Career: CEO, Husk Power Systems; International Rectifier Corporation, Los Angeles
Qualifications: B. Tech (Electrical Engg), M.S. (Electric Power Engg), M.S. ( Power Electronics engg)
Areas of interest: Reading and writing fiction
Bihar and entrepreneurship: Paradoxical would you say?
I don’t think so. There is a lot of entrepreneurship and opportunities in Bihar. If you think about it, there have been very few employment opportunities and people have no choice but to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. What is lacking are entrepreneurship efforts that have scale. For a company like ours, the opportunity, especially at grassroots level, is much bigger because of gaps in development than, say, in Gujarat.
What about the difficulties? How has your experience been?
A lot of our operations are based in West Champaran, near the Gandak river. This area, at one point of time, used to be the hotbed of all things criminal. It used to be called the university for kidnappers. When we started operations, I used to be on the road four days a week and mostly travelled at night. I never had a problem with the goons. Most people were supportive of what we were trying to do.
So what was the problem?
The cops! I am yet to pay a penny of protection money to goons and nobody has dared to ask me for a bribe, but the police in Bihar are apathetic. So, when someone is trying to steal the electricity we generate, the cops will just look on. My staff, who try and stop the theft, suffer verbal abuse and manhandling. And that is a serious impediment.
Does Bihar have an ecosystem of financing and a skilled workforce for entrepreneurs?
Banks all over the country are happier handing out a Rs. 500 crore loan and seeing it go bad rather then lend someone Rs. 1 crore and entertain the possibility of success. The situation in Bihar is no different. As far as manpower is concerned, the kind of workforce we need is specific; we need people who can work in the rural areas because that is where the opportunity is. And the talent is available and it is largely stable. Gurgaon call centres have more difficulty in retaining people than we do as competition is relatively less.
What sort of business plans have you seen being launched in the state?
Well, I don’t get to see everything but I have seen a lot of young entrepreneurs — fresh MBAs — talk about setting up alternative energy plans. I have also heard about agro-processing plans. Then there was one interesting venture that I heard about using waste heat to power cold chains.
Can these projects become something significant?
A lot of Bihari entrepreneurship is still stuck in the old mindset of doing enough for one person or a few people. They lack the scale that can make a significant impact.
Does government policy allow them to dream big?
A lot of bureaucrats who create the pitch that the Bihar government uses to attract investments have never seen how business takes place; they need to understand what formula works to attract investments. The government should also look at a tie-up with an organisation like SIDBI to enable financing of viable businesses.
What is your biggest learning from your years in Bihar?
Differentiate between perception and reality. It isn’t as if the law and order situation is completely normal. Yes, roads have been built, but the government now needs to think ahead and get investments that will be a catalyst for industry and entrepreneurship.