Focus, finance: How TiE Kolkata has helped local entrepreneurs stay afloat during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the wrecking ball to many businesses around the world. But determined entrepreneurs will triumph, and a range of support organisations has risen to the challenge.
This includes TiE Kolkata, the local chapter of the global network called The Indus Entrepreneurs, founded in Silicon Valley in 1992. See also our earlier profiles of resilience activities by TiE Bangalore, TiE Silicon Valley, TiE Pune, TiE Kerala, TiE Hyderabad, TiE Chennai.
Support for entrepreneurs
“We conducted over 50 online sessions for entrepreneurs in Kolkata,” explains Abhranila Das, Manager at TiE Kolkata, in a chat with YourStory. [Attendees at the events ranged between 30 and 100.
Some of the sessions were on topics like Building Sustainable Businesses in Difficult Times (Pallav Nadhani, FusionCharts) and Navigating Recession: Learn from Real Doers (Vasant Subramanyan, Nirdhan Development and Microfinance; Anil Kariwala, Kariwala Group of Industries).
Other sessions featured government representatives such as Rajeev Kumar, Secretary, IT Department, Government of West Bengal (Current IT Scenario). Technology and workflow topics included Leveraging New Media to Acquire New Customers during Lockdown (Hemant Chabria, Chabria Infotech) and Tips and Tools to Increase Efficiency while Working Remotely (Srish Agrawal, A1 Future Technologies).
With financing becoming an even more critical issue, there was a panel on Alternate Sources of Funding for MSMEs and Startups: A Capital Market Perspective. Speakers were Rachana Bhusari (Vice President, NSE), Mahavir Lunawat (Group Founder and MD, Pantomath Advisory Services Group), and Sandipan Chattopadhyay (CEO and MD, Xelpmoc Design).
Regulatory developments were discussed in the session RBI Policies during COVID-19 (Sunil Kanoria, Srei Infrastructure Finance). Health issues were featured in a webinar on The Key to Building Immunity (Karan Kakkad, Reverse Factor) and Mental Health in the Time of Crises (Smaranika Tripathy, Rehabilitation Psychologist and Counselor).
Tackling complications from varying lockdowns across the country were addressed in a talk by Sagar Daryani, CEO and Co-founder, Wow Momo Foods (Supply Chain Logistics). Post-COVID strategies were addressed by Ganesh Natarajan, Chairman of 5F World (Building a Resilient India), and Luis Batista, Founder, Datum Radix (Post-Pandemic Opportunities in the US).
Moderators for these sessions included Alok Patnia (Taxmantra Global), Deepak Daftari (eSiksha.com), Kamal Agarwala (La Exactlly Software), Alkesh Agarwal (Refeel Cartridge Engineering), and Pooja Dugar (Leap Years Pre-School).
“We are now emphasising a lot on cross-chapter virtual meetings for our members, where they can establish a direct connect with TiE members for business growth,” Abhranila explains. She cites a meeting with TiE Deutschland as an example.
“We have also focused a lot on Virtual TiE Clinics, where we provide TiE members an opportunity to discuss their problems one on one with a subject matter expert,” she adds. Each participant is allotted 15 to 20 minutes per session.
Ninety percent of the attendees for the online seminars and panels are entrepreneurs, according to Abhishek Rungta, President, TiE Kolkata. The remaining 10 percent are made up of investors, tech firms, and professionals from legal and support functions.
Challenges and opportunities
Challenges faced by entrepreneurs during these tough times are the inability of pay, remote working, and pivoting in the face of uncertainty, Abhishek observes. In response, TiE Kolkata held several workshops on handling HR issues, and provided pragmatic feedback and guidance to its membership.
Multiple sessions presented different ideas and views on moving to a WFH model.
“Over a hundred mentoring sessions were led by experienced entrepreneurs to provide personalised advice on new ideas and business models, and how to steer the business in these uncertain times,” Abhishek says.
Despite the challenges, there were gains made by startups in some sectors, he adds. These include edtech (Vawsum Schools, Elearnmarkets Kredent Eduedge), healthcare (Sastasundar.com, Tribeca Care), and digital service providers (A1 Future Technologies, Rebin Infotech).
TiE Kolkata has four full-time staff. “We have not made any job cuts or salary cuts. Our sponsorship earning has come down slightly, but we are hopeful that we will cover this,” Abhishek says.
“We have also extended our sponsors' benefit period by three months to help them get more out of their sponsorship commitments,” he adds.
Upcoming activities planned include TiE Kolkata Entrepreneur BootCamp and TiE Kolkata Networking Meet. “We will continue to do knowledge and inspirational events that are relevant to our members,” Abhishek says.
Role of government
“The government's first role should be to handle the health crisis. Business comes second, but the focus generally is on traditional business, which has created long-term value and employment,” Abhishek observes.
“This is the hierarchy of needs at this point. Entrepreneurs need to understand the changed context, see problems, find solutions, monetise them, scale them, and grow their business,” he advises.
Tips and advice
The TiE Kolkata team also offers tips for entrepreneurs on cash flow and business pivots. “Identify the difference between want and need, and focus mostly on needs. Find opportunity in adversity, but look at long term pivots,” Abhishek advises.
“Do things differently – create word-of-mouth publicity, instead of burning cash on marketing or advertising spend. Keep the organisation lean, and cross-train people to get more done from the same spend,” he adds.
Entrepreneurs should understand the difference between one-off and long term opportunities. “It is very easy to get swayed into trading of oximeters, masks, and sanitisers. If there is no product-founder fit, this may fly for some time but will fall flat when things get back to normal,” he cautions.
Instead, it is important to look at fundamental shifts in the way of doing business and adapt to them. “For example, home delivery of food will become much more valuable going forward, or OTT content is going to become much more valuable for the long term. Hence, the pivot must be for reasons of taking benefit of the long-term trend change,” Abhishek advises.
Anxiety and uncertainty are taking a toll on the mental health of entrepreneurs. “Focus on your work, focus on your health, and focus on your people,” Abhishek emphasises.
“Do not be too harsh on yourself. If you can do well during these times, you are a superhuman. If not, you are a human,” he jokes.
“And it is fine to fail. Many will fail. And this is not the end of the world. Prepare yourself for the opportunity that is lurking right behind the corner,” Abhishek signs off.