Indian startups have captured global attention, attracted venture capital and achieved notable success in recent years. Such an effort if replicated at scale for underprivileged sections of society can have a catalytical impact on job generation in the country. While new entrepreneurship requires a supportive environment for finance and facilitative administrative procedures, creating large-scale entrepreneurship across the country additionally necessitates special measures for addressing capacity gaps among prospective entrepreneurs. Mentorship and effective links with financial institutions can play a key role in this endeavour.
Lacking sufficient employment opportunities, India’s youth are turning to small and micro enterprises for livelihood. According to the Sixth Economic Census conducted in 2013-14, there were about 58 million establishments in the country, employing some 130 million workers. Manufacturing, retail trade and livestock farming were the top three activities as per the Census. In addition, the shared economy fostered through online and telecom platforms too creates new opportunities for small and tiny businesses to generate rising income opportunities.
In the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), we have seen instructive examples of the impact that mentors can have on entrepreneurs from weaker sections of the society. Starting in 1992, BYST has helped establish 5,500 entrepreneurs through mentorship, creating about 2.5 lakh jobs. Tusshar Munoat from a poor farmer family of Maharashtra was identified as a potential entrepreneur, in one instance, and linked with a mentor who helped him to obtain finance for applying for government tenders in road construction. Munoat had maintained good accounting records and followed practices such as stock movement registers which made it easier to get the loan. With strict control on raw material quality and adherence to contractual conditions, he built lasting roads, providing employment to over 1,000 people from neighboring villages.
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Helping such young entrepreneurs convert their ideas into viable business enterprises under the guidance of mentors who double up as incubators for their new ventures can enable these job seekers become job creators. The new entrepreneurs need complete support and training, inspiration and networking and must be nurtured until they reach a level where they are not only self-sufficient, but in turn are able to do their bit for society by creating wealth and employment.
Mentors, too, should be selected carefully and trained with certification. Under the BYST program, each enterprise is assigned an individual mentor who provides personalised advice, tracks business growth and helps solve problems. Counselling and mentoring is needed right from product identification to scaling up and long-term growth.
Another example is of Bhaskar Tamuli from Assam, who wished to set up an enterprise to revive the traditional craft of bell metal. Lacking information on how to set up an enterprise, he needed counselling, training, and support to prepare the project report, and follow up with the financing bank. The designated mentor was able to work with Tamuli to obtain a loan and go on to maintain proper accounts, improve product design, link with markets lineage, manage employees, and conduct other essential business processes. This can have a cascading impact as well. Tamuli further encouraged 300 other persons to set up business, and is now considering exports. He has also ventured into training of local workers and has become a mentor himself.
Such handholding of entrepreneurs who lack the necessary knowledge is particularly important to encourage women entrepreneurship. Women face additional societal norms and family pressures which hinder their venturing into business. However, the micro-finance movement has demonstrated that they can be effective income-earners, given the right support.
Shanmugadevi Lakshmana Perumal conquered all odds to set up Swasti Support Services Pvt Ltd, which provides integrated facilities management services to corporates, IT Parks, hotels, etc. BYST helped in securing a loan from the Bharatiya Mahila Bank, Chennai. After the Chennai floods devastated her enterprise, more mentoring enabled her to stand on her feet again by launching a new brand logo, website and marketing collateral for ‘Vivikura’. Another inspirational example is of Archana Parmathayalan who started a catering enterprise providing food for boys living in hostels.Her mentor helped her streamline the processes, improve efficiency, maintain financial records, and undertake financial forecasting, even obtaining ISO certification in the process.
We have found that the mentors too derive high personal satisfaction in voluntarily assisting entrepreneurs in building new livelihood opportunities. The mentors tend to remain in the program and take several new enterprises to successful maturity without expectation of returns. BYST has a cadre of over 4,500 mentors who devote time, energy and expertise to ensure success for entrepreneurs from weaker sections of society.
Under the Government’s MUDRA Yojana, Startup India and other programs, entrepreneurship creation is receiving the same policy attention as job generation. However, the lack of formal training and absence of information on how to set up a business hampers this effort. With a mass mentoring movement and spread of incubation to rural India, we could see a flowering of entrepreneurship at all levels.
The author is founding trustee and executive vice president, Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST).
Views are personal