Incubating entrepreneurship: Ajai Chowdhry


In the second article in our series on entrepreneurship, Ajai Chowdhry, Founder, HCL, debunks the myth of the ‘born entrepreneur’. Ajai says entrepreneurship is a skill that can be fostered provided people find the right mentors and get the support of other entrepreneurs and the government. 

entrepreneurship one year mba in India USA Europe UK startup funding TIE angel investorBy Ajai Chowdhry

In my many years of study, deciphering the secret to what makes an entrepreneur tick – I have come across an oft-cited fallacy. It seems that many young people have the notion that entrepreneurship is a lonely battle, a singular trek through a bumpy business landscape where one is armed only with a burning passion and little else. There is an idea that a ‘real’ entrepreneur can only be ‘born’. There is some innate, intangible quality, which makes a person an entrepreneur – that there is no room for outside intervention (governmental or otherwise) to retain the sanctity of that title. I am here to suggest the opposite.

Importance of mentors

I absolutely believe that for a young person to embark on the path of entrepreneurship, they need certain qualities: Passion, fearlessness and dedication. Yet they need not be alone on that path.  They should be armed with education, the knowledge and expertise of mentors and an ecosystem that supports and fosters their efforts.

India is a land dotted with incubators – many of the strongest being in educational institutes. I feel that while these institutes have strong technical mentorship, there is a void where business mentorship, teaching entrepreneurship and providing a connection to angel investors are concerned. It was in the interest of addressing this very void that I created a first-of-its-kind Minor in the subject at IIT Hyderabad, as Chairman of the institute.

entrepreneurship one year mba in India USA Europe UK startup funding TIE angel investor I have seen the benefits of bolstering the entrepreneurial spirit with education and tempering it with experience. The true question for India is, how to get the government on board to provide the regulatory environment required to breed and incubate these young giants of the industry. Unfortunately, only around five percent of the many Indian startups get financial support from sources outside of friends and family due to an inhospitable business ecosystem.

A network

One of the best examples of positive incubation of entrepreneurs in India can be seen in the Indian Angel Network (IAN)—of which I am an active member, having invested in 12 startups myself. Combining the expertise and knowledge of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders with fledglings in the field, the network provides mentorship for start-ups with great potential. A great example in the Indian IT space is Nasscom’s launch of 10,000 startups aimed at incubating, funding and supporting technology start-ups in India over the next decade in partnership with the IAN.

It is important to note that India has a long way to go in terms of the number of companies nurtured by angels when compared to their counterparts in the West. Here, in India, we are in need of more and more jobs of this caliber. About 100 million new jobs to be considered a ‘developed’ nation, in fact!

Government support

We stand to gain from a multiplier effect, if we can convince more young people to embrace entrepreneurship as a supported, nurtured and respected arena for business practice. This can only happen when the government steps in and creates a positive environment for these young, dynamic businesses.

There are myriad ways this can be done; by creating a greater ease of business for startups by simplifying the maze of regulatory roadblocks and through tax breaks and incentives for groups such as the IAN.

The creation of an entrepreneur is tricky business. It requires the construction of a robust ecosystem complete with mentors who can guide and inspire these bright minds to their best.

An argument can be made that the last two decades of growth in the IT industry contributed in no small part to the creation and success of entrepreneurial ventures in the country; HCL being a strong case in point.

How much more will India grow if we foster an environment that provides the framework, funding and mentoring for these startups to succeed?

Ajai Chowdhry, is Founder of the $6 Billion IT conglomerate Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL). As founder of one of India’s first true-blue start-ups, he has written the book on entrepreneurship in India. Ajai is Chairman of the Board of Governors at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Patna & Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industries’ (CII) National Committee on Technology. In 2011, the Government of India awarded Ajai Chowdhry with the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award, recognizing his consistent contribution to the Indian IT industry.

The article first appeared in Entrepreneur magazine and has been republished with the consent of Mr. Ajai Chowdhry 

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