Government officials, city officials and local communities across the across the world are recognizing that key to building prosperity and stimulate local growth is by fostering entrepreneurship among their people especially youth, which is the mantra of The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE) organization globally – “Fostering Entrepreneurship”. Here is an excellent quote from TiE Silicon Valley’s website: “TiE seeks to cultivate and nurture the ecosystem of entrepreneurship and free-market economies everywhere, as it sees this to be the single most powerful instrument of prosperity.”
The question is how do you foster entrepreneurship. I would like to focus more on simple steps that can be implemented without needing more resources on boosting entrepreneurial eco-system in India rather than the other components required for fostering entrepreneurship such as how to conceive an idea, writing a business plan, raising capital, creating a go-to-market and exit strategy for the startup company since there are plenty of resources available for that from venture capital websites, organizations like TiE , Kauffman Foundation, books on entrepreneurship and host of other readily available resources in internet. I as Chair, Programs, TiE Silicon Valley, continue to look at bringing out new programs for aspiring entrepreneurs and have incorporated some of the steps outlined below to enhance our program offerings since early this year. Now, what are these steps that can be taken? Some of them are:
1.Supporting Young Entrepreneurs – By 2015, World Bank estimates that there will be about 3 billion youths under 25 years old and a big portion of that will be in India. Now, with this step, this will not only help in reducing unemployment but more importantly showing young people that they have alternatives to create their own destiny by starting their own companies and just not waiting to find a job. It can be accomplished by offering classes around starting a business and bringing on successful entrepreneurs as role models to share their stories in those classes in these undergraduate colleges of engineering or business management courses. This will help in not only creating prosperity for student who chooses this path of being an entrepreneur, but also, inspire other employees of his or her organization and people from his community to start their own businesses and hence, creating the cycle of prosperity for the society.
2.Entrepreneurial Education – The number of engineering and business colleges including huge number of private colleges continue to increase in India even though we will still need many more than are currently existing there to support the youth population of India, which is a huge asset for India compared to other countries to reach its goals of being one of the top three global economic powerhouse in coming decades. Now, as mentioned in step one of Supporting Young Entrepreneurs, these colleges can begin offering classes in entrepreneurship with focus on providing practical education in conjunction with local industries. I remember very well, while studying at Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani, we had to go through two Practical Training programs with outside industry or government organizations in order to get our undergraduate degree. One was for a two-month duration after 2 years of being in college at Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS), Pilani, during summer and one for six-month duration in our last year of degree program, thereby giving us an excellent overview and exposure to the real world. Now in the similar fashion, entrepreneurship classes in the schools can be broken into two parts. The first part is to provide knowledge around building blocks of entrepreneurship and second part focuses on a business project, which will help teach important elements like how to form a team, how to write a business plan including resource requirements, go-to-market strategy and how to pitch to investors etc... Institutions like BITS, Pilani and host of others offer courses in Entrepreneurship. For instance, BITS, Pilani held their Tech Bazaar 2011 in March 2011, a convention to energize entrepreneurship among technical students and young scientists/innovators and has a full-fledged department called Entrepreneurship Development and Intellectual Property Rights Unit. Also, BITS alumni association has done a superb job of implementing BITS Embryo program which has talks every month on technology to business management to entrepreneurship and held via Skype video from experts from all over the world. Few years ago, I created and did a five talk series on Entrepreneurship covering all aspects of entrepreneurship from conceiving an idea to exit of a startup company to MBA and engineering students who were listening to these talks while sitting in their class room in Pilani, Rajasthan via skype video, while I was delivering it from here sitting in Silicon Valley. Hence, with very little investment, having talks from successful and accomplished entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world can serve not only inspiring but also, very insightful and educational to students sitting in colleges in India.
3.Entrepreneur as Role Models and their Stories – We launched a monthly program called “My Story – Inspiring Journey of an Entrepreneur” at TiE Silicon Valley in March of this year. This is a monthly program to celebrate entrepreneurship and bring stories from successful entrepreneurs in their own words. The invited speaker shares their entrepreneurial journey and talk about lessons learnt, mistakes they wish they avoided and key decisions that helped make their venture successful. Those interested can check out the videos of entrepreneurs like Samir Arora, Founder and CEO of Glam Media, Raju Reddy, Founder and CEO of Sierra Atlantic (acquired by Fujitsu Consulting), Karl Mehta, Founder and CEO of Playspan (acquired by Visa), to story of Anand Rajaraman, Founder of Junglee (acquired by Amazon.com) and Kosmix (acquired by Walmart.com) sharing their stories on how they started their entrepreneurial journey. These stories in itself, we believe, can be very inspirational and help other aspiring entrepreneurs or anyone for that matter, who is sitting on fence to decide whether to plunge into starting their own company, to get inspired and take the first step towards their own entrepreneurial journey.
4.Funding and other support Infrastructure – Every developing country is inundated with stories of successful entrepreneurs now from Infosys, HCL to new ones such as Makemytrip.com, Redbus to snapdeals.com in India to other parts of the world in China, and of course, in Silicon Valley. Now, a number of these successful entrepreneurs are turning into being angel investors to provide seed funding to entrepreneurs for their ideas and mentoring and advising them with their lessons learnt. Here at TiE Silicon Valley, we launched a program last year in August called TiE Angels, which consists of three step process of screening for startup companies for an opportunity to present in front of a number of angel investors. First step is for entrepreneur to apply to TiE Angels on TiE Silicon Valley website and provide information about his company. Second step is about 8-9 companies are invited by the screening committee for a face-to-face presentation in front of screening committee comprising of successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors. Third step is to invite selected 3-4 companies to present in front of, on an average, 50-60 angel investors at a dinner meeting the following week. On an average, one company per month has been funded to the tune of upto $500 thousand dollars and number of these angel investors who are also TiE Charter Members have been instrumental in providing strategic advice and contacts in large companies to these startups. Similarly, as I understand, various angel groups are active in India, who are helping to advance the entrepreneurial eco-system, which is an excellent starting point. Hopefully, at some point, local governments will take notice of these activities and will create simple and fast track process by dismantling lots of barriers consisting of rather cumbersome rules and regulations, which still exist in India, to foster entrepreneurship and hence, cycle of prosperity.
In summary, few simple steps as described above can go a long way in helping foster entrepreneurship and inspire entrepreneurs to build successful companies of tomorrow.
The author is a Board Member and Chair, Programs, TiE Silicon Valley, TiE Angels Steering Committee Member and a serial entrepreneur based in San Francisco Bay Area.