“There is no ecosystem for entrepreneurs in India at present”
Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan, an alumnus of Delhi School of Economics and London School of Economics, spent twenty years in the corporate sector in MNCs across all inhabited continents. For the last four years, she has been teaching entrepreneurship in premier biz and engineering schools around the world. She is passionate not just about creating entrepreneurs but a mentorship institution for building a vibrant entrepreneurial India.
Prof. Nandini has set up Entrepreneurship Development Centre at PES School of Engineering, Bangalore, which along with its sister institutions has over 17,000 students. The Centre has an incubator attached to it and provides pre-seed capital, infrastructure and mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs. She is a Mentor with New Ventures India, which is a joint venture between World Resources Institute, Washington and Godrej Green Building Hyderabad and promotes clean tech entrepreneurship. She is also Mentor with MentorPartners, an online mentoring platform for entrepreneurs.
She is co-founder of two companies, Startups (forstartups.blogspot.com) and CARMa (www.carmagroup.in). Startups mentors entrepreneurs on a pro bono basis. Startups is also actively involved in helping women below the poverty line in building micro enterprises in economies as plural as India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and other countries in the Sub-Saharan Region. CARMa works with SMEs in getting them investment-ready, helping them raise capital and providing them exit engineering, post capital-raising.
Prof. Nandini is on the Board of several companies. She writes a regular column called “Your CARMa” in the Entrepreneur India magazine. She has published articles and book reviews in leading international journals. She has written a series of books on entrepreneurship, which will be in print sometime this year.
On World Entrepreneurship Day, Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory, engaged in a conversation with Prof. Nandini. What started as a regular conversation became an in-depth appraisal of the present ecosystem in India. Further, she analyzed threadbare the DNA of the present Indian entrepreneur and the need for mentoring them to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. Different from what we have heard so far, she has weaved an engaging dialogue covering what the system has at present, what needs to change, what has to be done, and how an entrepreneur should evolve with the organization.
Prof. Nandini starts off with providing the right perspective on why the Indian entrepreneurial spirit is lacking. According to her, the present family system in India, lack of mentoring for the entrepreneur who wants to start out of college, and the mindset of entrepreneurship as a penniless profession are the reasons why we don’t see many entrepreneurs.
She laments that the ecosystem players like NASSCOM, TiE, or CII are creating awareness about entrepreneurship only in pockets. This is not sufficient for a 1.2 billion population. What has to evolve, in her opinion, is a vibrant ecosystem that accepts failure as part of the entrepreneurial process. Indians are too focussed on successes that failure is stigmatizing. This mindset has to change and seed money should be made available to try out an idea irrespective of the outcome.
The entrepreneur has to be sector agnostic in her view and leave an indelible footprint by making meaning in the society. The focus should be on low-cost, high-density impact projects that are likely to succeed in a nation of a billion people. Reebok and Nike, when they entered India, initially failed to see that high price point and niche target buyers did not work when looking for volumes. So they tweaked their business model in India to realize the opportunity.
Women are unable to take stage as entrepreneurs in a big way because of their inability to sustain a business due to constraints like marriage and family. Also investors are wary about investing in a business started by an unmarried girl for the fear of the business losing its track midway once the girl gets married. The educated women are at times unwilling to make meaning in the society as the paycheck is too much a luxury that they are afraid to venture out. Consistently the system discourages them to be on their own and the mindset has to change.
She feels entrepreneurship is likely to grow phenomenally in the next five to ten years as ecosystem players are now willing to invest their efforts to build a robust ecosystem for entrepreneurs. To take this further, colleges should create a mentorship program and incubation centers. Mentors should be from the industry as well to provide real-time assistance for a college graduate to build a company from scratch.
Talking about her own ventures Startups and CARMa, she explains her efforts to build a lasting ecosystem that builds on a model of mentorship, seed capital, and guidance through initial stages of the business. She established an incubation centre in a college that works on a 100% debt model. Entrepreneurs build businesses for two years and move out after that, repaying all the money taken as loan for establishing their business. The repaid money is funnelled into a corpus that helps future entrepreneurs.
She encourages entrepreneurs to read, network, and foster an innovation culture to build a successful enterprise. The entrepreneur should also invest considerably in evolving himself/herself to grow with the organization.
This is only a tip of an iceberg on what she spoke. To engage with her conversation, you have to read in full what she said. Read the full conversation here.
We profusely thank Prof. Nandini for sparing her valuable time for entrepreneurial lessons outside the classroom.