‘Grassroots entrepreneurship needs a lot more writing about’ – Prof. Anil Gupta, IIM Ahmedabad
The second annual Bangalore Business Literature Festival kicks off this Saturday, September 17 at the IIM Bangalore campus, with a number of engaging conversations featuring prominent authors (see my earlier write-ups on the 2015 edition of the festival, covering business models, startup boom, and storytelling).
"Most successful entrepreneurs are well read. A healthy reading habit is as important as staying physically fit. Reading can be diverse, not only business books. An entrepreneur has to have an imaginative mind, and reading helps to stay imaginative,” says Benedict Paramanand, organiser of the festival and himself an author (CK Prahalad: The Mind of the Futurist).
The larger objective of BBLF is to celebrate and nurture the culture of reading and writing among Indian entrepreneurs. “It's rare for entrepreneurs to meet to discuss books. This is their platform, their community,” says Benedict.
Featured authors at the 2016 edition of BBLF include Ganesh V (The Underage CEOs), Sameer Dua (Creating Breakthrough Results), V. Raghunathan (Beyond the Call of Duty), Vishwas Mudagal (Losing my Religion), Walter Vieira (The Winning Manager), Gautam Mahajan (Founding Editor, Journal of Creating Value), Ramachandra Guha (India after Gandhi), and Devdutt Pattanaik (The Success Sutra: An Indian Approach To Wealth).
Opportunities for business writing
“The fact that Indian business is becoming bolder is something that perhaps needs to be said more boldly,” says Professor Anil K. Gupta of IIM Ahmedabad, Founder of the Honey Bee Network and Executive Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation.
Indian first generation entrepreneurs are acquiring companies abroad, disrupting business in India, and creating new interfaces. “I am not hearing too much about ethical disruption beyond connections and collusions; here silence needs to be broken. The continued lack of hunger for early stage hard technologies is something that bothers me, so may be a few more column inches on that regularly may ignite the hunger,” adds Prof. Gupta.
“Amidst the startup frenzy in India, it's very important to pause and reflect often to avoid mistakes. Books help startup entrepreneurs do that,” says Benedict.
"While India is solving her problems, there is tremendous opportunity for writers who could think futuristic, as the world is grappling to find the best model. But there is more of copy-paste of what's happening elsewhere instead of original thinking,” observes Nagaraja (Naga) Prakasam of the Indian Angel Network.
“India is a vast storehouse of management and business wisdom. Here, one can find a variety of management styles, each of which has had varied results and outcomes. Each style has certain pros and cons,” explains Ganesh Vancheeswaran, author of The Underage CEOs.
There are a number of companies that have grown into titans over the years, especially old-world companies. “Their rise and success should be chronicled for the benefit of the business community at large,” adds Ganesh.
“The rise of digital channels of formatting and distributing content is a great way for authors and publishers to reach out to a large audience in interesting formats. Podcasting is another format that has not been tapped in India,” says Ganesh.
But a challenge in India is to find the right price point for business books. “There aren't many takers in India for business or self-improvement books beyond say Rs. 250/-. The author's share of the royalty is mostly in single digit percentages. This means that he/she does not make much money at all; which could be demotivating,” cautions Ganesh.
“I think grassroots entrepreneurship, both social and economic needs a lot more writing about; how much knowledge public goods do Indian entrepreneurs create will determine the richness of the Indian innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem,” says Prof. Gupta.
“We all talk about Silicon Valley culture but we miss the camaraderie, mutual help, sharing in open source, whole lot of ideas, and so on - writers need to draw attention to this aspect,” he advises. Cutting corners, celebrating jugaad and finding a way ahead anyhow - these are the values which need to be critiqued.
“Most speakers are highly successful entrepreneurs. Listening to their favorite books and what they learnt from them, is a huge opportunity. Also authors who have written about startups will have a goldmine of insights to share,” adds Benedict.
“I think there was never greater acceptance of entrepreneurial culture in our society as is today. But stories from small towns and institutions need more attention,” says Prof. Gupta.
“Our manufacturing sector as well as strategic sector (DRDO, defence, space) are run by graduates of so called B and C grade institutions (which NASSCOM finds not worthy for repetitive coding work, thank God); yet we are not giving these institutions and places with all their limitations enough due,” rues Prof. Gupta.
He suggests that more focus be placed on in situ incubation models, which Honey Bee Network and NIF are advocating. “We need to have much more investment in early stage student ‘proof of concept’ projects,” he sums up, pointing to a number of notable developments on this front such as the cooperation between BIRAC and SRISTI, and the Gandhian Young Technological Innovation (GYTI) Awards.
India seems to have transformed well from the word ‘business(wo)man’ (which has a negative connotation that the successful ‘businessmen’ have done something wrong to achieve success!) to the word ‘entrepreneur’ which seem to be a cool thing to do for people of all generations, observes Naga of IAN. “The country is also witnessing fantastic growth since 1992, so the risk-taking ability is improving,” he adds.
A large number of people are becoming entrepreneurs, including many under the age of 30. “This is very good. However, I see a mix of motivations in these people: fascination, passion, flaunt-value and greed. This is troubling. Still, I see it all as part of a nascent and rapidly-evolving ecosystem,” says Ganesh. There needs to be a larger base of good mentors and incubation centres across India.
“And finally, there is the disturbing trend in some sections of the media and social media of glorifying entrepreneurship and portraying it as 'the space to be in'. This is wrong. We should realise that entrepreneurship may not be for all. There are many people out there who are happy holding corporate jobs,” explains Ganesh.
“Business books written by entrepreneurs are more absorbing. Every entrepreneur should aspire to write a book,” Benedict advises.
“This is a conversation oriented fest - so there is lots to ask and lots to learn,” sums up Benedict, urging readers, entrepreneurs and students to head to the festival this weekend.
[Disclaimer - YourStory is the media partner for Bangalore Business Literature Festival 2016]