Why India’s startup ecosystem needs a talent agenda
When asked for their biggest growth challenge, entrepreneurs and support organizations have consistently scored access to capital as the number one bottleneck. As a result, the past years have witnessed an increasing number of actors aiming to fill the capital gap, ranging from philanthropists to impact investors and venture capitalists. Today, India’s entrepreneurial economy has an evolving landscape of financing players providing seed, venture, and growth capital to small and growing businesses.
However, while capital remains critical for enterprise growth, the perception around scaling challenges is changing. An increasing number of founders and enterprise leaders recognize that a critical growth barrier lies within their organization. Finding the right talent, retaining them, strengthening the mid-level management, building the next generation of leaders, and creating a positive culture and working environment are among the core issues that social entrepreneurs and startups struggle with.
Interestingly, India’s corporate sector struggles with a similar set of challenges. While for a long time the corporate world had no problem attracting and retaining talent, the digital revolution has started to create a new set of issues for HR departments. Today, quality talent has many options to choose from, and established companies compete with dynamic, innovative startups for the best resources. Especially when it comes to attracting millennials and the new generation of talent, corporates need to re-invent themselves to create the work environment that this new generation of the workforce demands.
Likewise, providing learning, development opportunities, and exposure are critical to attract and retain the right talent. Initiatives like SAP’s sabbatical policy that allows employees to venture out are innovative responses to the changing demands of the workforce.
Technological change and digitization require both startups and corporates to adapt and create teams that can work alongside technology. In a world where more and more routine jobs can be achieved with the help of technology, future-ready organizations, more than ever, require curious and creative problem solvers. Similarly, learning, self-development, and keeping up with the changes in today’s business environment are key characteristics of a future-ready workforce. Those skills are harder to discover and screen for as they are not easily visible from a person’s CV.
Future-proofing the economy – bringing the talent agenda centre-stage
The ‘future of work’ therefore starts now. India is one of the biggest economies in Asia, expected to account for more than half of Asia’s workforce in a decade. While much of the public discourse paints a gloomy picture of the ‘future of work’ by presenting threatening numbers around the negative impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and other emerging technologies on India’s workforce, it is important to prepare for this change.
One of the organizations working closely in this area is the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), a global membership network of organizations that propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets. The India Chapter of ANDE is committed to bringing talent on the agenda in the region through its Talent Learning Lab. Over the course of the past year and through engaging with small and growing businesses alike, it is evident that ‘talent’ requires a spotlight and there is a hunger for the exchange of fresh ideas among businesses today.
Working together – a talent agenda for India
To respond to the talent needs in India’s startup ecosystem, five areas have been identified that need knowledge exchange, capacity building and innovations, and new service offerings:
Discovery – finding the right talent
Startups and corporates alike require solutions and resources to find the right talent. Job portals are a part of yesterday’s world, providing the way for smart matchmaking solutions that use AI to match job seekers with employers. A number of companies such as ANDE members Shortlist, Soulskill, or Belong already do this, using technology and data to assess the potential, ability, and fitment of candidates. The learning lab is piloting and assessing an innovative way of sharing candidate profiles in a “pay in forward” format that harness the power of collaboration in meeting a clear and pressing need.
Retention – creating an attractive workplace
Organisations require solutions that help keep quality talent engaged in the company, not losing them to competition and retaining them in the startup ecosystem. This includes creating attractive career and growth paths and also meeting employees’ requirements for learning and exposure. Organizations like Great Place to Work and Open Capital Advisors help companies reflect on their workplace through diagnostic tools and benchmarking themselves with other companies.
Leadership – strengthening mid-level management
As companies grow, building the next level of leaders and strengthening capacities, a problem-solving mindset, and ownership becomes a core challenge for small and growing businesses. Likewise, corporates struggle to build a strong middle management of problem-solvers. Many organizations have emerged recently, such as ANDE member Amani Institute, that help companies strengthen their middle management and build creative leadership competencies. New forms of learning and development, such as digital learning platform TalentEdge, have emerged to help businesses respond to the learning needs.
Culture – building a positive environment
More than ever, company culture matters to attract, retain, and develop talent. Unfortunately, many of India’s largest homegrown companies lack a positive culture; likewise, culture is one of the biggest challenges for startups. Organizations like Culturro advise companies on their workplace experience through providing support in assessing company culture, helping to improve, as well as measure, workplace culture. Workplace rankings are aimed at helping to bring the conversation around culture in focus in India’s startup ecosystem. Likewise, gender balance and diversity are of increased importance in the conversation around a positive organizational culture and have proven to positively affect revenue and growth.
Technology – helping teams to work along technology
The nature of work is changing. Emerging technologies like AI will work alongside humans and have the potential to have positive social impact. Innovative startups and digitally mature companies are pro-actively responding to technological change and disruption and hence are able to gain a competitive edge over traditional businesses. This requires developing digital leaders, building internal capacities to make use of and work alongside technology, and re-thinking business models and service offerings. In a global survey of over 4,300 managers, executives, and analysts, and interviews with executives, thought leaders, and ANDE members, MIT and Deloitte saw that digitally maturing companies recognize differences between the traditional business environment and the digital one and are finding new responses to adapt and succeed in a rapidly changing market.
The advisory service market of players helping companies adapt to these changes is slowly evolving, with mainstream consulting firms taking the lead.
A critical objective of network organizations such as ANDE Talent Learning Lab is to bring talent on the radar of ecosystem supporters and investors. While incubators and accelerators, as well as organizations providing capital, have been able to attract funding from support organizations, intermediary organizations strengthening India’s entrepreneurship sector with talent support are still few. One aim is to specifically engage with investors and funders to strengthen the talent agenda, as the growth of their investee companies depends increasingly on how well they find answers to the talent challenges.
We, along with support from other organizations, can change the talent ecosystem in the coming years – as the future of work starts now.
Stefanie Bauer is an Associate Partner, Intellecap, and a Steering Committee Member, ANDE India. She can be reached at [email protected].
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)