Last year, Jeet Walia (name changed), a computer engineer from IIT Delhi, refused an overseas posting with IBM because he wanted to become ‘an entrepreneur’. His parents haven’t forgiven him and are yet to come to terms with their son becoming a "vendor in an upstart industry".
He has, meanwhile, relocated to Mumbai, where he works out of his two-room apartment in Malad (East): "It’s cheaper than West," he laughs. Walia creates travel solutions software, hoping to break even by the middle of the year. "Life is tough, but I am enjoying every bit of it."
Today, the India Entrepreneurship Week debuts in the country, spanning 25 cities and organised by the Bangalore-based National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN). "This is a move to encourage young people to start their own business, create more wealth and contribute to the economy," says Laura A Parkin, executive director NEN. "The economic boom cannot be sustained without more young entrepreneurs."
In India, only 5 per cent of institutes’ alumni go on to set up their own enterprises. According to NEN, 50 per cent first-time entrepreneurs are engineers and 25 per cent are management graduates.
Reasons for the low penetration in the sector – other than lack of social and family support – are factors like a time-lag of 580 days needed to register a company, lack of basic infrastructure like electricity and a lop-sided tax collection system, feels Professor Amar Bhide, Lawrence D Glaubinger professor of Business at Columbia University.
Bhide had worked on a project, Entrepreneurship in India, in collaboration with IIM-Bangalore and the Wadhwani Foundation. "The machinery of the government, which in the West we take for granted, was never really set up in India. I fear a self-congratulatory state of mind… may ultimately slow down the contributions of e-ship," he says.
E-Week hopes to have 2.5 lakh signatories who will ‘pledge’ to support the movement – to lobby for better policies and create awareness in the social structure.
"In India, people are innately suspicious of start-ups: even the printing press owner who prints your visiting card will insist on a cash payment the moment he hears you are on your own," says Anil Sachdev, CEO GrowTalent and a member of the Indian chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a global NGO created by Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.
Sachdev, too, went the way of entrepreneurship when he quit his job as head of HR at Eicher and started his own company. He, along with ‘entrepreneurs’ like Infosys’s Narayanmurthy, speak at TiE’s entrepreneurs’ forums to nurture ‘business sense’.
Parkin says that even shopkeepers’ experiences are a good pull factor at talks conducted by NEN: your neighbourhood kirana shop-owner, after all, is also an entrepreneur in his own right.