Get started with gyaan
Startups are catching everyone’s imagination and the good news is that the ecosystem itself is growing
Have you ever wondered why the Silicon Valley is such a hotbed of entrepreneurship? The Bay Area probably attracts and generates more entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else. This fertile, inventive crucible of innovation and wealth creation has been churning out new ideas, creative products and multi-millionaires with equal ease, which is why its sylvan surroundings are dotted with the mansions of multiple millionaires overlooking fabulous bay views and emerald vineyards.
What is it about the ecosystem that fosters such an amazing variety of entrepreneurs? And more importantly, can it be replicated?
The coexistence of sharp schools like preppie Stanford and hippie Berkeley, bright young people with a high-risk appetite, existing startups headed by successful entrepreneurial role models and plenty of venture funds to go around form a natural ecosystem.
India’s more homogeneous entrepreneurial ecosystem may need to be more painstakingly seeded and stimulated to create, enable and fund successful startups consistently.
Some supportive organisations have long begun that job. The Indus Entrepreneurs has a mentoring programme for young entrepreneurs, while industry bodies such as CII and Nasscom have special initiatives (for example, the Emerge Forum). Government initiatives such as National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board and the National Innovation Foundation also provide support.
But just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a thriving ecosystem to grow the entrepreneurial spirit.
Successful Indian entrepreneurs themselves are beginning to realise this and are working towards growing their ecosystem, fostering entrepreneurship through access to information, networking, mentoring and funding. Over the next couple of columns, I plan to deconstruct the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem into three interlinked areas to highlight them.
I’ll begin with the knowledge space, getting gyaan, as one entrepreneur called it, which includes learning, networking, sharing of information, mentoring and coaching. In other words, the journey from the idea to the first prototype.
Non-profit organisations in the US like Seattle-based Start-up Weekend, Boston-based Mobile Mondays and the north California-based Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entreprenuers have been good role models. They have local chapters in Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities. Besides there are discussion forums, real and virtual, like Open Coffee Club, an informal, real-world “place for people who love startups to hang out and meet,” (in Bangalore and Pune), HeadStart Network, which organises Startup Saturdays on the second Saturday of every month across nine Indian cities and HasGeek, which organises events for geeks, has a wiki, a job board and a blog.
HeadStart Network aims to create and promote the innovation ecosystem. Apart from Startup Saturday, it also has an active online forum. Startup Saturday is among the rare, consistently “fixed” events entrepreneurs can access through the year that features talks, debates, demos, networking and learning, says Aditya Mishra, founder and director, Headstart.
However, the event that sounds most exciting is Startup Weekend, run by the non-profit by the same name. It describes itself as “a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities.” The event comes together in 120 cities straddling 35 countries over different weekends, with glocal entrepreneurs to share ideas, form teams and launch startups – all in 54 hours – making it one of the most high-energy and fun events with a serious purpose.
Its format is simple. Beginning with open-mic pitches on Friday, attendees bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing Lean startup methodologies that use free and open source software and ferocious customer-centric rapid iteration to reduce waste to build a minimal, viable product. On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive feedback from a panel of experts. It could be in the form of a competition — or not. The 54 hours are an intense experience in education, networking, co-founder dating and team building, as well as face time with thought-leaders in the final stages of pitching their products and ideas.
“It’s different from Startup Saturday, which is more about problem-solving, networking and getting informed. Startup Weekend evolves to the next level, the action or actual implementation phase, from formulating a business plan and revenue model to building teams to the front-end to a business, the prototype, the whole nine yards,” Pankaj Jain, who has been associated with both events told me from New York.
There’s also Mobile Mondays – a global community of wireless industry professionals, which began at a bar in Boston and arrived in Bangalore in 2006 – that aims to “increase the size and innovation of the local mobile industry by facilitating connections between companies and people. The MoMo community “includes hackers, entrepreneurs, mobile professionals, angel investors and VC firms and senior management of mobile companies,” says its website.
Catching them young is the National Entreprenuership Network that partners with academic institutes to help build an effective and a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem on campuses. Then, there is VCCircle.com, which sources news, information and data for the investment ecosystem and also organises networking conferences. Its online deal platform (http://www.vccedge.com/) covers India’s investment ecosystem offering information on mergers, acquisitions, private equity and venture capital transactions.
In the more formalised educational space are institutes like the Createnet Institute of Applied Management, which offers a year-long Owner Manager Programme on hands-on entrepreneurship, where participants learn collaboratively by applying, reflecting and sharing in a workshop format. If you thought coaching entrepreneurs was an oxymoron, you may want to attend a Thursday evening session of this experiential group learning programme..
I could go on — the gyaan space is growing every day. Next month I will focus on the action space — where these start-up czars apply their ideas and acquired knowledge, actually beginning the risk-taking stage of their entrepreneurial life. This is where all the business incubation labs will fit in. Keep reading.