India's startup ecosystem was founded on the two basic assumptions - that innovative ideas and the resources to fulfil them technologically were to be found only in Bangalore, Hyderabad and the four metropolitan cities, in that order. Which is why for the last two decades, we have seen a trend of startups becoming successful only in the biggest of Indian cities.
During a team discussion, one of the co-founders brought up this startup disconnect. It was highlighted that this behavior is a legacy from the past where everything related to startup and its success coagulated. Today, both innovation and tech expertise have been democratised, meaning it is location agnostic. What we saw as the "Hole in the Wall" experiment is today more than possible as innovation shifts from large venture-funded companies to the grassroots.
Today, we see a whole lot of youth in the early stages of their careers, calling it quits from their jobs in big cities, returning to their roots and creating solutions that solve a local problem. Of course, it would be worth remembering that India is the land of Jugaad, a flexible approach to innovation that resulted in products such as "Mitti-Cool". Maybe, the euphoria of venture funds flowing in to create unicorns blinded our vision for a while.
However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the path to economic wellbeing does actually pass through the smaller cities and towns of India. AtmaNirbhar Bharat can become a reality only when there is a grounds-up effort to build business at the grassroots level to solve local challenges through the power of digital technology. Democratization of digital is the need.
We recently came across the story of a senior analyst employed with one of the Big-Four, who had enough of the mundane and decided to quit, seeking funds for a healthcare startup. Sounds like an oft-repeated story right? But, no, Amol Bagul wanted to provide care for the elderly in his hometown of Jodhpur, a tier-2 city in Rajasthan. And there are many more, including a mobile planetarium for rural kids, power generation from agri-waste etc.
When innovation shifts base, can venture capital be far behind? Several of these startups that were solving highly localized problems got funded over the last couple of years. Venture firms such as Sequoia Capital, CDC Group and Chiratae Ventures are gung-ho about them. Others like Omnivore believe that focusing on the farm sector alone would give them good returns.
A crucial factor for this shift is the availability of business mentors, individuals who have "been there, done that" and now want to contribute to sustainable growth. Small town mindsets get energized when they interact with people who've started up, grown and sold their venture. At eSamudaay, we have a network of such mentors who regularly speak with our circle owners and promoters.
It is our belief that entrepreneurship would grow at a frenetic pace in tier-2, tier-3 and tier-4 cities in the next decade. Besides funds, a workable business model and lots of grit, these new age business owners from old-town settings would require mentorship at the earliest stages. And this is precisely what eSamudaay is looking to deliver in the months ahead.