Recently I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in India. I was part of a conference series, Startup Capitals that I was co-organising in New Delhi and Bengaluru. Then I stopped over in Mumbai for a few more days and met some more entrepreneurs. Most of the speakers in the conference pointed out that India is still weak in research and innovation. We have many PhDs but not many innovators. That’s something that needs to be changed, but why are Indians like that? What are the impediments Indians face as innovators?
Some blamed India’s hierarchy-based social structure. They said it hampers innovative thinking. The core of innovation is freedom to think, and that freedom is not easily obtainable in an ossified society like India. Questioning authority, including questioning your parents, is a necessity for a start-up mindset.
Entrepreneurship for money?
Why are India’s youth (or for that matter, Asian youth) attracted to the idea of entrepreneurship? Is it because of money and fame, the possibility of becoming a multi-millionaire after founding a successful start-up?
Many agreed on the point that the purpose of entrepreneurship is to make an impact, not money. Money is just a by-product. True entrepreneurs are those who genuinely want to solve a problem or who are in pursuit of a noble idea. Doesn’t that remind you of Steve Jobs?
One speaker gave the example of Gandhi. Gandhi was one of the greatest entrepreneurs, he said. He saw the power to make an impact. And the kind of impact Gandhi left on India as a nation is for everyone to see. He is known as the Father of the Nation.
Also, genuine entrepreneurs are open minded people, who are ready to share their idea for the greater good. One of the speakers summed the thought beautifully: ‘If you think this is your idea, then you are not an entrepreneur.’
During my tour, when I spoke to entrepreneurs in India, I got a sense of the following trends:
- There is a real desire among the rural youth to try out entrepreneurship but the majority of them are still looking for managerial jobs in companies.
- There is still a lack of awareness and resources at the rural level when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship.
- Rural youth need exposure to innovation success stories, role models, mentors and resources.
- Nasscom and the Indian government, in partnership with MNCs such as Google and Microsoft, are trying to drum up some excitement in the Indian start-up space but their message is yet to reach the hinterlands of rural India.
- As start-up success stories abound in India, more youth are inspired to try out entrepreneurship.
- Most urban entrepreneurs are founding app based start-ups, solving city-specific problems around traffic and food, for example.
- Huge competition exists among me-too start-ups in some crowded sectors (food delivery, taxi apps).
- Bengaluru might have a relatively mature ecosystem in India but ecosystems like Delhi are still evolving.
- The urban ecosystems lack adequate number of mentors.
- Many accelerators are being founded in India. How many of them are genuinely in this game?
- As the number of start-ups will grow in India, there will be more success stories, more role models and mentors, ultimately benefitting the ecosystem.
This is the golden age of entrepreneurship and the opportunities in Asia in general and in India in particular are immense. Let me finish this piece by a quote from one of the veteran entrepreneurs, K. Vaitheeswaran: “Start-ups can fail but founders never fail. The very act of starting a start-up is a success.”