Young people barely out of school and college are no longer risk averse and are in fact getting increasingly competitive. Extend this to their career choice and you have the makings of an entrepreneur. Shailaja Mukherjee looks at the state of entrepreneurship in young people in India today.
A revolutionary idea can change the world, even if it sounds small. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, would not have realised the potential of their businesses when they were launched if they didn’t have a vision. Both have one thing in common; they were very young when they started their own ventures. Both decided to break free from conventional career paths and do what they believed in!
Unlike the United States, India has traditionally been a less entrepreneurial country where most people are content with their regular monthly pay. But, there’s a change happening. India is seeing a credible birth of innovative enterprises and more importantly, it’s young entrepreneurs setting them up.
LEADING THE WAY
The Web Communicator
Farrhad Acidwalla, now 17, from Mumbai, was framing strategies for his company when other boys his age were busy studying or surfing the net. At the mere age of 15, he floated his own company Rockstah Media; a company dedicated to providing cutting edge solutions to web development and brand development, both online and offline. His 42 member team has it’s own set of designers, developers and market strategists. Together, they cater to clients all over the world.
Being the creative head and CEO of the company, Farrhad handles the clients and spearheads the team. At the age of 13, Farrhad set up some aviation and technical communities online which attracted buyers. He sold them off for $1,200. Slowly, one step led to another and he realised he must be doing something right. Something that could be taken forward with stronger conviction. Thus, he gave a name to his company and made it more concrete, strategic and streamlined.
He believes in action and opines that one must not worry about failures. He has just cleared his higher secondary exams and is studying finance at the H R College of Commerce, Mumbai to enhance his management and planning skills. He is also pursuing a degree course in advertising from the same college and plans to study further. He firmly believes that education puts one in a better position to analyse and tackle challenges.
He reiterates that giving up studies and starting a business is not “cool”. Education is always helpful in some way or the other. “There are many who make it big despite being a college drop-out. But all said and done, structured learning should not be ignored or considered insignificant,” stresses Farrhad.
Bhumika H Bhatia is a 21-year-old Gurgaon based contemporary portrait and editorial photographer. She started her creative journey from a fashion photography competition in Paris where she stood eighth worldwide. Her work was displayed at Selfridges in England, at an event supported by Jimmy Choo and the Elton John Foundation in 2009. She was also the winner of India’s first ever fashion photography competition.
She has an international spread in Haute Magazine in the United States, followed by other publications including Carpaccio and Vanity Teen (Spain), Yeah (UK), Brink (Florida), Slang (Colombia), Phototech (New Mexico), Bite, YUVA, Digital Photographer and Digital Camera. She has been included in the ten most spectacular young photographers around the world by “The Nonsense Society”, an arts website.
“In India, people are still getting used to the whole photography scene. It’s hard, especially for young entrepreneurs like me, but I am no quitter,” says Bhumika. Having worked with publications from so many countries, she believes that the international market gives more opportunities to young talent as compared to India. But times are changing with the changing face of business education and youngsters thinking beyond the conventional administered career paths.
Like Farrhad and Bhumika, Harsh Agarwal, now 25 also wanted to be an entrepreneur. He recognised that blogging could be a potential business too, unlike others who thought it was only a hobby. “People my age surf the net to search for information. The only difference between them and me is, I make money out of it,” he says confidently.
By offering various online services like Blogspot to WordPress migration, thesis customisation, WordPress SEO and WordPress maintenance; Harsh makes more than $8000 a month from different sources.
Unlike children his age, Harsh didn’t spend his time playing online games and farming digital crops on Facebook. He instead started to make money online; his first experience being when he was 14. Ultimately, he left his full-time job with Convergys and started ShoutMeLoud in 2008, where he gives tips on how to make money online.
The young entrepreneurs profiled above make for inspiring stories. However, common to all is good education and a thorough grasp of their subjects. Over time, as the number of young entrepreneurs has grown in the country, so have the various educational initiatives available to train them.
TiE Young Entrepreneurs: Young People, Grown Up Businesses
Headquartered in the United States, TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), an organisation promoting entrepreneurship around the world, works with young entrepreneurs through it’s TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE) Global Programme.
It coaches and trains young high school students to become the next generation of entrepreneurs. The unique programme helps high school children learn about the challenges and rewards of becoming an entrepreneur. In India, the organisation functions in 15 cities around the country.
Seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors teach high school children (grades 9-12) based on a business-focussed curriculum. The programme culminates with a global Business Plan competition for the youth. This year, teams from nine locations around the world – Atlanta, Boston, North and South Carolina, Seattle, San Diego, Austin, London, Delhi and Jaipur, got the opportunity to present their business plans at Raleigh, North Carolina.
Srijan Sood, a member of the winning Lavacro team explains the business plan they developed for an innovative laundry service. “We thought of a laundry and ironing service, customised for small scale institutions, colleges and retail customers at nominal rates while also offering a timely and high quality service,” informs Srijan. Having worked on their business plan and understanding the intricacies of business, he and his team mates aspire to be entrepreneurs.
“We want to be able to create and invent what we sell,” says Srijan. Arnav, another member of the team adds, “We were not taught everything, but we managed to get in the key elements of being a successful entrepreneur.” But what are these elements that are required for successful entrepreneurship? “Entrepreneurship is not something which comes to you one lucky day when you open your eyes. Obviously, the basic ingredients of passion, risk-taking and selling capability are some pre-requisites. These can obviously be built over time, but the strategic process of making an individual learn the basics of business building is something which must be inculcated early in life,” says Geetika Dayal, Executive Director, TiE, New Delhi. “TiE has been instrumental in creating a powerful eco-system of entrepreneurs globally, which has evolved into a pool of high quality enablers. These are people who have been there and done that in the industry, who are committed to now share their experience and success mantras for the upcoming crop of entrepreneurs,” she adds.
EDI: Spearheading Indian Entrepreneurship
Like TiE, another autonomous body and a not-for-profit institution, the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDI) is committed to entrepreneurship education, training and research. With a belief that entrepreneurs need not necessarily be born, but can be groomed through well-conceived and well-directed activities, the institute strives to provide innovative training techniques, competent faculty support, consultancy and quality teaching and training material.
Set up in 1983, it is sponsored by apex financial institutions, namely the IDBI Bank Ltd, IFCI Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd and the State Bank of India (SBI). The EDI has been selected as a member of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) network of Centres of Excellence for HRD Research and Training. “There is no age bar to join any of our courses. The aspirant should be a graduate from any discipline and should have cleared either CAT, MAT or XAT or EDI’s own test,” shares Nikhilesh Desai, Head-Business Development Cell, EDI.
Never looked so good
Prof. Dinesh Awasthi,
Prof. Dinesh Awasthi, Director, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India says, “The prospects for first generation entrepreneurs are indeed brilliant. However, to remain competitive, both globally and nationally, it will be imperative for entrepreneurs to prepare themselves by acquiring new skill sets and knowledge. In the absence of the correct orientation, opportunities may remain untapped and go waste for a first-timer.” Here’s more of what he said to MYOD.
How many students enroll for the courses and actually become successful entrepreneurs?
I would like to respond to this question on two levels. I make a distinction between education (long duration programmes of two-years) and training (short duration, four to six weeks). EDI offers an AICTE approved two-year Post Graduate Diploma. As per the latest data, 69% of EDI pass-outs are in business. This is quite a good outcome of the programme. As far as short duration training programmes are concerned, EDI and its network organisations conduct close to 2000 Entrepreneurship Development Programmes (EDPs) every year. The start-up rate (proportion of the trained potential entrepreneurs who set up their businesses successfully) at the national level is about 40 per cent. Assuming each programme covers 25 potential entrepreneurs, the number of entrepreneurs created works out to about 20,000. The track record of EDI has been a start-up rate of about 53%.
Has the scenario improved over the years? How much potential do Indian entrepreneurs have in the global context?
These are certainly exciting times for Indian entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We have travelled a long way since 1991. Indian entrepreneurship has come of age and has already become a global phenomenon. It is amply reflected in their aggressive posture in investments, acquisitions and mergers abroad. Look at the Tatas buying Jaguar and the Mittals buying Arcelor. Hardly any day passes when you don’t read some acquisition abroad by some pharmaceutical company in Ahmedabad. Liberal and encouraging economic policies of the Government of India have, in fact, helped in unleashing Indian entrepreneurship. I am confident, India is going to make it to the big league of the top five economies of the world by 2020. Moreover, these days, young potential entrepreneurs have a number of inspiring role models like Narayan Murthy of Infosys to emulate. Such a trend has encouraged people in general and the youth in particular. Also, there is awareness in society that entrepreneurship can be pursued as any other career under a structured programme and able guidance. So, entrepreneurship is a revered choice for most students today.
Proprietor, Brubeck Bakery
One of EDI’s success stories is 27 year old Ryan D’Costa. At the age of 23, D’Costa revived an ailing family bakery in Jamshedpur and relaunched it as ‘Brubeck Bakery’. And he did this while pursuing a Post Graduate diploma in Business Entrepreneurship and Management from the EDI.
The entrepreneurship programme not only boosted his entrepreneurial zeal but also honed his skills. It changed the way he perceived things. “Now I constantly seek new business ideas, be it from any new product I buy or any new innovative service I see,” says Ryan excitedly.
“I learnt that venturing into an area I am passionate about and for which I am competent, brought a lot of advantages. I could devote myself wholeheartedly towards reviving and nurturing the bakery. Driven by my passion, I loved what I was involved with and ultimately it was reflected in the culture and the employees of my bakery,” shares Ryan.
Ryan believes it’s good to have some work experience before starting out independently. “I feel, having some sort of work experience can save you from committing mistakes and also bring in confidence. But, aspiring entrepreneurs should ensure that they start their venture at the right time. Only by implementing their business plans at the right time, can they hope to capture a good market share,” concludes Ryan.
Boosting Creative Industry
Despite strong potential, creative industries in India are not recognised for their contribution to the overall economy. There is a definite absence of opportunities that provide international exposure and learning for creative entrepreneurs in India. Bridging this gap, the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur Award goes beyond just recognising the achievements of these entrepreneurs. The programme provides them a platform to network with their UK counterparts and to go on a study tour of their respective industry in the UK.
In addition, all the shortlisted finalists are also eligible to apply for a grant of up to three lakh rupees for a collaborative project with the UK. To be able to apply for the awards, you must be between 21 to 40 years of age and must have at least three years of work experience in your respective creative field. It is not mandatory for the aspirant to be a practitioner in the chosen sector. An individual who strongly influences the business of a particular sector without being a practitioner may also apply.
Nila Madhab Panda, a film-maker and director from Orissa was conferred the Creative Futures of India Longest Journey award by the British Council in 2006. He shares how his study tour and entrepreneurial education from IIM Bangalore have helped him evolve as a creative entrepreneur.
“The programme gave me international exposure which allowed me to learn, imbibe and grow along with the inputs from my international peers. I learnt to generate and exploit my intellectual property which helped me to understand, analyse and manage things in a much better way,” says Panda.
He opines that the entrepreneurial spirit should be supported and promoted even more. Creative industries are estimated to account for more than seven per cent of the world’s gross GDP. Having more entrepreneurial training programmes, incubation centers and monetary assistance would help many fresh ideas to flourish.
Experts say that entrepreneurship will help Indian business society in more ways than one. It gives students the confidence to venture into different directions rather than following the well-trodden path. It gives them more risk taking appetite as compared to seeking a conventional career. It has developed an environment that has not only created new job opportunities, but also plugged the demand and supply gap in manpower.
Chairman of Career Launcher Group, Satya Narayanan R. says, “70% of the Indian population is under the age of 35 years. This gives it an unusually fantastic advantage and the possibility of developing a momentum that can in turn create world changing businesses. This has the potential to better communities and schools more importantly!”
Any unconventional path has it’s own set of challenges and developing young entrepreneurship has it’s own. While working at a big MNC company has its perks; a regular paycheck, good learning curve; starting something on your own is like a drug. There is a much lesser margin to make mistakes; doing or not doing something can have long term consequences and the learning curve is very steep. Deepinder Goyal, now 28, Founder and CEO of Zomato.com, an online food guide said, “I finally quit my four year old job at Bain and Company only when I had taken Zomato (then Foodiebay) to a certain level where it could at least sustain my rent.” For students who have the itch and the business acumen for a start-up, he strongly suggests working for at least a couple of years before starting up their own ventures.
“Most fresher start-ups are highly immature and ignore some very basic things such as paperwork and organisational structures, which later come back to bite and tear the organisation apart,” warns Deepinder. He believes that it is very difficult to have strong business basics unless you are from a business family background. Therefore, if lacking in experience and contacts, it is always good to get some formal training.
According to him, all the things that your college teaches you definitely help. A pass out from IIT Delhi, Deepinder believes that the intense pressure and training that people go through while at IIT, teaches them to handle almost anything and everything that life throws at them. Seeing Zomato’s immense potential, Info Edge (India) Ltd. has invested Rs 13.5 crores ($3 million) in it. “We had to face some very tricky situations while building Zomato. But being able to handle those situations and getting these funds to further scale our operations has let us come out smiling,” says Deepinder. The IITs and NITs have developed their own entrepreneurship development cells which provide young minds the opportunity to try out new ventures and turn their ideas into real businesses.
For people such as 26-year-old Siva Kiran, if it wasn’t for the entrepreneurship platform that IIT, Guwahati gave him, he wouldn’t have been where he is today. The youngest Java certified programmer in the world, he co-founded ViVu at the age of 23. A BS in Technology, Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Guwahati, he is presently a PhD student in Computer Science.
While at IIT, he met a lot of like minded people who believed in his idea, prompting him to start his own venture in 2008. “Starting my own venture was not at all a cake walk. I started in a garage and the recession added to the misery. People were not willing to invest in a start up. The challenge was to raise capital. However, it turned out to be a boon in disguise as we could concentrate on product development and made them even better. Since video conferencing was a hot and booming sector, investors gradually trusted our ideas and we overcame the challenge,” says Siva.
ViVu is now a leader in desktop video conferencing solutions and is headquartered in Cupertino, California with an office in Bangalore. Siva has several patents to his name and has grown the team to 23 now. He insists that education and formal training along with hard work instill the necessary entrepreneurial mindset that one needs to start a venture from scratch. It also gives students exposure to other entrepreneurs who have been successful and who can exemplify how to go about creating a business from ground zero.
In India, many entrepreneurship centers have been founded to co-ordinate the broad array of activities, programmes and resources within educational institutions. Over 100 different departments of universities offer courses in entrepreneurship at a post-graduate level. For instance, the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai, conducts a two-year full-time programme in family business management. The course covers the legal and managerial aspects of entrepreneurship. The Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad offers entrepreneurial and incubation assistance.
The NS Raghavan Center for Entrepreneurial Learning in IIM Bangalore (NSRCEL—IIMB) carries out international collaborative projects. IIM Calcutta’s entrepreneurship cell holds one of the biggest business plan contests in Asia, i2I.
“Unlike the practices of contracting out and privatisation, which reduce public sector involvement and responsibility in service provision, public entrepreneurial practices may be one of the best ways to improve government performance and meet citizens’ demand efficiently and effectively,” says 19 year old Shivam, a student at the Career Institute Of Technology and Management.
Adding to this, Irfan Alam, Executive Director, TiE, Patna Chapter says, “Entrepreneurship opportunities can actually address one of the biggest problems faced by India today, the brain drain. It can encourage the steps to stop brain drain by motivating young minds to come back to their own country and start their own businesses.” India is a land of opportunities and everyone sees it. Having organisations to inspire individuals to become job creators would ease the process further.
Entrepreneurs are born from challenges and they address one or the other challenge now and then. A successful business today is built and run on solving these challenges. The young go-getters in today’s world will have to face and survive the ups and downs of the various market forces and conditions. They might fail once or twice but the mantra is not to give up. It is about getting their basics right and fuelling that passion.