Harsh Mariwala of Marico is on the hunt for entrepreneurs who have the potential to scale up, and are ready to mingle. Through his Ascent Foundation, Mariwala has created a platform for growth-stage entrepreneurs to meet and share their experiences. Ascent will foot the bill for such meetings and connect the participants to the right sources for guidance and support.
Ascent is a Personal Social Responsibility initiative of Mariwala. “It’s my way of giving back to the society”, Mariwala told FE in an exclusive interaction.
Started two years back, Ascent—short for Accelerating the SCaling up of ENTerprises—has enrolled 280 members in Mumbai and its neighbouring cities. Delhi is Ascent’s next destination, followed by Bengaluru and other big cities. Mariwala is keen to have at least 1,000 members in the network in the next two years, though the goal is to have eventually 10,000-plus members to make a visible impact on India's business landscape.
But getting the right members is not an easy task. To qualify, a shortlisted candidate has to make a presentation to the judging panel about his/her business and its potential, which will be rated through group interactions and peer review. Selected members are then organised into ‘trust-groups’ of 8-12 non-competing entrepreneurs. A group usually has members from diverse industries who are similar in size (revenue) and growth stage.
“There is a lot of buzz and word-of- mouth happening about Ascent. But the biggest challenge is in getting the right quality entrepreneurs. The rest we can manage...A candidate should be willing to spare 9-10 hours a month and wanting to give back to others. That's why 80-90% attendance is mandatory to remain in the group”, says Mariwala.
Each trust-group is initiated for the first four months by an Initiator—a facilitation expert or a trained Ascent facilitator. From each group, two members are identified by the Initiator as potential ‘facilitators’ and trained in the art of facilitation. The group will later be introduced to Enablers—who are usually investors, bankers, service providers, and consultants—to help enterprises scale up.
This way Ascent creates an eco-system where entrepreneurs can learn from each other in a confidential environment and get support from the right Enablers.
“Every entrepreneur has a set of issues to deal with—like finance, growth, people, or talent—and each has a vision. If they can be put together in a group, they can together add value, and benefit from each other in scaling up.”
Mariwala says his company Marico has nothing to do with Ascent, and he expects nothing back from this personal initiative, which does not even charge a joining fee. “This is not started with the intention of getting something back.” As someone who has undergone the rigours of scaling up, Mariwala wants to lend a helping hand to entrepreneurs. In the process, if he gets to know of some extremely promising enterprises, maybe, he can expand the relationship. “We are not aware of what’s going in a group. But they get a lot of benefits”, Mariwala asserts.
Before Ascent, Mariwala tried to help budding women entrepreneurs. But it didn’t last long. “I realised that each new entrepreneur has a different set of issues to be handled. And no cross-learning was possible as most are inexperienced. The purpose was to make an impact in terms of numbers. Then I thought of scaling up (enterprises). The advantage with a scaling up group is that most are experienced for five-to-ten years and able to help others”, says Mariwala who has turned a small-time edible oil business into a close to R5,000-crore-revenue, home-grown multinational company in 40 years.
The biggest challenge in scaling up, Mariwala says, is of people. “How do you attract good talent, retain talent, reward them, how manage teams; a whole host of issues come up when you start growing up. How you trust, how you delegate, what leadership style will work...Then a second set of issues comes up; how do you raise finances. Then, how do you differentiate the business model, how do you control costs..”
Trust-groups can come up with solutions to some of these issues. Mariwala admits he too faces a people problem. “Every entrepreneur faces it. I don’t call it a problem. It is a challenge to get the right people...There is a talent shortage in the country. People are realising that good talent makes a big difference.”
What is his advice to budding entrepreneurs? “My advice is that you decide where you have a right to win. Don’t do something because somebody else is doing it. You have to identify your strength and leverage that. See the opportunities in the market. And have a growth mindset. Growth is like oxygen, it excites all stakeholders.”
Ready for some oxygen?