From a young nation left after centuries of colonial rule to becoming one of the major global superpowers, India has come a long way in the last 75 years. In this regard, it would be fair to say that our growth story has been built upon a powerhouse entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Indian entrepreneurs have become the toast of the world. Consider that the Indian start-up ecosystem is the third largest in the world, with over 100 unicorns that have come up in the last 10 years. Most importantly, this wave of entrepreneurship is multi-sectoral, spanning industries like F&B, health-tech, cyber, infrastructure, fintech, agri-tech, automobile, etc.
But it wasn’t always the same. The foundation of Indian entrepreneurship goes back to the days when business entrepreneurs in India were mostly industrialists and merchants. Their evolution into global entrepreneurs across diverse sectors has been made possible through technology and successive government initiatives and support.
So, how did Indian entrepreneurship evolve over the years? Let us take a look.
Evolving the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Like other economies and civilisations, entrepreneurship has been a part of the country for millennia. From traders who flourished upon the ancient Silk Route to artisans who thrived under the patronage of royalty, Indians have long been master entrepreneurs.
However, it was only after the arrival of the British that the first seeds of industrialisation were sowed in the country. That marked the first wave of new-age entrepreneurship that represented a shift from commercial to industrial entrepreneurial attitudes, as the likes of Tata came to the fore. Under the visionary eye of top businessmen like Dorabji Tata and JRD Tata, the Tata Group became one of our biggest entrepreneurial success stories. The conglomerate was amongst India’s oldest, venturing into steel, electricity, consumer goods, education, aviation, etc., even before The Indian Independence.
In the post-independence era, top businessmen in India were provided with a fillip by encouraging government policies that sought to crank up the country’s economic engine. The development of small-scale industries was encouraged via incentives, capital, land availability, market development, and technical expertise. This was when Reliance Industries was pioneered as a textile company by the value creator Dhirubhai Ambani, expanding its capacity over decades before becoming the integrated infrastructure and utility giant it is today.
That was made possible by the liberalisation policy of 1991 that truly opened the doors to a massive global market. What followed were broadly three waves of entrepreneurial activity that were focused on IT, consumerism and innovation. This was the ultimate opportunity that both emerging and the best Indian entrepreneurs were waiting for.
Let’s take the example of the Bajaj Group. The conglomerate’s financial arm, Bajaj Finance Limited, ventured into consumer durables finance in 1998 after establishing itself into the world of two-wheeler finance. With electronic goods flooding the market and Indian households, the company grew exponentially, giving it the platform to establish business and property finance in the 2000s. That largely marked the rise of NBFCs in India. After that, under the leadership of the Chairman and Managing Director of Bajaj Finserv, Sanjiv Bajaj –the top finance leader at present – Bajaj Finserv has spread its wing in the digital portfolio, kickstarting a wave of fintech. All this was in conjunction with the IT boom in India.
Over the years, the success of Indian IT enterprises has empowered the country’s middle class. As the economy opened up, earnings rose, and more capital became available. This resulted in increasing consumption, and the introduction of smartphones made the internet widely accessible, resulting in the popularity of models based on e-commerce, specialised retail, and hyper-delivery networks.
Over the previous two decades, India has developed from an IT services and business process outsourcing hub to a substantial R&D centre for international corporations, with new business models emerging almost daily. Digitalisation in the 21st century saw an exponential boom in entrepreneurship in India, with more and more laymen turning to disruptive, innovative business icons that have now become integral to the country’s present and future.
The rise of the likes of Flipkart, Zomato and Swiggy subscribe to this new wave of entrepreneurship. With digital becoming a huge part of our lives, more and more entrepreneurs can build products meant to enhance users’ core experience via digital convenience. A case in point is the rise of PayTM under its CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s stewardship, forever changing the payment ecosystem in the country.
The Way Ahead
In India’s entrepreneurial evolution, education has played a critical role in fuelling the success of most entrepreneurs. It has enabled the harnessing of digital and other technology, which has played a critical part in creating a thriving corporate climate. As the access to higher quality education and digital empowerment continues, a larger chunk of India’s population will be able to ideate and venture on their entrepreneurial journey.
The introduction of new financing streams has also altered the scene. Previously, only banks supplied working capital; non-banking financial firms (NBFCs), angel funders, private equity, and venture capitalists were currently available. This means more and more youth are now incentivised to take risks and come forward with real, ground-breaking business ideas.
The emphasis of the government on skill development, Make in India and self-reliance – Atmanirbharta – is another development that will continue to provide an impetus to entrepreneurship. India may expect more homegrown inventions in the next few years due to rising technology use, a younger customer base, more financial inclusion, and a start-up-friendly climate.
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