They are as diverse a bunch of people as you can ever imagine – youngsters and middle aged, men and women, those fresh out of college and professionals with several years of experience, those who have had a roaring success in whatever they did and those who stumbled and yet picked themselves up and changed direction – that they will hardly fit in a common basket. But they all have a few things in common: they are passionate about what they do, have the fire in the belly to succeed, are convinced that their idea and the team they have make for a winning combination.
They are the new generation of entrepreneurs that is starting ventures in not just the metros but in smaller cities too. One other feature they have in common is that unlike the previous generation of entrepreneurs who looked to develop products for the global market out of India, the current crop of entrepreneurs aims to develop products and services that are meant to solve real-world Indian problems.
The first wave of entrepreneurs were either from industrial families or were solving a problem in the global market out of India or were using the labour cost arbitrage that India offered to build global products and services. There are a few in the current crop of entrepreneurs who have adapted a global business model, tweaked it for the Indian market, raised funds from investors and made a success out of it.
How they differ
But is the current generation of entrepreneurs different from the previous one? You pose this question to those in the ecosystem – serial entrepreneurs, mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists – and the answer is quite revealing. “Very clearly,” asserts K Ganesh, a serial entrepreneur who started his first venture in 1990, “the current generation of entrepreneurs have different characteristics.”
One, they grew up with the latest in technology, gadgets, high-speed internet and social media and are comfortable using and deploying them for their ventures. The previous generation of entrepreneurs was hard-coded into more traditional businesses. If offshoring of software development or back-office operations were considered innovative in the 1990s, the new generation of entrepreneurs just needs a mobile phone or a laptop to develop and run a business. The first generation hailed from families that had an entrepreneurial bent of mind, wanted to be in control of their life. The next wave was the emulators, those who saw successful models elsewhere and adopted them for India.
The opportunities now are enormous. With the availability of internet in rural areas, smartphones being available at attractive prices and a generation of smartphone-savvy users, entrepreneurs are coming up with new ventures. Age is no barrier to becoming an entrepreneur. There are quite a few who have worked for 15-20 years, built a safety net for themselves and their family and then started out to pursue their dreams. There are others who have turned entrepreneurs straight out of college, thanks to all the major engineering and management institutes having incubators to help these ventures start off.
Rajan Srikanth, co-President, Keiretsu Forum, Chennai and Singapore, describes the next generation of entrepreneurs as not just Entrepreneur 2.0, but Entrepreneur 3.0. “What we are seeing is a much broader base, people are not just replicating business models that were successfully deployed elsewhere,” he says.
He attributes this new wave of entrepreneurship to the light being focussed on entrepreneurs and to the glamour associated with entrepreneurship. The government talking about entrepreneurship too has played a role. The range of venture being started is phenomenal – from core technology, underwater robots, renewable energy to food.
Srikanth goes a step further and says another interesting trend is of faculty members in reputed institutions such as IIT-Madras, who have “theoretical creations”, coming out into the open and starting ventures using their knowledge and expertise, either on their own or teaming up with their students. This is potentially a pot of gold for India, he adds.
“You need to Indianise your solution and it has to be a problem that is relevant for us. There are enough examples where if that doesn’t happen, it will result in failure…either if you try to copy a model from elsewhere or, more importantly, assume a need that may not exist,” says VT Bharadwaj, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India Advisors.
Ability to collaborate
A defining character trait of the new-age entrepreneurs, according to Gopal Srinivasan, Chairman and Managing Director, TVS Capital Funds, is that they can collaborate much more than others, especially across styles and across a diverse group of people. “The ability to collaborate means you need to have good people skills. You have to be able to get people to do what you want,” he adds.
The ecosystem has played a big part in getting the new-age entrepreneurs going. There is, says Bharadwaj, a lot more esprit de corps, especially in the early- and mid-stage ventures. Ganesh points out that there are a lot more accelerators and incubators now than there were even 10 years back. Also, most of the global venture capital and private equity firms have a presence in India. Angel networks are active. All these have played a big part in getting more people interested in entrepreneurship.
Chandu Nair, entrepreneur and angel investor, makes a differentiation between traditional businessmen and new-age entrepreneurs and says the latter depend on data and logical analysis unlike the former, who relied more on native intelligence. Besides, the current crop of entrepreneurs reaches out to expertise across the spectrum and seeks assistance from whoever is willing to offer it.
More than anything, the ecosystem and success stories play a big part in encouraging more people to become entrepreneurs. “We have a robust ecosystem, right from mentors, advisers, people who have worked in the Valley and who have come back, accelerators, incubators. Educational institutions have started incubators. There are entrepreneur clubs, angel networks, venture capitalists and private equity firms,” says Ganesh.
This generation, he adds, is playing to win. They see the opportunity before them, the choice that is available in almost everything.
Their confidence level is high and they are fearless. They may stumble, but quickly pick themselves up and are back on their feet. More importantly, says Ganesh, there are numerous success stories for the new-age entrepreneurs to emulate.
(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)