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'Mentoring India': An Opportunity for Disadvantaged Youths Dreaming to Become Entrepreneurs

© AFP 2023 STRDELIndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during an event to launch an initiative to bolster start-ups in New Delhi on January 16, 2016.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during an event to launch an initiative to bolster start-ups in New Delhi on January 16, 2016. - Sputnik India, 1920, 18.01.2023
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India has seen an increasing number of startups in past years, building the third largest start-up industry in the world after the United States and China.
India marked National Startup Day on January 16 in accordance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's notion of helping promote a startup culture at the grassroots level.
On this occasion, the Empowering Grassroot Startups for Sustainable Development program was organized by Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) – a not-for-profit organization that primarily assists disadvantaged Indian youth in developing business ideas into viable enterprises under the guidance of a mentor.
In an interview with Sputnik, BYST Founding and Managing Trustee Lakshmi V. Venkatesan talks about the evolving startup culture in India and how her organization helps young entrepreneurs.
Sputnik: India has secured the third most prominent position in the world as an "ecosystem" for startups. What reasons do you see behind this large number of start-ups popping up in our country?
Venkatesan: I am delighted that India is placed so high on the list of prominent countries in the world as an ecosystem [industry environment] for startups. And I think very easily we can be even number one. However, it depends upon how you count startups. Because they are very often thought of being in the formal sector and you are talking about startups that tend to have some amount of venture capital or those with tech ideas or innovation.
I think of the startups in the way that we celebrated or we recognized at the “Empowering Grassroot Startups for Sustainable Development” program i.e. startups at every level such as Grampreneurs, a term coined by Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust.
In this photo taken on January 10, 2017, founder of startup company Hacklab.in Vikram Rastogi works in his office in Bangalore. - Sputnik India, 1920, 16.01.2023
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It means any entrepreneur who has got some connection with the rural areas. If you look at them, they are the startups that are creating jobs. So, if all those startups, most of which are in the informal sector, are taken into consideration then probably we will have the largest number of startups in the world.
These startups need to be encouraged because while it is important to talk about unicorns and make sure that innovation is there, ultimately if you want wealth creation and job creation in all the communities of the country then it is important to talk about Gramprenuers. And that’s what we are focusing on.
Sputnik: The federal government has been running welfare schemes for start-ups to help increase their number. Could you suggest other efforts that can be pursued to boost the start-up culture in India?
Venkatesan: A lot of schemes and programs are being run by the federal government like Digital India, Skill India, Startup India... But I believe that without a “Mentoring India” all these don’t end up becoming that effective.

Mentoring India, launched by BYST in 2017, means guiding young people who are not necessarily from the strata of society which is highly educated and have no idea where to go and what to do.

Therefore, you can talk about skilling them and involving them in various schemes. But what is the idea, how that idea is taken to the marketplace, how many of these schemes are even utilized, and once you begin something how do you sustain it?
All these questions remain in the minds of the entrepreneurs. Unless you have a mentor, it is almost impossible to channel these questions and ideas into a productive business.
Therefore we believe that “Mentoring India” is important and after launching it we are embedding mentors in the entire institutional framework.
When we create mentors, we train them, internationally accredit them, and make a network. We have a whole ecosystem for mentors which then support the ecosystem of entrepreneurs.
Sputnik: BYST mentors young Indians willing to develop their own business ideas. What is the training module you apply and what has been the success ratio?
Venkatesan: If we talk about success ratio, first we need to understand in what context we are calculating it. There are multiple contexts in terms of success ratio, for example, repaying the loan taken from the bank (in which banks might be interested) or if any startup has taken money from a venture capitalist then how many times the money has multiplied.
But it’s a very limited form of calculating the success rate.
What if the businesses have returned the loan but they don't grow or they don’t succeed? What if they fail after three or five years?
We have been looking for statistics as to whether any other organization that supports startups has got similar statistics about how many of them are surviving. But there are no such statistics available.
As far as BYST’s success ratio is concerned it is more than 98 percent because almost everybody who had taken loans has returned them. So, the NPAs [non-performing assets] are extremely low. All the businesses supported by BYST have remained successful and sustainable even after three, five or ten years. We track them all.
Well, as far as training is concerned then it is important to understand that training is a small component of everything we do. BYST identifies entrepreneurs, counsels them, we give them financing, and then we mentor them. Mentoring is the main thing. Training is for five days but the engagement is for two years.

For example, a young entrepreneur came to us with an idea of making crabapple ice cream. He had tasted it in a big city and wanted to launch [this business] in the tribal area of Rayagada in Odisha. So, the bank said that they don’t understand what he means.

Today, he's making crabapple ice cream and selling it to all of Odisha and even exporting it to Andhra Pradesh and looking for further expansion. So, when he came to us, our mentor evaluated his idea, trained him, put him in touch with the bank, helped him develop a business plan with our partner banks, and he got a loan from the bank. From there, we hand-held him for the next two years until his ice cream [business] became a reality.
Sputnik: Securing financial assistance is one of the major challenges for most of start-ups or budding entrepreneurs. How has BYST addressed this issue - do you provide any kind of training in financial management?
Venkatesan: I can say that BYST has addressed the issue of securing financial assistance for young entrepreneurs as 90 percent of the entrepreneurs that we refer to the banks get a loan.
The major reason behind this is that we have a program on which banks believe and we have an MoU with almost all the major PSU banks. They know that anybody who comes from BYST has got the proper training, proper knowledge base and is going to be mentored for two years.
The loan - which is provided by the banks to the entrepreneurs supported by BYST - is collateral-free. So, there is no physical financial guarantee, but there is a moral guarantee.
Sputnik: Has BYST set any specific target in mentoring youth?
Venkatesan: As of now, we have about 20,000 mentors, and we have supported close to 30,000 entrepreneurs. We are planning 200,000 mentors to support one million entrepreneurs. This is the reason why we are embedding mentors in all the institutions in India.
It is important to understand that one million entrepreneurs can create 50 million jobs because each of our entrepreneurs creates ten direct and 40 indirect jobs. So they create 50 jobs and they're sustainable. So if you create one million sustainable entrepreneurs, you will be able to create 50 million jobs and this is not a distant dream.
Sputnik: What message would you like to give to people who are looking forward to start entrepreneurial journey?
Venkatesan: Find yourself a program or a support system, most important a mentor. If you go to your bank or to education institution, or even go to avail one of the government schemes, ask them, do you have a mentor? Ask for Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust.
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