Incubating more and more new startups need of hour
While rewarding successes is a fair idea, but it is not structurally empowering and is often reduced to a stunt for publicity
The stellar performance of Indian athletes at Tokyo Olympics has been followed by proclamation of rewards - Neeraj Chopra, who clinched the gold medal at javelin throw has been promised a reward of Rs 6 crore and a class I category job by the Haryana State government among other such prizes from governments and brands alike. While these are heartening developments, it is also true that India needs to invest more in sports and encouraging and training athletes and these exceptional financial rewards come after accomplishment, instead of being distributed among athletes in the beginnings of their journeys. The same trend is observed in the startup world too - entities emerge to offer capital after a startup becomes famous but the same generosity is not seen when a startup needs money in its formative years to bring worthy products in the market.
The most remarkable success stories in the entrepreneurial world include companies with little to no capital as they began. GoPro, which develops and manufactures small, body-worn cameras that record the user's experiences might today be a multi-billion dollar enterprise, but the founder Nick Woodman raised $10,000 dollars in bootstrapped cash to begin. The money was raised from selling bead and shell belts out of his VW van; he moved back in with his parents at age 26 and worked many long hours to develop his product, doing all sorts of work, from emailing to truck driving - so that he could design his product, which he did by hand because he didn't have enough computer design experience to do so electronically. While the success story of GoPro is exemplary, an idea like this could have soared with less difficulty with enough capital to kickstart.
Therefore, while rewarding successes is a fair idea, it is not structurally empowering and is often reduced to a stunt for publicity. Investing millions in a successful startup is a status-quo thing which keeps hierarchies intact and emerging innovators struggling, but using the same money to incubate promising endeavours is what can make a difference. While the former is relatively easy, the second one takes years of incubation, infrastructure building, mentoring and coaching coupled with patience and the drive towards a sustainable output. It is the latter indeed which can tremendously transform opportunities for emerging startups and the cultural shift we need is about moving from 'riding the wave of success' to 'incubating the successful trend.'
This goes beyond the scope of venture capital and angel investment, but the larger idea of incubation itself. India, as a burgeoning startup ecosystem needs a push in the direction of ubiquitous incubators, fostering substantial networks for mentoring and infrastructure to support emerging businesses. While India has emerged as the world's third largest startup ecosystem, with 50 firms being valued at over $1 billion, or 'unicorns', we cannot rely on sheer entrepreneurial acumen and worthy struggles of individuals to create enormous successes. Like athletes, entrepreneurs deserve their share of mentoring, training, acknowledgement and incentives and that can inevitably catalyse accomplishment. This can be done through startup incubation and institutional support.
Incubation is undoubtedly necessary and merits resources and funds. WE-Hub, the country's only startup incubator for women entrepreneurs, has engaged 3,427 women entrepreneurs. Among the many it has helped, Kotla Jayamma's story is pertinent to demonstrate what incubating can do. Jayamma established her business in manufacturing cold pressed oils with Arogya Dayini and eventually approached WE-HUB to formalise her production process and receive assistance in business development and strategy - within six months, she increased her production capacity, generating a profit of close to Rs 1 lakh per annum. Without the mentorship and support offered to her, the same journey could have been a lot more strenuous to undertake.
On the other hand, to construct a scenario where emerging businesses flourish, governments must increase scope for finance, promote cooperation between researchers and entrepreneurs, reduce the regulatory burden on entrepreneurs through immediate grant of permits and enable entrepreneurs access national and international networks. This would require strong policy measures and infrastructural development which create an environment for seamless business activity.
Above all, like sports, the startup world needs a community that supports its members from their humble beginnings to their enormous achievements. This community can include innovators, incubators, funders, government and non-government actors and can be cemented through startup support and institutional commitments to the growth of businesses. Thus, we must depart from the jaded performance of rewarding triumph but invest in long-term strategies that create victories. To incubate is to birth an exemplar of how a community contributes to individual successes and that is precisely necessary for a future of greater glory.
(The author is Founder Upsurge Global and President SAHE (Society for Advancement of Human Endeavour)