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Think Beyond E-commerce

To propagate more start-ups, the government does not need to come out with schemes geared only towards a class of companies called start-ups, but for all companies.

Think Beyond E-commerce

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Chairman and CEO of ReNew Power


India is in the grip of start-up fever. From Start-up India, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to the daily obsessive headlines we see in the pink papers, to the fĂȘting of start-up entrepreneurs, we are surrounded by this new-found excitement. And for the most part, correctly so. After all, isn't it wonderful that young Indians with dreams in their eyes and ideas in their heads are able to come up with innovative customer propositions around the new internet world, and are able to fund these ideas with capital from third-party investors and build rapidly growing businesses?

But it will take time for this brave new world to emerge. I think that, as with all things in our country, in our minds, we have already fast-forwarded to the final act. This is certainly being reflected in the valuations of some of these companies. It is also being reflected in the near frenzy that surrounds the space. And, unfortunately, this has also led us to become narrow in our definition of start-ups as only companies operating in the e-commerce space.

There are many other sectors where we need to create new businesses to build a new India and where we need entrepreneurs. Take the renewables sector. Between 2008 and 2014, about 15 entrepreneurs started businesses and raised almost $2 billion from private equity investors. Now, there are various good sized, free cash generating companies with wind or solar power assets of between 200 MW and 1,000 MW, and that too with reasonable growth prospects. In addition, in the distributed solar space, many new companies are being set up. However, this sector does not find much mention in our start-up narrative. Similarly, many companies in education and health are largely neglected.

We need to find more sectors their place in the sun. This is for a couple of reasons. As a country, we need to ensure broad-based development, and there are huge opportunities in many areas. But if we point our young people only in one direction, if we publicise successes only in e-commerce or tech areas, that is where the new entrepreneurs will head. Additionally, just because e-commerce has been successful in the US, does not mean that the same will be the case in India. Given that India is at an early stage of development, we will have unique opportunities in many other sectors also.

Second, the more crowded the field, the more the chances of failure. We are setting up our young entrepreneurs for a fall. Wouldn't it be better if our entrepreneurial talent and energy were spread out across more sectors?

It does not help that internet-based sectors are easier to handle as they don't involve regulatory issues or dealing with the government machinery. These are always difficult in the Indian context but are not impossible to handle. However, unless we genuinely improve the ease of doing business in India, this perception will not change, and we will not get more start-ups in brick-and-mortar sectors. Again, this is an area that does not figure in the Start-up India programme, which is mostly centred around starting and closing companies, tax rules, funding, and so on. The government should also focus on improving the ease of working with the bureaucracy, making the regulatory environment more transparent, increasing judicial access and making the tax environment better. And these are required for all businesses.

We need entrepreneurship in all sectors, not just in e-commerce or tech, and the current focus is limiting entrepreneurship. To propagate more start-ups, the government does not need to come out with schemes geared only towards a class of companies called start-ups, but for all companies. Only then will we have true proliferation of new entrepreneurs and companies that can change the Indian corporate landscape.

The writer is Chairman and CEO of clean energy major ReNew Power.

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