, faded T-shirt and shorts, skin tanned a deep brown by the sun and wind, rubber chappals on his feet — which itself are a mass of lacy scars from jellyfish stings and sand scrapes.

So what is he doing at a pitch meet with angel investors?

The answer, it turns out, is just what other wannabe entrepreneurs do at meetings with would-be investors — sell their business idea, pitch their revenue model, and hope to get enough funding to take their fledgling businesses off the ground.

Shaping up

Only, this 24-year-old former flight instructor from Mumbai is not your average techie who has rushed to a pitch meet straight off a Goa beach holiday.

He really does spend most of his time on, or near the sea, hence the beach boy look. He is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs who are trying to chart new territory when it comes to what people — and more importantly, investors — think of when the word ‘business’ is mentioned.

Banerjee is a ‘shaper’ — a surfboard maker who planes and sands a blank board to the ideal shape before creating a fiberglass board. And he is looking for funds to scale his nascent business building surf boards — in India, not a surfing hotspot on anybody’s map until recently.

But the old maps are changing, and not just for surfing beaches. There is a whole new type of entrepreneur emerging in India, exploring exciting new territory when it comes to creating a business.

And what is even more exciting is that, instead of being dismissed as dreamers or layabouts, they are beginning to be taken seriously by serious people in business — investors, successful entrepreneurs, and the like, who are willing to back a good idea with money — even if the idea is for a creative new biriyani!

A new pitch

Last week, the Buddh International F1 circuit on the outskirts of Delhi — now reduced to holding truck races and letting rich kids with super bikes take their machines for a spin on the track, now that F1 has moved on to greener pastures — was host to an unique initiative by a bunch of creative entrepreneurs themselves. The meet saw Spandan, and hundreds of others like him, get a chance to listen to successful creative entrepreneurs, and even pitch for investments.

The Coalition, to give it its official name, is an attempt by several successful young creative artists and impresarios, who have managed to buck the odds and build successful creative enterprises, to give a leg up to other aspiring creative talents in the country.

The idea, says Vijay Nair, the founder of event company Only Much Louder (which owns the successful NH7 festival), was to create a platform for creative enterprises, by bringing together aspirants, and successful creative artists to share their stories and learnings — and match them up with potential investors. A bootcamp, if you will, to get what comedian Vir Das calls “fellow bhikaris” — creative minds with little more than a great idea — to reach the “sirjis” — the angel investors, brand and marketing heads of potential sponsor brands, and in general, the ‘suits’ who control the most important ingredient needed for any business — money.

Who is a creative entrepreneur? Nair says it is anyone from music venue owners to app designers, designers to chefs, fashion labels to rock bands, which are fuelling or are fuelled by creativity.

“There is a lot of creative talent out there. The idea is to help them get a start, not repeat the mistakes we did,” says Nair.

Life lessons

The event brought together people such as Vir Das, who gave a funny talk on the serious business of developing a stand up comedy business to filmmaker Guneet Monga, whose latest film Lunch Box has become a global hit, but who had to plead with her old school principal to be allowed to screen her first film. They shared a critical lesson for all would-be entrepreneurs — the importance of persistence.

Then there was Indie musician Ankur Tiwari, who talked about selling a song he wrote to a hair care brand because it talked of roots (“I don’t sell out on my creativity, but I’m willing to sell everything on the pitch!”).

These were invaluable life lessons for the 400-odd aspirants gathered there from around the country (some even had to be funded to travel and stay by The Coalition, since they were broke!).

Own their mark

The even more interesting thing is, that this eco-system is sought to be created by creative artists themselves, with their own time and money, and not some government handout or as part of some not very sincere CSR initiative.

And this is why I think this is going to work. Remember, most of the biggest angel and seed investors in the tech world today are not Wall Street suits, but other techies who made it big on their own. Their money, and their mentoring, has unleashed thousands of creative enterprises in the tech field.

It is time the creative economy got the same shot at making it. It is important for the economy that it does.

UNCTAD’s Creative Industry Report says “Developing countries should include creative goods in their lists of products, and should conclude their negotiations under the Global System of Trade Preferences so that they give more impetus to the expansion of South-South trade in this sector.

The rate of growth in such trade of creative goods — from $7.8 billion in 2002 to $21 billion in 2008 — is an opportunity that should be fully realised.”

That was in 2010. But it is still not too late for India to get on that bus.

Published on March 10, 2018

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