India needs a national policy for entrepreneurship

Creating the infrastructure to provide funding and scalability for local startups will provide a boost for the domestic IT scene in terms of jobs created and revenue, but too much structure could stifle innovation.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

NEW DELHI--Establishing a national policy for entrepreneurship that would address issues such as access to capital, scalability and government involvement in targeted tech segments will be key in sparking further innovation and creating more jobs domestically.

Saurabh Srivastava, chairman emeritus of The Indus Entrepreneurs' (TiE) Delhi chapter, reiterated the need for having a national policy for entrepreneurship in place as it could potentially unlock 30 million to 40 million jobs and generate revenues of over INR 200 billion (US$3.8 billion). He was speaking during the TiEcon Delhi conference held here over the weekend.

His call comes on the heels of the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) coming up with a draft copy of the National Entrepreneurship Policy in July this year. The draft was prepared following consultations with some 100 stakeholders, including academics, industrialists and startup incubators.

Arun Maira, a member of the Planning Commission in the India government, highlighted the importance for such a policy, saying having innovative ideas is the first step but these need to be followed closely by support, particularly financially.

"The other key aspect is scaling up. We don't collaborate very well with each other, we get too stuck on our ideologies and, very often, don't see eye to eye. That gets in the way of scaling up [the business]," Maira noted during the conference.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, who is also a member of the National Innovation Council, also cautioned against too much structure set in place by government policies as it might stifle entrepreneurial instincts.

"We are slaves to keywords such as innovation, capital structures and scalability. A dream is not a structure. So an entrepreneur spends his time fighting his way through the structure," Kapur explained.

Talk to customers
Beyond having the proper support infrastructure in place via policies and funding options, interacting with customers on a daily basis is key for local entrepreneurs to foster innovation, said John Flannery, president and CEO of GE India.

"Start with the customer and work backward from what he wants. GE has always strived to do that," he said during the conference.

Additionally, Flannery believes innovation is not just critical for startups but it also applies to large enterprises too. "It's very easy for us in large enterprises to believe what others say about us and get comfortable being the leaders, but we need to be paranoid," he stated.

One example of listening to the customer is offering ultrasound machines to India's obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYN) in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. He said the long weekends spent listening to these doctors on the problems they faced, such as the lack of reliable power, little technical expertise and maintenance issues resulted in GE coming up with a product that costs less than a quarter of other top-end models.

Flannery said the company plans to introduce this machine to African and Latin American markets soon.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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