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In India, we need to "legendise" the smallest of entrepreneurial success to promote a culture of entrepreneurship, says Nandini Vaidyanathan.



On numerous occasions, India’s most popular President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, has emphasised on the need to encourage entrepreneurship for nation-building. He has often stressed that the educational system should be such "that it can produce employment-generators and not employment-seekers."  Sharing this vision is Ms.Nandini Vaidyanathan, founder-mentor CARMa Connect, a firm that has mentored 800 entrepreneurs so far. Vaidyanathan spoke to Ms.Ritu Goyal Harish about the need to promote an encouraging habitat for entrepreneurs in the country.

For success in all missions we need creative leaders. Creative leadership means exercising the vision to change the traditional role from the commander to the coach, manager to mentor, from director to delegator and from one who demands respect to one who facilitates self-respect. The higher the proportion of creative leaders in an organization, the higher the potential of success and the growth of organization and thereby leading to accelerated national economic growth.”

Dr. A PJ Abdul Kalam in his keynote address to young entrepreneurs at the Outreach Advocacy Programme of the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises at Chennai, March 2012.

Anyone who has ever harboured aspirations to become an entrepreneur in India has had to face obstacles every step of the way. From cultural restrictions to parental and peer pressure; lack of any hands-on experience or education, the road to fulfilling the entrepreneurial dream is fraught with challenges.

“In India the middle and the lower middle class have realised that no good Samaritan is going to pull them out of poverty. The only thing that will pull them out of poverty is education. So they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their children are educated. Parents push the children through a professional programme with the aspiration that on the day of reckoning with a certificate in their hand, their children will free them from the bondage of poverty, low aspiration and a very mediocre life” she explains.

“Now if this child were to say (after an engineering or a MBA programme) I am going to become an entrepreneur, I am not going to take up a job, I am sitting out of placements, the natural reaction of parents is one of shock” says Nandini. Parents are stunned because they have been told that working in a corporate job is exceedingly comfortable, “That foreign travel which was unheard of earlier is possible now. The salaries are fancy and there is a certain lifestyle associated with all of it.”


 Dalit entrepreneur Milind Kamble established the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Dicci) to inspire Dalits to take to entrepreneurship. He wants to break the perception that "Dalits are always dependent and cannot do anything on their own..."


Why would the incumbent want to rock the boat? Who will repay the educational loan? These are real questions and issues that don’t allow the middle class Indian to be convinced that entrepreneurship is going to fulfill their dreams. “The way they see it,” says Nandini, “is that it’s a struggle being an entrepreneur- you don’t make money at the end of it…and why would you want waste all your education?”

What doesn’t help matters is also the misconception people have between businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Nandini believes that there is a clear distinction between the two.

“Entrepreneurship is about ideation, it is about being Prometheus (who stole fire from the fire gods), the pioneer. It’s about the tremendous urge to leave a footprint, the passion to create something different. It’s about the selfishness that says, ‘I don’t like the world the way it is and therefore I shall change it’.”

Business on the other hand, according to Nandini, is – “I don’t want to work with somebody in an organisation, I want to work for myself. It is a livelihood alternative to being employed by somebody.”

The crucial difference is that a businessman is not necessarily driven from within, inspired from within. The term she uses often is ‘antar prerna’ – inspiration from  ithin. Businessmen usually lack that and an entrepreneur is driven by it.

This confusion makes people believe that entrepreneurship is not for educated people. “Those who are un-employable take to entrepreneurship. This is the convoluted cultural logic that is prevalent in the country. According to her, an individual with entrepreneurial ambitions has a tough time convincing his family and eco-system, that ‘I am not being stupid, that I will actually contribute to economic development, that my aim is to generate surplus wealth, that I am going to make money and I will give you the lifestyle you have imagined.’

“Even if he manages to convince his parents/family, at 22/23 years of age, he does not have any organisational building experience… so just from a thought in his head to building an organisation around it, is a daunting task,” she points out adding that the professional academic environment in the country does not encourage entrepreneurship. On the contrary they are hostile to it. “Engineering and MBA colleges are mandated for placements. They’re not mandated to build entrepreneurial talent.”

The other challenge faced by prospective entrepreneurs is the pressure from peers. “Who got placed first? What fancy salary did he get? These are the nails that are put on the coffin” says Nandini.

What will still make it easier for him to achieve his entrepreneurial dream? A habitat.

But as we have seen, most of the habitat by way of support (parental/familial support, academic reinforcement and peer encouragement) is missing for our budding entrepreneur.

Greenway Grameen Infra, a startup launched by young entrepreneurs Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur won the 2012 Intel Global Challenge at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a $50,000 prize from Intel Foundation. This award was for developing Greenway Smart Stove- a biomass-based cookstove designed to replace the traditional mud chullahs. This cookstove which uses 65% less fuel and produces 80% less smoke than traditional chullahs, competed against ideas presented by more than 150,000 students from more than 50 countries. Pic credit:


“You could have a million ideas, but they’re all worthless if you don’t get them done.” – Lauren Amarante, co-founder World Entrepreneurship Day.
“Even if one overcomes all the challenges, they don’t know HOW. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. I have a brilliant idea but I have no clue how to build a business around it!” 
The most critical piece, that will make it possible, help you overcome the challenges is this animal called Mentor. Nandini, who has mentored over 800 people in the past seven years (and calls it a ridiculously low number in a population of 1.2 billion) laments that in India, “Mentor” is a highly abused word. “Anybody who gives advice is a mentor, which is a misnomer.”

She explains that “a mentor is somebody who brings his experience, his knowledge and his network to the table. He has the ability to handle the aspirant through every step of the way…from a thought in his head, to going to market. The biggest challenge is whether the mentor will hold their hand every step of the way. Sadly most entrepreneurs end up taking on teachers with no industry experience, or somebody in their eco-system as mentors to no avail.”

Most of all, a mentor is your best risk mitigation strategy. “What we have created in CARMa,” says Nandini, “is measurable, action-oriented, outcome-focused mentoring. From call-to-call he can measure his progress.”

“There’s no committee that says, ‘This is the type of person who can change the world – and you can’t.’ Realizing that anyone can do it is the first step. The next step is figuring out how you’re going to do it.” – Adora Svitak
Despite the obvious pitfalls, India’s resilient youth is full of stories of optimism; of young entrepreneurs who have deviated from the well-laid path, seeking their calling, reaching out to their dreams, creating ventures that have impacted lives and made positive strides in nation building.

Neha Juneja (Greenway Grameen Infra), PhaninDr.a Sama (, Faisal I. Faroorqui (, Farrhad Acidwala (Rockstar Media), Shravan Kumaran (11) and Sanjay Kumaran (13) (youngest CEOs in the world!)...the list is growing. Yet, as a nation of 1.2 billion, we are still largely a nation of employees. The stories of successes are few and far in between, some little known because the growth has happened in pockets. What we need is a rapid, rapid growth that will make its presence felt and serve as an inspiration to others who have similar aspirations.

Nandini thinks that the only way we can make our nation wake up to the potential of entrepreneurship as a tool of personal as well as growth of the nation is to legendise entrepreneurs.

“We are a story-telling culture. We need to legendise entrepreneurs the way we legendise heroes. When I say entrepreneurs, I don’t mean a Kiran Majumdar Shaw or a Narayana Murthy. Success need not mean a 25-year wait! Success is every step of the way. To my mind, a young entrepreneur who gets his first paycheck - that’s a milestone that should be legendised. His first customer, his first hundredth customer, his first hire, his first product, his first iteration…everything, every single thing needs to be legendised. If we do this, more and more people will embrace it” she says.

It is also important to be open and fair to discussing failures. Failures, as they say, teach you far more than success does. A failure inculcates in you a sense of introspection and a sense of ruthlessness when you look at yourself in the mirror and ask why did I fail.

“The hardest part about being an entrepreneur is that you’ll fail ten times for every success.” – Adam Horwitz
Nandini spells it out rather candidly when she says that in India we don’t have a culture of analyzing or respecting failures. “Unfortunately we only know to stigmatise failures. There are several cultural archetypes that need reconstruction, such as “just because I failed at my business I am a failed human being”, etc. Only then more and more people will embrace entrepreneurship.”

Entrepreneurship & Economic Prosperity
Speaking about Dr. Kalam’s envisioned role of entrepreneurship in nation building and economic prosperity, Nandini cites the example of South Korea and Ghana. Consider this extract from the Journal of African and Asian Studies:

In its September 23, 1989 issue, The Economist pointed out that, in 1957, Ghana, then the wealthiest nation in Sub-Saharan Africa, had a per capita income almost equal to that of South Korea (US $490 as against US $491 in 1980 dollars). By the early 1980s, Ghana's annual income per head had fallen by nearly 20 percent to US $400, while South Korea's per capita GDP was, by then, over US $2,000. The UNDP's 1990 Human Development Report suggests that South Korea had an annual purchasing power per head ten times greater than Ghana (US $4,832 vs US $481), based on 1987 statistics.

With the declining value of Ghanaian currency, the World Bank now puts Ghana's per capita income at about US $400 (where it was in 1980), placing it among the poorest countries. Meanwhile, South Korea's per capita income has reached over US $6,000. The most recent statistics indicate that South Korea's real per capita annual growth rate is more than twice that of Ghana (between 4 and 5 percent in S. Korea, as against 2 to 3 percent in Ghana). Whereas South Korea is now the eleventh largest trading nation in the world economy, with a great diversity of industrial exports, Ghana remains dependent on cocoa for most of its export earnings.”

The major difference is that South Korea actively encouraged entrepreneurship while Ghana embraced a protectionist policy.  To encourage entrepreneurship in India, Nandini believes that we need to:

  1. Forfeit the notion that becoming an entrepreneur is riskier than employment. Emphasise that your employer can fire you, and in today’s market scenario, you can be pink-slipped any time. You may be a diligent and hard working employee but market dynamics can cause you to lose your job. As an entrepreneur you can adopt risk-mitigating strategies, increasing your rate of success.
  2. Get our country’s business schools and engineering colleges to encourage entrepreneurship. They have to be mandated to set up incubators, where they bring industry people to mentor potential and aspiring entrepreneurs. They could also create a corpus to give them a starting capital, etc.
  3. Create awareness. Armed with knowledge about the perils, struggles, highs and fortunes, will help shed ignorant notions. The anxiety and insecurity associated with taking the first step will hence, disappear.

An Entrepreneurial Mindset
For economic prosperity and nation building it is critical and imperative to create an entrepreneurially-minded nation. “Is it possible to make every Indian think and behave like an entrepreneur even when he is working in an organisation? It is not important that he has to bring capital to the table to own the company, but can he have the mindset that I will take initiative, I will innovate, I will take ownership, understanding that if I don’t do well, the company doesn’t too? Can we create that kind of a culture (in our workplaces)?  Can we create an entrepreneurial mindset?

“The biggest failure you can have in life is not trying at all.” – Emil Motycka
Nandini’s exhortations are food for thought for those who have managed to find their satisfaction as employees in multinational companies with spectacular salaries, but who may have forfeited their passion to create something for themselves for the superficial security and benefits jobs bring.

Here are some lines from Dr. Kalam’s speech, inspiring one to take that plunge into becoming an entrepreneur:

“A nation’s economic development is powered by competitiveness. The competitiveness is powered by knowledge power. The knowledge power is powered by Technology and innovation. The Technology and innovation is powered by resource investment. The Resource investment is powered by revenue and return on Investment. The Revenue is powered by Volume and repeat sales through customer loyalty. The customer loyalty is powered by Quality and value of products. Quality and value of products is powered by Employee Productivity and innovation. The Employee Productivity is powered by Employee Loyalty, employee satisfaction and working environment. The Working Environment is powered by management stewardship. Management stewardship is powered by Creative leadership.”

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