India’s huge population that was once perceived as an albatross has emerged as the biggest strength. But the demographic dividends would accrue only when the overwhelmingly young population, providing the rich human capital is empowered and cultivated properly. India has historically been a land of entrepreneurs. However, in the post-independence period, with the government taking control, laws became opaque and difficult to comply with. Business was looked at with suspicion and profit became a bad word. The year 1991 was a turning point for the Indian economy, the Government became more entrepreneur-friendly and many companies grew both in terms of revenue and market capitalization.
However, there were three missing things: love for entrepreneurship was not on a large scale; risk capital was scarce and the first generation entrepreneurs were not solving India’s problems but solving problems for the western world.
India needs entrepreneurs for two reasons: one is to capitalize on the new opportunities and the second is to create wealth and new jobs. In the next ten years, 110-130 million Indian citizens will be searching for jobs and this will include 80-100 millions looking for their first jobs. This does not include disguised unemployment of over 50% among the 230 million employed in the rural areas.
The point here is that there is a strong need for entrepreneurs and startups. There are huge gaps and demand to be filled which crop up regularly. Often one particular offering gives rise to ten other gaps to be met. For example, the telecom industry gave rise to mobile phones which led to the need for mobile apps, content, security software, data storage and technology to share mobile content over the internet. There isn’t a lack of ideas or entrepreneurial zeal in individuals but the challenge remains in making them marketable and execute with precision. The present generation is better educated and more eager to start on their own rather than join other companies. The rapid rise in students from premier institutes favouring starting up their own ventures poses a promising future for entrepreneurship in India.
Since the last decade, visible changes can be seen in the ecosystem. The seed funding and venture funding ecosystem has taken shape and funding became a big possibility for young and bright individuals who embraced the entrepreneurial journey. Talents from best engineering and business schools started aspiring to join startups. A growing number of government and academic institutions are also launching incubators and accelerators and for Indian entrepreneurs, there has never been a better time. The Government’s ambitious Startup India initiative, Atal Innovation Mission, has been a game changer. Today we find entrepreneurs from Tier II, Tier III cities in India coming up with more scalable/ investable opportunities. A ripple effect has been created, there is maturity amongst the entrepreneurs and their aspiration has grown and momentum has caught on.
Compared to the rest of India, we find that the level of startups in Northeast India is much lower. There are a number of factors that influence entrepreneurship and lead to startups. Along with the major bottlenecks and barriers to entrepreneurship, like knowhow, finance, administrative burden and social security, the cultural and social factors also have an influence on the mindset of the people. The perception of family towards entrepreneurship plays a major role in starting an enterprise. Both through experience as well as validation through a number of action research, it is seen that in this region, until recently, becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t often the first choice for youths and mostly students who were average in studies and who could not find a job looked at entrepreneurship as a career option. Few professionals who initiated the process of starting on their own often did not get the support from the ecosystem.
The evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Northeast India along with government support through various schemes and programmes for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs and increasing role educational institutions and incubation centres have started creating an impact in enterprise creation. What is needed is more and more entrepreneurs who are willing to take a risk, capitalize on the opportunities and overcome the fear of failure.
Until recently, the youth of NE India were mainly confined to a job-seeking mindset. However, the past two-three years have witnessed the onset of a paradigm shift in the mindset of the people in the region. Youths have come up with innovative solutions for local problems. While the NE may not have tech innovators, our uniqueness lies in our unique challenges and the unique society-centric innovations to deal with the challenges. Entrepreneurs like Tage Rita, who brews the first variety of kiwi wine, started their enterprise to find a market for the abundantly grown kiwi of Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, Khasi entrepreneur Bestarly Marwain’s aromatic plantations are inspired from his intent to restore green coverage in the mining wastelands of Meghalaya. Entrepreneurs like them while addressing the core local issues are innovating products and services that can meet global demands. NE India needs more such social entrepreneurs. Today the NE has startups in sectors like IT, education, tourism, food sector, hospitality sector, etc., which are becoming role models for the youth.
The Northeast has all the right conditions for entrepreneurial growth, supported by a combination of changing demographics and economic trends. The region is experiencing urbanization and the rise of migration of young people from rural areas to the cities. From a consumer point of view, this creates a young, middle class demographic with increasing spending power and heightened interest in digital innovation. From a business perspective, this is also an appealing source of talent for the workforce. If Northeast India can continue to develop its urban centres and promote a spirit of entrepreneurship, it could truly be the hub of trade with south east Asian countries.