Unleashing new Entrepreneurs is India’s top job

The first 53 banks that Veena Kumaravel approached for a loan to expand her three Chennai, India, beauty salons said no.

The 54th said yes.

Today, a little more than a decade later, the Naturals chain that Kumaravel and her husband started has 600 salons across India. Women entrepreneurs own 350 franchises.

All those rejections “didn’t stop us. We were very keen on pursuing our dream,” Kumaravel told a forum at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai. The forum was on the role mentors can play in encouraging women to start and grow businesses.

It was one of the events the U.S. and Indian governments staged to build excitement for the November 28–30 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India, which will draw 1,500 budding entrepreneurs, angel investors, and business and government leaders. The National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) even held pitch competitions with “golden tickets” awarded to the winners.

Fighting poverty with entrepreneurship

With 22 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people living in poverty, the government wants to spur the launch of private enterprises that offer new approaches to meeting the country’s health care, energy, agriculture and other needs while allowing millions to bootstrap themselves into the burgeoning middle class.

Women — breadwinners for many families but underrepresented among business owners — are drawing extra attention, as reflected in the summit theme of “Women First, Prosperity for All.”

On tap for delegates in Hyderabad are dozens of talks and workshops on topics from low-cost farm and health-care innovations to the business side of Bollywood. There’s even a master class on how entrepreneurs can learn from their flops.

 

Tech startups point the way

Cities such as Bangalore, birthplace of Infosys, Wipro and other tech giants, already boast robust networks and support systems for startups.

Indian-American entrepreneurs who helped build Silicon Valley often reach back to serve as mentors and sometimes investors for India’s emerging entrepreneurs, says Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna. “The connection is tight. The diaspora plays a role in providing capital, know-how and mentoring.”

Khanna chaired a 2015 NITI Aayog panel that produced recommendations on ways the government could boost entrepreneurship and innovation. They included education-system reforms, prize competitions, business red-tape reductions and strengthening intellectual property rights. The panel also noted that women find it harder to get capital to grow their small businesses.

“India has a long way to go,” says Khanna. “We have exciting pockets of entrepreneurship that look like the Boston area or Silicon Valley, but also areas of abject poverty.”

Getting sound advice from mentors

Thara Jayan, founder of Ganya Agro Products, which makes eco-friendly cooking oils, told the Chennai workshop that when she broke into the male-dominated food industry, people “didn’t take me seriously.” She learned the art of negotiation from two mentors, one Indian and the other American, who “taught us every concept in the business world.”

Kumaravel said budding entrepreneurs “start with a lot of passion,” but their confidence ebbs if they can’t attract capital. “That’s when you need to start looking for a mentor.”