As the Centre and the state governments back the idea of entrepreneurship over jobs, the Northeast has seen a boom in start-ups. Though the energy to start something new is commendable, especially amongst youngsters, the challenges are immense. The NE states are on the verge of developing a start-up ecosystem and have a long way to go before ensuring a full-fledged one.
Dr Sriparna Bhuyan Baruah, former Head of the Centre for Industrial Extension at the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), a development professional with more than 33 years of experience in Management Education and in Small and Medium Enterprise Development, makes certain important observations on the start-up ecosystem and the provides suggestions in an exclusive conversation with Business Northeast.
Q. How was your tenure in IIE?
Sriparna Baruah: I was in the entrepreneurship domain and we worked across the value chain from the grassroots level to micro-entrepreneurs and finally with the start-ups. Amongst all the experiences, one is understanding the problems which relate to the entire region. Because a lot of work has happened at the grassroots level and I was personally involved in those works, in terms of promoting clusters and other related issues. While looking at clusters, there is a link between what is happening on the ground to what a startup can do.
Suppose, when we look at a cluster, there is a problem with technology access, that cannot be solved by someone local. There could be people from the start-up space or from the MSME space who look at this problem as an opportunity for them.
Along with it, we had a very interesting experience two years back when we started a summit called the Northeast Regional Entrepreneurship and Startup Summit. It was a space where people could pitch their ideas. The good ones were also offered a grant. There were about 30 ideas which got a grant of Rs. 5 lakh each which helped to give a boost to their idea for further R&D.
Q. What is the common problem you have come across with Startups?
Sriparna Baruah: The biggest problem is that people just get the idea of doing a startup without any background research. Many would reach out to us just to ask what kind of business should they do. There are a lot of parameters to be seen while starting a business. How do you just point out any single business for anyone? We don’t have a bouquet of things and tell them that you can choose your desired business from here. So at that point guidance becomes important.
Second is that a lot of people will come up with ideas but they do not know how to validate their ideas.
Thirdly, people who have already started as micro-entrepreneurs do not know how to accelerate apart from a few of them who are already informed.
A last thing which I have found and is a problem even today is not keeping their papers and documents up to date. Many times micro-entrepreneurs don’t even know which bank account to open like why a current account is needed and why bank transactions are important for showing how much business you are doing. So proper awareness of documentation is really important.
Q. What suggestions would you like to give to the potential start-ups of Northeast India?
Sriparna Baruah: Although a lot of start-ups have come in, most have emerged in the same domain; something which has already been done. There is a crisis of fresh ideas. My suggestion to them would be to solve local problems instead of looking at something which has already been done and successful in big cities or tier I cities and they incorporate the same idea in tier II cities like the cities of the Northeast. This would lead to more sustainability and how they can scale the same from starting here.
Q. There is a lack of incubation for tech start-ups in the NE. Any suggestion?
Sriparna Baruah: Tech start-ups are incubated in the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and also in the Assam Start up-The Nest. The problem is that universities must have incubation centres but it is sad to say none of the universities or very few has come up with incubation centres. Now with the new education policy, it has become mandatory.
Philosophy says ideation innovation and entrepreneurship can never happen unless and until you have an incubation centre which is handholding people and mentoring people.
Most of the time, if you go to any university you will find that they have a dedicated room but not much activity in it, which is a problem. That is one reason why tech start-ups don’t have a space. It’s time that these institutions should look at starting their own incubation centres.
Another primary problem is that institutions do not have expert and dedicated faculty for teaching entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a vast topic and there should be teachers who should be fully dedicated towards this.