Seeding entrepreneurs

The onus to usher in smooth functioning rests with all the news report of the second generation of Indian immigrants in Silicon valley, emerging as the most promising groups of tech founders in the US, is undoubtedly a matter of pride for Indians across the world. And it is also worth tom-tombing about and indulging in some chest thumping. Not just because they are Indians, but whose earlier genre had also seen many entrepreneurs building global class ventures.

The point is not about the success of the new breed but rather the issues behind their success. What is it that makes these young Indians shun the fancy jobs offered by MNCs and other firms and take the bold step to brave it out on their own? In India, our mindset of success is still antiquated. Stable jobs, pref­erably in government offices, public sector banks or private institutions, is what makes prospective mothers-in-law happy. The entire education system and higher learning seem to be done with a singular aim of improv­ing better job prospects and nothing more. The smog enveloping business ventures is such that people tend to eye a business­man with suspicion. If he is successful, the general perception is that he must have done something wrong, greased palms of bureaucrats or got patronage from the min­isters. Legacy of corruption is something so entwined with business that it becomes dif­ficult to break the shackles around the mind. We are unable to accept a view that the foundations of a successfully run enterprise need not necessarily be built on corruption and sleaze.

Instead of merely mouthing platitudes about improving the ease of doing busi­ness at every available public fora, in India and overseas, Narendra Modi and his team need to do a fair amount of introspection on building an environment conducive to fostering entrepreneurship. The labyrinth of antiquated laws and rules are enough to deter budding entrepreneurs. The few brave hearts who do venture out often retreat in the face of legal jams. Local officials starting from the zilla parishad onwards and going right up to the service tax collectors, profes­sion tax, establishment tax, excise and right up to the tax officials seem to have a sole
aim on how to penalise the entrepreneur who make even a marginal slip, knowingly or unknowingly.

One may well argue that it is not just a suitable environment that leads to mush­rooming of entrepreneurs. The youngsters in the US, earlier known as the land of the brave and adventurous, may not really have to bother about where they would be getting the next meal from. Having worked their way all through the college, doing part time jobs, be they in hotels or stores, there is no inhibi­tions about doing or not doing physical work. There is no social stigma of any kind attached to labour. Is it the early upbringing in a free society that encourages entrepreneurship? One cannot lament that US-born Indians are probably smarter than others. The genes are, after all, from the same stock and, hopefully, not genetically modified. Even if, for argu­ment’s sake, one does concede that the US- born Indians are smarter and more business savvy than their poor cousins in India, the litmus test will be to see if those US-based Indians can set up their enterprise in India or vice-versa? While Indians may probably do well in the US, the other hypothesis of US Indians flirting with success here may not be true.

The government may well extol students to don the hats of entrepreneurs and make back-of-the-envelope calculations about how each enterprise can generate jobs to ensure a steady stream of placement for students coming out from the education factories seeded across the countries. But it requires a lot more to usher in a favourable environ­ment, where entrepreneurs can thrive. Sen­sitising officials is but just one of the several initiatives needed to be taken.

Of course, the Indian society also has to play its part by democratising entrepreneur- ship, instead of merely goading students to do well in the education factories. The reali­sation that all ideas do not necessarily turn to enterprises and all enterprises do not become the Microsoft or Google of the world also has to be imprinted in the minds of the would-be parent. The culture to celebrate failures also has to be ushered in, if serial entrepreneurs are to be encouraged. But that is something for debate at a later date.        ♦