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What Indian Entrepreneurs Want?

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The inadequacies of Indian startup ecosystem are no surprise to anyone. For the most enigmatic stories that we hear about entrepreneurship - of the Google's, the Facebook's or the Apple's - originate from a country with only one-third the population as India but with a formidable startup eco-system. The difference has a larger implication. It means India has three times the number of potential entrepreneurs or the number of people who can ultimately benefit from the entrepreneurial innovations. Yet none of these numbers count without a vital missing link - the startup ecosystem. Our's is a unique country with a billion people, who are culturally diverse. And with most of these people still living below the poverty line, their needs are different from people of the other countries. This is why indigenous entrepreneurs have a better chance of changing the Indian economic landscape. All of this needs an eco-system, may be unique in nature, given the nature of entrepreneurial ventures it has to incubate.

Entrepreneurs and the rare yet increasing species of VCs understand the inadequacies. Last few years have seen a number of startup incubators and collaboration platforms come up. Many of these are connecting the entrepreneurial community to each other closely. Some events are connecting the entrepreneurs to VCs, some are connecting the entrepreneurs to mentors and some are connecting the entrepreneurs to other like-minded entrepreneurs. While all of these connections are required, some of these are more important than others.

The connections that join the entrepreneurs to the VCs may seem most important but are not. Before a startup can even become an opportunity worth an investment, it has to reach a level of capacity. The capacity doesn't come from money alone. It comes from the team that works behind the venture and also by the mentors who provide critical growth knowledge.

A number of entrepreneurs to whom I spoke reiterated the same point. Yash KS, CTO at the Red Force Labs - a startup, forcefully drove home the point that the level of mentoring in India is both superficial and of low quality. Not the broad level challenges but the tactical level challenges emerge as daunting roadblock for the ventures, requiring mentoring support. Most mentorship programmes are fleeting in nature and fail to provide an engaged mentorship support.

Myshkin Ingavale - founder of a biomedical focused startup also expressed the lack of good mentoring available in India. He emphasised that the informal discussions and interactions over an extended period of time with fellow entrepreneurs is a great way to improve the quality of startups and therefore community based learning is very crucial.

Entrepreneurs brainstorm at Startup Weekend Delhi, (Photograph: Yash Saxena)

Of late a number of new startup platforms have emerged in India that focus on such needs of entrepreneurs. One such event called, Startup Weekend was held in Delhi last month. A number of entrepreneurs converged here to brainstorm ideas and develop prototypes. The participants picked their own teams and worked over the weekend to showcase their works into the grand finale. The idea is not to actually create products but to increase community interactions between entrepreneurs. Many people were also looking to find the co-founders for a new idea.

Among the many entrepreneurs I met was a Czech couple. The two were trying to perfect their idea of customised food ordering 'Tasty Carrots' with Indian entrepreneurs. The couple will finally implement the idea in Czechoslovakia. Some teams were developing apps, some came up with online retail platforms and another one focused on a low cost sanitation for the poor. Pankaj Jain, organiser of the Startup Weekend India who has worked with startup communities extensively, felt that this is the way forward for Indian startup community. Globally the startup communities thrive on such platforms, integrating and building their capacities through such informal networks.

This kind of crosspollination of ideas and talents at a community level is a vital yet under-served need in the Indian entrepreneur eco-system. While startup capital is a daunting challenge for Indian entrepreneurs, an under developed eco-system will only make that challenge even more insurmountable.

Yash Saxena is a sustainability consultant with Emergent Ventures, a climate change mitigating consultancy. He also works on innovation evangelism with Techpedia

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