Entrepreneur networks energizing ecosystems in rural India

rubanomics1In my earlier column, we discussed the rise of ‘Rubans’ – rural-urbans, a new breed of rural populace with talent, spirit, aspirations and technological access comparable to their urban counterparts.

The broad vision and aspirations which India’s 12th Plan seeks to fulfil are reflected in its subtitle: “Faster, Sustainable and More Inclusive Growth”. The basic strategy arising from inclusive growth is to make disadvantaged groups full participants in the market economy. Entrepreneurship is recognized as an ‘enabler of inclusivity’ that bridges the gaps between the resourceful and needy and improving lives of the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

MSMEs in India are responsible for providing employment to more than 73 million people and account for 8.7 percent of country’s GDP. Census indicates that in manufacturing, 94.9% are micro, 4.9% are small and just 0.2% are medium. The Report of the Working Group of MSME for 12th Five Year Plan observes, “It is but natural that with almost everyone as micro, the entire spending ought to be for ‘Capacity Building’ and to ensure that micro enterprises grow into small so that by the end of Plan period, in the year 2017, we have at least 10% medium and 25% small enterprises in manufacturing. To achieve such a transformation, the role of enabling environment is critical.”

In the spotlight is rural India, which is witnessing a definitive shift in its make-up. The perceptions and myths of rural India are being shattered today with the emergence of a new breed of rural – the new rural-urbans or ‘Rubans’ – with access to information, hungry raw talent, higher aspirations and entrepreneurial mindsets. Rural entrepreneurs are morphing rapidly from the traditional definitions of rural, unshackling themselves from old societal dynamics, believing and looking for opportunities for growth.

The Need

The need for creating a robust support structure to expedite entrepreneurship in rural India has been a major focus for most government policies for quite some time now. However, a lot is to be achieved on the ground. Despite their ambition, innovation and passion, rural entrepreneurs are limited by a number of factors – some of which were highlighted in the 2011 Impact Assessment Report on Rural Entrepreneurship Development Programme (REDP) by NABARD:

–        Mostly REDP is based on target oriented approach with little attention to improving the entrepreneurial talents of rural and educated unemployed youth

–        Selection of activities for imparting REDP not based on local demands / needs and perceptions of people

–        Training modules not designed based on absorption capacity and future requirements of the entrepreneurs

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–        Lack of systematic coordination among partners viz. Bankers, state/central government officials and marketing agents at the district level

–        Inadequate provision for raw materials, reading materials, field visits, guest lectures to enable entrepreneurs develop their skills

Similar results emerged from a survey conducted by Head Held High Services in Gadag, covering 200 rural entrepreneurs across categories, ranging from agriculture to finance to consumer products. The survey endeavoured to understand the status of rural entrepreneurs – their exposure to entrepreneurship, skills, access to finance, support and other resources.

The findings validated the NABARD report. As per the survey, rural entrepreneur:

  • Lacks awareness, exposure & local inspiration
  • Has no mentors or access to structured information
  • Has limited linkages to market, controlled by middle-men
  • Lacks access to finance
  • Is innovative, but lacks support to scale

HHH1The solution lies in creating robust platforms focused on learning, sharing and networking among entrepreneurs at the district level. It should bring together local ecosystems, build capacity among entrepreneurs and connect them with global opportunities with access to markets, products and financing.

Do such support models for entrepreneurs exist anywhere globally? They do!

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. TiE’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking and education. There are  22,000+ members and 2500+ charter members across 61 chapters globally, and its brand is globally synonymous with entrepreneurship. In Bangalore, the TiE Chapter has grown from about 190 members with nine Charter members in 1999 to over 1000 members and 120 Charter members today.

What makes TiE so successful? It provides a suite of support and resources that entrepreneurs need to succeed: networking opportunities, event, workshops, role models, mentorship and more. Apart from running the world’s largest professional and networking conference for entrepreneurs, it also hosts a wide range of programs, events catering to various industry verticals through Special Interest Groups.

The TiE model shows that entrepreneurs need an entire ecosystem to thrive. Can similar ecosystem-centric models  be replicated for rural India to trigger a revolution for rural entrepreneurs?

The path ahead

In fact, progress is already underway. The Department of Industries, Govt. of Karnataka, is tapping quality talent available in the two-tier cities and developing them into entrepreneurs, through programs like ‘Udyamiyaagu, Udyoga Needu’ and partnerships with corporates, banks and foundations. Similarly, industry associations like the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce have penetrated into Tier II/III cities to connect rural entrepreneurs with global opportunities.

We believe that an active Entrepreneurs Network at every district can help government and industry to synchronise their entrepreneurship development programs on a common platform, thus accelerating awareness, access and achievements of aspiring rural entrepreneurs. HHH Services is creating such a platform through an initiative called Ruban Entrepreneurs Network (REN). Supported by Department of Industries, Govt. of Karnataka, we will roll-out REN Chapters in each of the districts in Karnataka over the next six months. These chapters organize events, training workshops, entrepreneur competitions in every district and support entrepreneurs by connecting them with opportunities. We dream of thousands of success stories emerging from rural India, showcasing the power of Rubanomics!


About the author

Madan Padaki is co-founder and CEO of Head Held High Services and previously co-founder of MeritTrac, India’s largest skills assessment company. Madan serves on the governing council of TiE Bangalore and earlier headed Strategy & Innovation for Manipal Global Education. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanPadaki

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