Nearly four years after it was founded, NativeLead Foundation, which was started to foster entrepreneurship in small towns in Tamil Nadu, has begun another initiative – to connect businessmen and successful entrepreneurs based in Chennai with start-up founders in the small towns. Through the just-launched Native Connect Chennai, NativeLead Foundation will tap into the collective wisdom of successful entrepreneurs and businessmen in Chennai to mentor entrepreneurs in their native towns.

According to Sivarajah Ramanathan, Founder and CEO, NativeLead Foundation, there are many people hailing from places such as Madurai or Karur or Cuddalore or Coimbatore who have settled down in Chennai and running successful ventures and businesses. The idea is to get them to contribute to fostering enterprise in their native places, he says.

Nurturing new-age biz

The newly-formed forum will not only help entrepreneurs but also work with investors who are part of NativeLead Foundation, says Sivarajah. For instance, investors need guidance in understanding the new-age businesses on issues such as valuation and growth. The entrepreneurs too need help in raising funds, scaling up their business, product development or go-to-market strategy. Where an investor in, say Karur or Thoothukudi may be able to put in about ₹1 lakh in a venture, those in Chennai will be able to and will be prepared to invest much higher amounts. Which will only help the ventures. The aim also is to bring in more active investors.

According to Sivarajah, start-ups from small towns need a large city like Chennai for market access and growth. So, it makes sense to have a good connect with leading entrepreneurs and businessmen in the city to help the ventures in the small towns have a clearer growth path. “This forum (Native Connect Chennai) will offer a city connect or a global connect for market development, mentoring and more investments,” says Sivarajah. As a first step, the forum will help start-ups in the places where NativeLead Foundation has chapters. In the next stage, it will go deeper into the area to foster micro-enterprises in villages. There is a lot of micro-entrepreneurship happening in the villages, says Sivarajah, but people there do not have exposure to issues such as marketing, branding, quality control and managing cash flows.

He gives the example of a Karur-based venture that the Native Angel Network has funded –, which sells traditional and local food items online. Started by two IT professionals, the company has tied up with makers of traditional food stuff in various places in Tamil Nadu, ensures that there is quality and consistency and markets the products online. It does good business, with 80 per cent of the sales coming from US and West Asia and the balance from within the country, says Sivarajah.

Going beyond start-ups

“We want to go beyond start-ups. We want to look at villages, see what facilities they have and what else needs to be done. Can we work on a hub-and-spoke model, where the hub will be a city-based venture that has national or global exposure and which can work with micro-enterprises in the villages that have limited knowledge but will be able to execute orders as per specifications,” says Sivarajah. This, he adds, will create enormous social impact, generate a large number of jobs and propel Tamil Nadu’s economy into a higher trajectory.

“The growth has to be taken to deep roots. There are no proven models for this. We want to continuously bring in new models,” he says.

To give more investment avenues for its members, Native Angel Network (NAN) has also started investing in Chennai-based start-ups, though its primary focus will be on enterprises in small towns. NAN has so far invested in two such ventures – one that provides robotics training and the other that helps small hospitals collectively bargain and buy medicines and hospital essentials at a good price.

NAN continues to be sector agnostic, but a majority of its investments are in the agri sector, he says.