Ravi Venkatesan, founder, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME). Image: Swapnil Sakhare for Forbes IndiaT
hey say one needs to have the right risk appetite to start a business. The former chairman of Microsoft India and Bank of Baroda, Ravi Venkatesan, thinks otherwise. “The riskiest thing to be in is a job,” he says. “Whether you’re young or old, start forgetting about them. Stable jobs don't exist. Large companies reorganise, and your job is gone. Companies go through challenges, it lays off people. The fastest and the closest thing to stability is either to be self-employed or start a business,” he adds.
Therefore, as also the founder of GAME—Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship—Venkatesan believes mass entrepreneurship is the future of the country.
Launched in 2018, the alliance aims to create 50 million new jobs in India by 2030 by enabling 10 million mass entrepreneurs, of which at least 50 percent will be women.
With GAME, while Venkatesan is cognisant of the obvious challenges entrepreneurs in India face today, he wants to highlight and solve other problems that stand in their way. “For people from bigger cities, gender is usually a barrier to funding and access to markets. If they’re from IIT, IIM, they’re already a part of the network,” he says. “But their caste, religion, doesn’t disqualify them from becoming an entrepreneur, unlike for those in smaller towns.”
Therefore, GAME, inspired by economist and Nobel laureate Ned Phelps, who said societal values make the biggest difference to whether a place is dynamic or not, is also aiming at a values revolution that will help everyone realise their potential.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes India, Venkatesan threw light on the state of entrepreneurship in India, why a mass movement would benefit the country, the state of women entrepreneurs, and more. Edited excerpts. Also read: Here's the magic bullet a five-time Olympian recommends for success Q. How has entrepreneurship progressed in India?
If you look at the last 15 years, one of the most dramatic ways in which India has changed is the rise of entrepreneurship. Especially in the tech startup sector, which is concentrated in a few major cities, and is mostly venture-backed. Even during what was termed a ‘funding winter’, India attracted a significant share of global VC flows, and, at one point, had over 100 unicorns. So, things have progressed enormously well, but we need it to trickle down to make it a mass movement, which is what we are focusing on and what we call ‘mass entrepreneurship’. Q. Can you elaborate on what mass entrepreneurship means and its benefits?
Mass entrepreneurship is about making entrepreneurship accessible in every corner of the country, in every small town and district. The goal is to encourage young individuals to be business-owners instead of job-seekers. These businesses may include something as mundane as print shops, food ventures, or beauty salons. One million people turn 18 every month in India. This large and young population faces a significant unemployment challenge. Large companies are important for the economy, but they contribute to high-paying jobs and profits for shareholders.
To address this inequality and promote widespread prosperity, we need mass entrepreneurship, where individuals across the country, even in smaller towns, start their businesses and create jobs. Our goal is to make these conditions as favourable as those in big cities like Bengaluru so that entrepreneurship becomes accessible to all. Also read: The key is to stop thinking of older adults as one market: Susan Wilner Golden Q. What kind of hurdles or roadblocks do entrepreneurs commonly face in India? And how to overcome them?
Access to credit is a major challenge, especially for first-time entrepreneurs and small businesses. For a large country like India with eight crore-plus MSMEs, where the economy is growing six to six-and-a-half percent, the appetite for credit is huge. Relative to that, the flow of credit is half of what it needs to be. I would say there is a general malnutrition when it comes to small businesses. For those in the smaller cities, lack of infrastructure and awareness of entrepreneurial opportunities become major challenges. Potential for growth and scalability, along with cultural values that discourage people from taking risks associated with a business, also act as hurdles.
But one of the best strategies to overcome these is to believe there’s safety in numbers, like with everything else. For instance, if every second person in a city like Bengaluru is an entrepreneur, embarking on the journey seems less scary. Entrepreneurship needs to be seen as a viable option and we need a cultural shift. Q. What does women’s entrepreneurship look like in India?
The global landscape for women entrepreneurs has shown growth, but India seems to be underperforming. Only 16 percent of all businesses in India are led by women, and when we look at businesses with more than five employees, that number drops to just 5 percent. Only 27 percent of women-owned businesses report an annual revenue of more than Rs 10 lakh. It's hard enough being an entrepreneur, if you're a woman, it's even more challenging.
What we have found is that it’s best to put women in a cohort. When you put women in a group of 10 or 20 other women, all learning how to build businesses, the amount of confidence they build, the self-belief, the peer-to-peer learning is powerful.
One of the most important things we need is more women funders. Access to credit is a big piece, but not the only piece. The challenge is also to make women figure out what businesses they can sell, and it's something we're working on.