Love is in the air as far as Indian startups are concerned. The recent memories of outsized exits, the lure of treading the trail of rapid unicorn creation in China, and the comfort of access to large pools of capital – all powering the ambitions of talented entrepreneurs! The future can’t be brighter. It is inevitable that many billion-dollar startups must come out of this manthan.
And then again, one is reminded of the other billion. The billion not in the room. The billion in the shanty right next to our high-rise. The billion who cumulatively earn less than the 100 unicorns are valued. The billion problems.
At some level, all startups are impact startups – they create jobs, solve problems, and help the economy grow faster. The ability to see the billion problems as opportunities drives the best talent and resources towards solving them. However, is there a case to drive more intent into this process, rather than it being a welcome unintended outcome of startup formation?
This problem could have several approaches.
First, the Grand Challenge approach. Can we make solving certain kinds of problems easier and attractive to entrepreneurs? The ease may come from ready infrastructure of knowledge, data and expertise; the attractiveness from incentives and resources available to solve the desired problems. Does our Xprize really need to be to land a rover on moon, or do we need disruptive solutions to drinking water problem? Can we bring together governments, foundations, private corporations and individuals to create momentum towards solving such problems?
Second, the Thousand Flowers approach. Is it worthwhile expanding the infrastructure of entrepreneurship (capital, risk appetite, advisory capacity etc) much broader than today? Can Bangalore and Delhi NCR bury their startup league table wars, in favor of creating a 100 other startup hubs? Innovation can often be contextual and local – can we bring startups closer to the problems?
Third, the Empathy approach. Can we educate students, especially in institutions which regularly produce entrepreneurs, in humanities and liberal arts as much as we do in technology? Can we help instill empathy as a key self-motivator, which can then be the lifelong companion for our large-scale entrepreneurs? Will that start to alter the mix of startups we see towards more impactful problems?
The above approaches are by no means exclusive or exhaustive. They only illustrate that if we can solve this one problem of directing the best startup resources to our problems, the rewards can be significant. When do we start?