Starting-up? Focus on soft skills

By: |
March 1, 2021 4:45 AM

Soft skills such as customer-centricity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and flawless written and verbal communication provide a competitive edge to any upcoming entrepreneur

Ajay Kela, President & CEO, Wadhwani FoundationAjay Kela, President & CEO, Wadhwani Foundation

According to the recent TiE Delhi-NCR-Zinnov report ‘COVID-19 and the Antifragility of Indian Start-up Ecosystem’, 15% of start-ups have temporarily closed shop, 44% have a cash runway for less than six months, and 52% are struggling to raise funding. “The impact of the pandemic on entrepreneurship and the start-up ecosystem was harsh,” says Ajay Kela, president & CEO, Wadhwani Foundation. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that there was a positive side to the pandemic, i.e. many tenacious and creative entrepreneurs changed their approach, re-strategised, pivoted and survived, displaying remarkable resilience, innovation and perseverance. Excerpts:

The Wadhwani Foundation announced the Sahayata Initiative last year. How has it been able to support SMEs?

It has helped 1,000 SMEs in India and Mexico through business survival, growth and helped build their capabilities to leverage current opportunities in the marketplace. This support was led by the expansion of Wadhwani Foundation’s internal team to 60 business consultants and a 500-plus network of consultants and subject-matter experts, advisors and mentors.
Under the ‘Sahayata Covid-19 Skilling’ initiative, we have trained 1 lakh healthcare workers (including Asha and Anganwadi workers) with interactive videos, while under the ‘Sahayata Public Health Innovation’ we funded six early-stage companies that have the potential to make a large-scale impact in public healthcare infrastructure.

With the new world of work in 2021, which all areas should entrepreneurs focus on this year?

While the pandemic has dealt a debilitating blow to many sectors, it has also opened immense opportunities for others. Sectors like healthcare, logistics, e-commerce, fintech, agri and edtech are acknowledged as the ones that will ride the growth wave in the near term. Recent funding trends show that it goes beyond these to include HR-tech, cleantech, retail-tech, online gaming, automotive/mobility and cloud-based enterprise software.

How important is skilling to succeed as an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurship, by its very nature, faces uphill challenges, uncertainty and an ever-changing work and market environment. While the unwavering entrepreneurial spirit defines any start-up journey, it is some of the acquired softer skills, such as customer-centricity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and flawless written and verbal communication, which can provide any upcoming entrepreneur with a competitive edge.

Have you actively empowered students to create start-ups?

We inspire, educate and support entrepreneurs at various stages of their journey. For example the Wadhwani National Entrepreneur Network (NEN) runs a one-year practitioner’s course on entrepreneurship for professionals and master’s and graduating students. Under this we have trained over 3,000 entrepreneurship faculty and over 10 lakh students over the last 10-15 years. We also have the Wadhwani Venture Fastrack that drives start-up success, measured in terms of revenue and customer growth.

With companies shifting outside China, does this present an opportunity to Indian students who can think big and think differently, and maybe launch new start-ups?

With China’s increasing isolation in world trade and global supply chains getting restructured, many companies across Europe and US are now aggressively looking at India as an alternative supply hub to China. The ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar’ thrust by the Indian government is accelerating this trend of de-risking from China. Indian entrepreneurs who capitalise on this opportunity by addressing product gaps and build capabilities to scale production have a big opportunity here.

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