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What India Needs To Do To Boost Its Startup Ecosystem

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By Eshan Uniyal:

The legendary Jedi master Yoda once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.

While the words may have been spoken in a different context, India’s rising entrepreneurs like Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Radhika Aggarwal have followed and are faithfully following this maxim. Entrepreneurship is a game of patience, persistence and diligence, which would even impress the likes of Yoda. Today, India is a hotbed of such players like no other nation.

India’s startup system has grown remarkably over the past few years. Government programmes such as Startup India and Make In India have played no small parts in this growth.

The environment of entrepreneurship in the country has improved so drastically that it’s difficult to imagine that barely five or seven years ago, entrepreneurship was not a favoured choice of career. On the other hand,  entrepreneurs today are setting up ambitious projects with a confidence hitherto unseen.

Here, we should take a step back and appreciate how far the entrepreneurial world has travelled in India and evaluate how far it has yet to go. The number of tech startups operating in India increased from 3100 in 2014 to 4750 in 2016 – an almost 60% rise, despite the mixed economic scenario during the period.

The start-up ecosystem is gaining traction in India. There has has also seen a substantial rise in government support. Significantly, 13 states and union territories have established specific startup policies and the ecosystem is witnessing a 40% year-on-year growth in the number of incubators and accelerators.

What is more encouraging is the fact that this growth has not been dictated by the issue of gender. Women entrepreneurship has seen considerable growth. In fact, unlike in established businesses, female entrepreneurs are a significant part of the startup ecosystem.

Swati Bhargava of CashKaro is one such entrepreneur, who founded the company in 2013 in India with her husband Rohan Bhargava after setting their first startup, Pouring Pounds (a cash-back business in the UK). As the Indian e-commerce market began to mature, Swati and Rohan Bhargava set up CashKaro in India. It is now the largest platform of its kind in India.

With tie-ups to more than 1500 brands and counting, even business mogul turned investor like Ratan Tata have noticed and invested in the Business-to-customer (B2C) startup. It is entrepreneurs like Swati who can inspire capable young women in the increasingly modernised Indian workforce.

The example of CashKaro, however, isn’t truly representative of the role women play in the Indian startup ecosystem. While it can be said that there has been growth, the growth itself has taken place on too small a scale. For example, the percentage of women entrepreneurs in the tech industry was reported to be 10% at the end of 2016, up from a paltry 6% in 2014. In this respect, the progress India has made is eclipsed by the distance it has yet to cover.

Amidst all this, a positive development is the advent of and growth in ‘green entrepreneurship’ (entrepreneurial ideas that seek to solve environmental problems). With a sizeable portion of the Indian populace still lacking access to electricity, there is thus, a huge potential for renewable energy.

While some green startups such as Fourth Partner Energy seek to address this demand for energy, others aspire to benefit the environment in other ways. For instance, D&D Ecotech, an initiative that supports the adoption of rainwater harvesting, and Waste Ventures, a Delhi-based startup which produces organic compost from the waste from dumpsites, are changing the rules of the game in their own innovative ways.

Indeed, no matter how you look at it, India’s entrepreneurial scene seems to be better than ever. Government and international organisations alike are investing in innovative ideas. New incubators and accelerators are improving this enabling ecosystem, and startups are making good use of the resources that are increasingly being provided.

Stories of success inspire the youth to act and work to bring their own ideas to fruition. In fact, it’s encouraging that many startup founders in India are aged below 30 years.

When one looks at the startup scene from afar, it’s easy to forget that the big players weren’t always household names. Overnight success stories rarely expose us to the hardships and failures that entrepreneurs face before their first major success.

Therefore, the importance of two oft-mentioned but seldom-practised qualities that make successful entrepreneurs need to be emphasised – diligence and determination. These words are often used synonymously. In my opinion, however, the key difference between them is that while diligence implies ‘practice’, determination is a ‘state of mind’.

Entrepreneurs determined to reach the top of the mountain achieve their goals through diligence and perseverance. Innovators across the globe exhibit these key qualities. While I feel that our education system isn’t focussing enough on making young entrepreneurs, the students in educational institutions are forming clubs and societies based on the topic of entrepreneurship and focussing on cultivating qualities needed to create entrepreneurs.

These clubs and societies cater to students who seek to explore the spirit of entrepreneurship, practice diligence and cultivate determination. The presence of these formative clubs and societies therefore complement the more mature entrepreneurial world. Moreover, the discussions that are encouraged in these spaces is vital for educating the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

In this context, Entrecon, the entrepreneurship fest at Sri Aurobindo College, will also host discussions on entrepreneurship on March 23 and March 24, 2017. It is my belief that events like these and the clubs and societies that seek to organise them represent the entrepreneurship spirit at its best – an endeavour to inspire people to become the best they can be!

The author works at the entrepreneurship cell, Sri Aurobindo College, and can be found here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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