I’ve been in New Delhi for almost a year and a half now. Though it’s been difficult getting things going, I’ve been fortunate to meet some really interesting entrepreneurs, all at various stages of the business life cycle. A few of us have even formed a group where we meet every two weeks to discuss various issues that we’re facing in each of our businesses. Though this is a small, private group, many other groups and events are beginning to take place in cities like New Delhi that can help foster the startup mindset.
Building an ecosystem, for anything, is never easy. Building a tech startup ecosystem in India, is twice as difficult as it might be as compared to a city like NYC.
What goes into building a startup ecosystem?
- Drive and Passion
- Mentorship and Guidance
- Free Sharing of Ideas and Community Guidance
Drive and Passion
The first thing and, in my opinion, the most important thing is the drive and will to take a chance and bring about a major change.
There’s a great deal of energy building in India around the idea of starting a company. Folks right out of college are beginning to consider working for a startup or even having a go at their own startup. Unfortunately, these folks are still the exception to the rule. They are a very very small minority of graduates, but it’s nice to see that students are even considering startups as an option.
These recent graduates provide an energy, drive and risk taking capacity that is missing in those that have been institutionalized (been at cushy jobs longer than they should). However, they lack the experience in building and running a business that’s necessary.
Mentorship and Guidance
The second thing that is critical to an ecosystem is mentorship.
In places like Silicon Valley, there are hundreds, if not thousands of experienced entrepreneurs who are willing and able to provide guidance to the next generation of budding entrepreneurs.
In India, the land of small business, it’s much harder to find effective mentors that have the experience building and running a startup – especially tech startups. In all of India, there are probably a few dozen entrepreneurs that have built, run, and in some cases, sucessfully exited the startups they founded or began their careers at. Fortunately, these 1st generation tech startup junkies have began “giving back” by advising/mentoring, and in some cases, providing seed capital to the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.
Many 1st generation entrepreneurs have formed angel groups, venture capital funds, Y-Combinator style incubators, and most importantly, these 1st gen tech entrepreneurs are active in local events such as BarCamps (though not in all cases approachable). Organizations like TiE are also heavily involved in providing mentors to budding entrepreneurs. However, from what I’ve heard, the results of the mentorship have been mixed. Nonetheless, this component of building an entrpreneurial ecosystem is gaining momentum and it’s growing.
Free Sharing of Ideas and Community Guidance
The third item that I feel is critical to an entrepreneurial ecosystem is the free sharing of knowledge and ideas which helps to bring about community-based mentorship.
I have found people in India to be very open to sharing knowledge and ideas. Events like BarCamps, OSSCamps, OCC (Open Coffee Club), etc. are all examples of people taking the initiative to meet with other like minded individuals to discuss their businesses, talk about technology, legal affairs, share resources, etc. Newcomers and strangers are welcome with typical Indian hospitality. Most of the people I have met through some of these events were quite open and friendly about their businesses. They have also been invaluable advisors and full of resources.
Many times, talking to a mentor about hiring issues could be helpful but other times, the mentor could be out of touch with issues like compensation packages, finding office space, finding the right recruiter, working with the right vendors or knowing what technical skill set would be required for a specific job. In cases like this, sharing your needs with the community can be extremely beneficial. People in the community have, most likely, gone through and dealt with similar issues or dealing with them at the same time you are. They can easily share how they overcame the hurdle in front of them and give you an angle of attack that you may have overlooked or put you in touch with a great resource to help you move forward. Couple this with advice from your mentor and you could have a resource equivalent to an informal board of advisors.
There’s still a long way before India can come anywhere close to Silicon Valley in terms of it’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. However, changes are happening at a rapid pace. The economic boom of the last four years in India is fueling more ambition and passion than ever before. I believe the next five years will be an exciting time in the Indian technology industry with true innovation beginning to take place here, in India.