The best definition of an entrepreneur that I have found is from Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” That opportunity can be anything, from selling parakeets to airline seats.
Richard Branson exemplifies that definition better than anyone. Branson, famously known for the Virgin Group of companies, started his entrepreneurial journey with a couple of early ventures, failed ones at that, of growing Christmas trees and raising pet parakeets. Branson went on to selling music records via mail order, bought a gay night club in London, tried selling vodka, and eventually built a business empire covering a wide assortment of businesses, including music, media, telecom, airlines and space exploration.
The Silicon Valley also is quite inspiring to me as an entrepreneur. The rags to overnight riches stories of Silicon Valley are difficult to ignore. There’s Brian Acton, who was turned down for a job by Facebook in the summer of 2009. He went on to create WhatsApp and sell it to Facebook for a whopping $19 billion. Then there’s David Karp, who dropped out of high school but ended up selling his venture Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. Also Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has unquestionably become the poster child for entrepreneurial success across the world.
The stories of newly minted overnight billionaires from Silicon Valley, while certainly inspiring, limits the nuances of entrepreneurship. A misconception that entrepreneurship means new technologies or that one needs to be a techie to be an entrepreneur. Or that venture capital funding is an important milestone to be a successful entrepreneur. Or that a new business should be massively scalable to be relevant or successful.
Why is this important? It is important because such misconceptions results in setting unfair expectations in the minds of young entrepreneurs. It also results in bad policies by the government. It ignores the importance of the millions of small and medium businesses, even though they are the ones creating a majority of employment opportunities in most countries.
At the Wadhwani Foundation’s National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), the last 12 years have been spent equipping India’s top educational institutions in teaching entrepreneurship to young students and encouraging them to aspire to start companies, technology related or otherwise. We now are broadening our scope and plan to expand our offerings to a much wider audience of entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in India in the coming years. There is an urgent need to focus on these millions of SMEs that are creating employment opportunities. By 2022, we will see 250 million joining the workforce and its imperative that we create the job opportunities for them.
Small and growing businesses are the lynchpins of job creation and revenue generation in any economy. However, most developing economies have large numbers of micro and small enterprises who have difficulty in advancing. Apart from a conducive policy and funding environment, founders of such enterprises need help to develop a growth oriented mindset, entrepreneurial skills and knowledge to build, sustain and advance their businesses.
At NEN, we will soon be offering a nationwide network of mentoring and support services to focus on these SMEs. We also plan to launch a digital marketplace for helping entrepreneurs and small and medium businesses in India to easily create, grow and sustain their start-ups. We will also enable local meet-ups to encourage entrepreneurs and business owners to come together locally and share experiences and help each other.
We’ll do this by leveraging the success we’ve already gained in building effective and impactful campus training programmes and hands-on experiential entrepreneurship-cells at hundreds of colleges in India. The vibrant campus companies that our young student entrepreneurs have created is an attestation to this.
We have always encouraged and celebrated entrepreneurs, in every shape and form. Take the example of Innovese Technologies, founded by BITS Pilani students, whose technology allowed the insertion of advertisements in captchas (those online input challenges that make sure you are not a bot) got acquired by Networkplay, a division of German firm Gruner+Jahr.
“When you are a 22-year-old student entrepreneur, pitching to a chief executive of a Rs.50-crore company, it’s not just academic background that matters. You have to show other ways of reliability, and NEN gave the credibility for the first venture we had on our plate,” said Ankit Gupta, founder, Innovese Technologies. Also Shashank N.D., founder of Practo Technologies, and a graduate from NIT Surathkal, reminisced, “NEN’s Sameer Kanth introduced us to Morpheus. This introduction was a game changer. With incubation, our idea cemented, execution improved and money trickled in.”
As many as 64,000 students from over 450 NEN member campuses actively participate in entrepreneurship activities. Over 2,000 faculty members have been trained in entrepreneurship support and mentor these aspiring student entrepreneurs.
At NEN, we’re excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for the entrepreneurs in India. If you ever wanted to be an entrepreneur, there is no better time than now. 2014 has been especially remarkable. Entrepreneurship has been transformed from a dirty word into one of the most sought after careers in India.
Whether you aspire to create the next Facebook or a business empire like the Virgin Group, there’s one thing you can learn from both Richard Branson and Silicon Valley—that the true purpose of a business is not simply to make money but to make a positive change in people’s lives