Shradha, YourStory founder, among winners
View from the sidelines by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy
It gives us a sense of fulfillment and recognition, the same feeling you get after having a sumptuous meal full of your favorite dishes. Shradha Sharma, YourStory founder, has been named the winner of the Ecosystem Evangelist award by NASSCOM. The other winners are Vijay Anand, founder Proto.in; Laura Parkins, CEO and cofounder, NEN; and Ashish Sinha, founder, Pluggd.in.
After a couple of years through, for Shradha Sharma, it seems some one has taken notice of what YourStory has done. Awards are like adrenalin shots through the routine. No one stops by everyday to say you did a good job. It happens that on occasion, a few people take that “helicopter” view, from the top to see, what you have done is worthy of praise. It gives us a sense of approval and happiness that YourStory, born out of just a desire to showcase every entrepreneur who has a story to tell, without looking at other “collaterals”—such as an out-of-world business plan, a great execution, or a million dollar revenue to get limelight—is finally on the honours podium. Shradha has struggled through the curve without any financial gain to see traction in increments. Obviously, it is a moment of delight for our startup that takes about other startups and has built a great community of followers and fans.
The common thread we see in the awards is spotting individuals who have created a community beyond one’s own personal brief. Vijay Anand, founder Proto.in and now Vice President, RTBI, IIT-M, Chennai, found it necessary to create a platform (Proto.in) for entrepreneurs to showcase their products to investors. It is an out-of-box thinking. When startups are not fanciful in the minds of many with entrepreneurial potential, creating a platform like this takes your mindset to a different level altogether. Suddenly you smell the opportunity and willing to start on your own, hoping to get that visibility one day. N.R. Narayana Murthy founded Infosys and when his driver becoming a millionaire hit headlines, everyone wanted to be Narayana Murthy. That is the spirit which gets on your system and becomes infectious. Vijay has experience in founding three startups and being a thought leader that he is, he did not simply stop with the idea. He went up beyond his own personal brief and was able to see Proto emerge as a much sought-after platform for entrepreneurs. Then the whole community built around Proto. Druva’s founder Jaspreet Singh told me how great it felt for him to get a recognition at Proto. Today Druva is going great guns. Proto identified so many of such promising startups that have gone on to become established players today.
NEN’s CEO and cofounder Laura Parkins found that in 80% of institutions in the West, entrepreneurship is institutionalized and in India, there was a yawning gap. No university or college had an entrepreneurial chair. In effect, the system of education lacked “entrepreneurial” spirit. What NEN has done since its founding in 2002 is to fix this gap. The impact is visible today: 80,000 entrepreneurship programs, 400 entrepreneurship clubs in colleges; and 1200 entrepreneurship faculty. Last year, 350+ startups have emerged from campuses and over 400 entrepreneurs have been helped through NEN’s programs and mentoring. So NEN has been able to make a quantifiable difference to entrepreneurship in the country in the space where it matters—educational institutions. Although many times Silicon Valley is showcased as the towering example of how it has built a vibrant startup culture to what it is today, it goes beyond saying that two institutions—Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley—built entrepreneurial culture in their campuses that also spread to the surroundings. In a country like India, we need more successes and people talking about entrepreneurship right from the college level. NEN has been able to bring in a palpable change in the way entrepreneurship is viewed at the collegiate level. Vishnu Priya, NEN coordinator in Chennai, is amazed at the group of grads in Chennai who are part of NEN. Once I attended a TEDx event organized by Velammal Engineering College. Behind their enterprising attempt was NEN’s drive as the event was part of entrepreneurship week that NEN conducts in February every year.
Ashish Sinha built on what he saw—lack of marketing skills for product software entrepreneurs. He built a forum, Pluggd.in, to connect the entrepreneurs to investors and users. In three years and especially the last one year since Ashish plunged into it full time, Pluggd.in has built a formidable reputation of being a top notch site for technology entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia. A man of few words but great deeds, Ashish has been able to achieve traction silently. His contribution is significant, especially when product software did not interest many techies. The scene is different today from what it was a couple of years ago. But creating a forum for those in need was a progressive step that Ashish took.
All the four winners were early birds in the ecosystem. Today, there is a massive buildup of interest groups, ecosystem enthusiasts, talks, courses, et al. built around entrepreneurship. But all the four winners were able to spot the trend early and have helped build communities around entrepreneurship for entrepreneurs to come together and seek help. It is apt that NASSCOM is recognizing their efforts this year. We congratulate all the winners.