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What Indian Entrepreneurs Need. Really.

What do entrepreneurs really need to succeed?

Passion. Drive. A  good idea. A network. Passion. Funding. Passion. Customers. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

But what about power? And I’m not speaking metaphysically here. I’m talking the real thing: electricity running through wires to reach a lab, an office, or a factory, with consistency and predictability. Power.

Journalists occasionally ask me what the government can or should do to improve the conditions for entrepreneurs in India. And every time I answer, I feel that I am somehow disappointing them.  “Changing the laws to encourage angel funding?” some prompt hopefully.  “Sure,” I respond. After all, some entrepreneurs need angel funding.

But generally I focus on the basics: power, roads and water would be a good place for the government to start. All entrepreneurs need power. Not all entrepreneurs need venture capital.

And the cost of building what they should be able to purchase disproportionately affects the new entrepreneur. It doesn’t hurt Infosys too much, these days, to run their own buses, generators, water purifiers and university. In fact, for them it’s an advantage to have these resources, when new entrepreneurs do not.

But it does hurt a new entrepreneur to shell out 2.5 lakhs (~ $5300) on a 25KVA diesel generator. Or 1.16 lakhs for 10 tubular batteries plus a UPS, like we did (~ $2500). Let me put this in context: the cost of backup power equals anywhere from 4 months to 8 months of salary for a junior programmer. That’s a lifetime in a startup. Do you think Silicon Valley startups are trading manpower for lights?

Ok, full disclosure: I’m writing this in the middle of a power shortage. Bangalore is badly crunched right now, though certainly not as badly as some.

To preserve our batteries, we don’t use the printers, and we unplug all the laptops.  There are no AC’s, fridge, or water (when we forget to turn on the pump during the moments with power). The only good thing is that no power means no power point presentations.

And we’re the lucky ones. I was talking to a young entrepreneur from Hubli the other day. His company serves clients in the manufacturing sector of northern Karnataka. His clients suffer power cuts (euphemistically called “load-shedding”) for over 8 hours per day. How do they manage? Some drive their teams to perform 8 hours of work in 4 hours. They have no choice. But is this the way to achieve 6 – 8 % GDP growth?

Building the entrepreneurial ecosystem means investing in the basics, and perhaps the entrepreneurial community should help highlight this priority.

Don’t even get me started on the roads.

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