Trade and enterprise were the hallmarks of the British empire; they fueled their voyages and shaped their political and economic destinies.

It was no different with India – her traders travelled the seven seas, establishing ties with far-flung lands. From about the end of the 1st millennium BCE to the beginning of British rule, the subcontinent was one of the largest economies in the world. By the 17th century, it had become one of the largest manufacturing powers as well, producing about a quarter of global GDP. The multi-hued India that we know today owes much of its diversity to the entrepreneurial spirit of our forefathers. To fan that entrepreneurial spirit is to put the nation back on track to fulfil its tryst with destiny.

How does one define entrepreneurial spirit? Who is an entrepreneur?

I like to think of modern-day entrepreneurs as pioneers determined to stake a claim in new frontiers. In the new world, an entrepreneur is the pioneer of a new idea–product, service or process – that can open new frontiers for society. They are the thinkers and the dreamers who set out with little more than their wit, conviction and the zeal to succeed.

India has enough and more in terms of entrepreneurial potential–a young and intelligent population keen to take on the world, a historical association with entrepreneurship and a culture of problem- solving. The task at hand for all of us is to create an environment that encourages and rewards more and more people to walk the path less trodden.

How do we do that?

There is no one way. Different stakeholders have different roles to play. Schools, families, governments, civil society can contribute in different ways to mainstream the entrepreneurial culture. The most important role, however, needs to be played by the industry itself.

We live in a world of global businesses and brands–these are huge corporations that run on autopilot with efficient processes. However, these are turbulent times, with business paradigms changing by the day. Big businesses need to innovate rapidly in order to stay relevant, but find it hard to do so because of their size and operations. This is where entrepreneurs, such as those running start-ups, can play a very important role. They can be an important resource for big businesses scouting for innovative ideas revolving around products, processes and services. Similarly, corporates can be an important constituency for start-ups, especially in funding and mentorship; corporations can become customers to start-ups as well as marketing channels for start-ups.

It is strategic to connect the two in a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties. The CII Centre of Excellence for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Start-ups (CII-CIES) works towards this end. It seeks to increase the odds of entrepreneurial success in India by helping corporates and start-ups engage with each other better.

CII-CIES is designing curated programmes for corporates to play the roles of accelerators for start-ups in their sectors. The Centre is also building its capacity to identify, evaluate and invest in start-ups whose innovations most resonate with that of the corporate. In parallel, CII CIES programmes use the cohort approach to work with start-ups across different sectors and build their capacity to emerge as robust enterprises in their own right.

I would like to add that CII-CIES is probably unlike any other Centre of Excellence in the space in that it is Industry-led and both geography and sector agnostic. It uses CII’s vast network to reach start-ups in the most distant parts of India and leverages the CII membership to build the capacity of start-ups. Strengthening start-ups invariably strengthens India Inc.

The Centre is being supported by the Government of Telangana and Prateeksha Trust. It shall soon launch the first cohort for start-ups in smart manufacturing and digital commerce. With time as the programme portfolio grows, I hope so does the perception change to the land of unicorns.

The article by Kris Gopalakrishnan, Past President, CII & Chairman, CIES Advisory Council and Chairman, Axilor Ventures, first appeared in the October 2021 issue of CII Policy Watch. Click here to read.

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