As talks on climate change failed to reach a consensus in Copenhagen, leaders of India’s corporate world, gathered in Mumbai, to stimulate a new kind of Change in the nation’s business climate, especially for the Entrepreneurs.
Mumbai was host to a three day Grand Summit for entrepreneurs called ‘Enterprising India’ from the 21st to the 23rd of December 2009. It was a summit organized by ‘The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE)’.
Swarms of young and energetic business minds from B-schools and hopeful founders of young startups were drawn to this, so called, Un-conference event to learn from the their mentors and for a chance to network, meet investors and venture capitalists; to share and gain feedback on their ideas and business plans and maybe to strike gold through funding.
The consensus was that kindling and nurturing entrepreneurship is very vital for a nation that wants to move forward. Change the Nation and Lead the World was the motto of the Summit.
Ratan Tata and Narayan Murthy share the stage to kick off the first session of the Summit
The platform for dialogue was set as Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Industries and Narayan Murthy, Founder of Infosys initialized the summit, by sharing their opinions on the current entrepreneurship scenario for Indians. After delving into national problems, government policies and floor area ratio which mostly large and established companies have to boggle with, both of them agreed that India was headed in the right direction of creating a conducive environment for its entrepreneurs to succeed and flourish. They also voiced their belief that the government’s dysfunction and shortcomings can only be solved by responsible corporations and social entrepreneurs. Better Infrastructure, along with access to basic education, healthcare and nutrition have to be met by the government and they should be held more accountable for it, they opined.
Entrepreneurs of the eighties and the nineties had to fight or work around government red tape and an unfavorable atmosphere, said a reminiscing Mr. Murthy. After liberalization, mainly due to the blue print laid by Dr. Manmohan Singh and the go ahead given by the then prime minister, the late Narasimha Rao, India’s corporate sector is booming today and competing not only here but also in international markets. “But we are still shedding off the Fabian socialism, laid down by Nehru.” Said Murthy.
Murthy who announced a few months ago about his new VC fund, Catamaran, claimed that he would want it to have a diversified portfolio. Murthy suggested that entrepreneurs, especially IT startups should focus on niche areas and small verticals to succeed.
Asked for a success mantra, Tata replied with “Luck, one should need lots of it”. Murthy agreed and added, “Hard work and the ability to realize and grab that luck.”
An attentive audience at the TiE Summit held in Mumbai
The highlight of the summit was the 'Made in India' sessions, which involved well known business leaders introducing lesser known or unknown stars to showcase and present their entrepreneurial journeys. Most of the presentations were inclined towards social entrepreneurs and change agents in Education, Healthcare, Retail and Finance. From successful and literally ‘shitty’ startups: Rajeev Kher of 3S Shramik Saraplast who now manufactures and services portable outdoor toilets; and to Neeraj Gupta of Meru cabs, a well known hotline taxi service in major cities; Ashish Rajpal of iDiscoveri, who started innovative and simple learning tools and methods for school students; Irfan Alam of Sammaan Foundation, who enabled and modernized the cycle rickshaw pulling sector which contributes to thirty percent of the country's urban transport. Also present was A. Muruganantham of Jayaashree Industries, a company that makes products for Ladies Self Help Groups especially low-cost machine producing quality sanitary napkins.
Throughout all these presentations, the message that stood out was of finding out a requirement or business need and fulfilling it with the strongest of convictions. Each of them had to prove their business model to investors and venture capitalists before gaining funds.
As the event unfolded, young entrepreneurs were running around experienced VCs, pitching forth their ideas and plans and asking questions. Some even followed the investors to the portable toilets, stationed outside the tent venue. No VCs rubbished any ideas, but each gave out hints as to what they were looking for, or what would intrigue them.
Sridhar Iyengar, president of TiE, gave the key note address
Sridhar Iyengar, president of TiE who gave the key note address, spoke of how investors make mistakes, and miss on great opportunities. Infact the VC he is associated with in the US called Bessemer Venture Partners or BVP, has something of an ‘Anti-portfolio’ on its website. A list of great missed opportunities and complete screw ups (as stated on their webpage) with Google, Cisco, Apple and HP tarnishing the list. “If these companies were to stop and slump their drive, just because a prominent VC said no to them, than we wouldn’t have had them around. It’s all about conviction and no doubt, some potentially good companies have given up just before the finishing line. Don’t be disheartened and try to move on and forward,” he said.
To rival against existing competitors, Kanwal Rekhi of Inventus, made it very clear that price differentiation should not be the only key feature of a new product or service, especially for software and technology-related products and services. “The first impression is that consumers would think that the product would not have much to offer or is not very efficient. New companies should be able to have a more tangible feature, than just a low price tag for their products. There should be a clear value addition to stir up the market’s attention towards the product or service,” he said.
Mahesh Murthy of Seedfund dwelled more on the question of whether India has a healthy ecosystem for Indian Entrepreneurship. “In the US there is a pyramid structure among investors, with many of them being seed, early-stage and angel investors at the bottom of the pyramid, which is more than the number of growth-stage Investors and then at the top are the few but large hedge funding and mutual funds companies etc. But in India the scenario displays a completely inverse pyramid, with more hedge fund and mutual fund companies, lesser growth-stage fund investors and very little or rather scattered seed and early stage investors. Angel funding and incubation funding is very minimal.”
The fact is many Indian VCs only look at capital inflow rather than potential ideas. And many of these nascent companies with established capital inflows have not turned out to be successful business in the long run. At the moment, due to global recession, budgets are tight and VCs have problems in gathering funds even for very promising business start ups.
As a basic requirement, most VC’s have a 10X requirement as a good exit strategy within a minimum of two to three years with an upper limit of not more than five years. They want the companies that they invest in to show that ‘ten times return on investment’.
Alok Mittal of Canaan Partners, a growth stage funding VC Firm criticized the scenario among Indian VCs saying, “if a venture is funded by one VC, they are then blocked or blacklisted by the others VCs. But in the US and Europe, you can still approach others and have multiple VC backing. Lack of diversity among Indian VCs is very clear.” They are more inclined towards the service Industry as there are high returns and the markets are not as volatile as compared to real-estate. As a solution, he suggested that the Incubation Funding should be practiced and encouraged more in India. A short period should be chalked out to see if the startup works or not. Seed funders normally engage in this experimental mode with new prospects.
In a panel discussion, Ajay Hattangadi of Silicon Valley Bank was rather more cynical, in comparing Indian Entrepreneurs to US ones. According to him, Indian education and culture is the roots of low entrepreneurship turnout. No innovation is taught in classrooms while Indian culture is reluctant to take risks. For him the Entrepreneurship in India is viewed as extremely tight-roped by many to walk on it. Though not everyone on the panel quiet agreed with him on this view they all seemed to have the same opinion that really good talent can foster a great business. It was a grim reality that very few Indian homegrown entrepreneurs have been able to grab global attention.
Naukri.com founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani
Naukri.com founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani, the country’s leading jobsite, mentioned to a young website entrepreneur, “It’s no longer about just creating a website, and waiting for Investors to fund you because of it. You have to get those users, market it, sell it and create a team. Even after doing all that, it just might not work. But I’m happy to know that the young Indian entrepreneur is still trying to risk all of it. That is exactly the spirit we are trying to nurture here”.
When should an entrepreneur know it’s time to wrap up? A question was directed to Captain Gopinath who revolutionized Indian aviation by introducing low-cost air travelling in India with Air Deccan, now a part of Kingfisher Airlines. “You can never really know,” said Captain engaging in some rhetoric. “It’s somewhat similar for a singer or a painter. Once you realize you cannot be the best in your field, reality kicks in and you give up your dreams or sideline yourself. But many have given up just minutes away from success.”
Chennapa Naidu, an entrepreneur from Hyderabad, and CEO and Founder of Versant Technologies told Think Digit, “A common trait between US Investors & Indian investors is that they invest in the person who should exhibit capabilities of leadership and show tremendous passion for his business goal. Many Investors go for growth stage funding as there is less risk for investors and much better ROI, plus the entrepreneur can negotiate on his terms as he has his own capital to back him up.”
Sabarinath Nair of Vortex Engineering, makers of Low Cost and Low Power ATMs, summed up the business driven, adrenaline high atmosphere by saying “It’s a crime to think small,”
Other prominent leaders at the summit were K V Kamath of ICICI, Harsh Mariwala of Marico, Kishore Biyani of Future Groups, R. Gopalakrishnan of Tata Sons and Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of the new Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), after a successful career at Infosys Technologies Ltd. Although surprising given the nature of the summit, International Spiritual Guru Deepak Chopra made his presence felt to everyone with a closing keynote.
filed by Hans Albert Lewis