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Starting Up When Starting Out

By Ekta Kumar
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For too long the buzz and crackling energy around startups has been limited either to big cities and towns, or to an elite set of youngsters, who more often than not belong to premier institutions like IITs, IIMs and the like. Think Makemytrip, Zomato, Flipkart, Swiggy, Policy Bazaar, Snapdeal, Paytm...the list is long. These successful entrepreneurs have the education and the exposure to be able to scale up their ideas, as well as a network to help them navigate their way. But there lies an India beyond this, in smaller towns and villages, who have dreams of building something credible but just don't know how to make things happen. In this context the finance minsters small mention of offering an exclusive tv channel under the Doordarshan umbrella for guiding startups is interesting.

India has immense potential. There is an inherent spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that forms a part of our culture. And this is not just limited to Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. There are hundreds of innovations that 'jugaad' has enabled, there is a thriving community of micro-enterprises and self help groups, thousands of small industries and so on. Over two-thirds of our 1.4 billion population live in villages, there must be so many bright minds itching to create something, be successful, get rich, make a difference. Just imagine the latent talent and drive that exists, waiting to be channelised.

Starting Up When Starting Out

Ms. Sitharaman in her budget speech talked about India becoming a gigantic 5 trillion dollar economy. It is a big number. Rural India must kickstart its economic engine to be able to contribute towards it. There must be a sustained, inclusive economic growth, the urban-rural divide must be bridged, and only then this number becomes more feasible. Successful startups can create jobs in their local environment,

In the existing scenario the startups are very urban centric. An overwhelming majority are founded by people with urban backgrounds, who cater to demand from the big cities, whose investors have similar backgrounds and are willing to take risks that are familiar. But there is a much larger India that awaits beyond this, both in terms to market as well as in terms of talent. We need to expand deeper into our villages, to be able to encourage entrepreneurs, to identify opportunities, disseminate information and provide a strong platform to help them grow.

The Modi government has always recognised the need for nurturing our fragile startup ecosystem. There have been various government schemes like Mudra, Startup Fund, Stand up India and so on to provide the push and get things moving. Recently Mr. Modi himself talked about the need to promote young entrepreneurs in Tier II and II towns, and the fact is an increasing number of startups are beginning to pop up outside of the expected big urban centres especially in the sphere of agriculture, education, healthcare and financial services. A large number of startups are emerging to solve localised problems and address local needs, but we need to dig deeper.

We must stop looking at rural India as a demographic consumer market, but as a source for ideas, innovation and enterprise. Young entrepreneurs have the passion and the drive to change things, to take risks, and despite all obstacles, to keep trying. We need to build a momentum that starts from the villages, nurture talent and give them direction. Passion and ambition is not enough. The fledging projects need to be mentored, they need ideas and examples to scale up their models. A TV channel is just a start, we need to have more accelerators, incubators, mentorship programmes, easier financing options, simpler tax regime, more support from the government to be truly able to thrive.

Who knows our next unicorn might just sprout from a small district, 500 kms away from Delhi. India is ripe with possibilities. Let us not limit ourselves.

(Ekta is a columnist and a writer. She represents India on multiple forums in the European Union on human right campaigns, gender related issues and is working closely with the EU to strengthen ties between the two countries. She is also a Chartered Accountant and an MBA from IIM Calcutta)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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