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BW Businessworld

Bharat Entrepreneurs Network (BEN) Launched For Underprivileged Indian Entrepreneurs

"Sure, we have Vijay Shekhar Sharma from Aligarh, but we need to nurture and enable more entrepreneurs from the grass root level of Bharat to reach mega stardom to support national economic demands.”

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The “Entrepreneur” tag is not reserved for founders of a Flipkart or an Ola. An entrepreneur is an innovator, the one doing something new to solve an old problem. The chaiwallah offering his brew in a heat proof cup is an entrepreneur, so is the sabjiwallah selling with Paytm, so is the rickshawallah now allowing ridesharing.

“The spirit of entrepreneurship is found in all these people, and they work just as hard as you or me only to eke a pittance out of an unpredictable profession. If we could just give them enough guidance and mentoring to conduct their business better, then we have helped rebuild Bharat,” said Atul Kumar, cofounder of BEN.

BEN stands for Bharat Entrepreneurs Network. “We chose the word ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’ to mean we want to empower entrepreneurship at the SME level, at a rural village level. BEN is intended to be a support system to power the risk takers in states like Assam, Nagpur, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.”

Speaking to some startups at the launch of BEN, it’s evident that potential is high but support is lacking. Vibhanshu Chaturvedi is founder of Vedic Creations, incubated at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT). “We are into sourcing regional artists for hand painted products for the US market. Our challenge is finding funding to service the larger orders coming in and hope BEN can provide some sort of assistance in this.”

Abhishek Kumar is a farmer and businessman who has won awards from the prime minister. The food processing business he cofounded, Shashibhushan Agro, did 1 crore in business last financial year. “This year we expect to do about 6 to 7 crores in business, and we are looking to expand to more specialized crops. We have just started looking for funds, and hope to find a private investor rather than state funding. One grant we received from Bihar government took too long to claim.”

Atul Kumar continues, “You see, Startup India, metaphorically speaking, is taken care of. You have plenty of startups based in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai with enough and more chances to meet investors. But entrepreneurs of beyond cities don’t have such resources, either financial or consultative.

Investors forget to look at them and rural entrepreneurs are not aware of how to build a business, find investors, leverage new technology, and of how to become successful. Sure, we have Vijay Shekhar Sharma from Aligarh, but we need to nurture and enable more entrepreneurs from the grass root level of Bharat to reach mega stardom to support national economic demands.”

According to Atul, we need a billion entrepreneurs from Bharat desh and BEN will work hard to achieve that goal. “Majority of the population will become government officials, become private sector employees. But India is going to need at least a billion more job creators in the coming decades.”

And to actualize their stated vision of a billion entrepreneurs, BEN has with them renowned mentors like Dr Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International, Prof Sudhir K Jain of IIT Delhi and Air India’s turnaround man and CMD, Ashwani Lohani.

BEN’S official launch is just wrapping up and has about a hundred formal registrations. The number will likely be closer to ten thousand members once the Bihar Entrepreneurs Network, Jharkhand Entrepreneurs Network and IIM Society - all founded by Atul Kumar and startups incubated with IIFT, are integrated into one entity.

The Bharat Entrepreneurs Network has several cofounders along with its main ideator, Atul Kumar. One such cofounder is serial healthtech entrepreneur, Chandan Kumar.

At the official launch of BEN, Chandan Kumar said, “Bharat Entrepreneurs Network is also about celebrating our cultural identity. No matter where you may end up settling, Bangalore, Paris or Silicon Valley, we must always remember our cultural roots and wear that badge of ‘Bharat Entrepreneur’ with pride and unstinted honour.”