Entrepreneurship – is a word. The relationship we have with that word completely defines the actions we generate in that area. The meaning we attach to the word ‘entrepreneurship’ either motivates us to take it on or scares the shit out of us. For a lot of us entrepreneurship means “starting a company” or worse “starting a software company.” As a student, the word entrepreneurship triggered images and life stories of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Infosys’s Narayana Murthy. I guess it is the same with most of us. It is either these stories or the stories of other celebrated people – Dr. Vijay Malya, Donald Trump etc.. But I have grown to question – is that what Entrepreneurship is all about?
A quick look at Wikipedia tells us – “Entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur, which is a French word meaning “one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods. This may result in new organizations or may be part of revitalizing mature organizations in response to a perceived opportunity.” Although the most obvious form of entrepreneurship is starting a new business – it doesn’t have to be that way. Translating innovations into economic goods can happen in a variety of ways – starting a company is all but one way.
That was the month of April, 1924. A man was born in the kingdom of Mysore, which later on became Karnataka. This man did not receive much formal education. He joined his father in a theatre troupe led by Gubbi Veeranna. He gathered a lot of his acting and learning skills from that troupe. Later, along with his father, Rajkumar joined M S Subbayya Naidu Drama Company. Bedara Kannappa, a film in Kannada, marked his entry into the film world. Years and Decades later he became Dr. Rajkumar or Annavaru of the Kannada Film Industry. Even today he is the undisputed master of acting. A few years after his first film, he undertook film production. His first film as a producer was Ranadheera Kanteerava. This movie was made exclusively with film technicians from Karnataka. His belief in Kannada and its technicians almost marked the beginning of the Kannada film industry. Today the Kannada film industry is generating jobs and money for a lot of creative people. Annavaru, later he used his stardom to make films that celebrated morality, hard work, discipline, service and other beautiful shades of human life. During his span as a film actor he enrolled the Kannada speaking audience into believing the goodness in human life. Materially speaking, he transformed the virtually non-existent Kannada film industry. Dr. Rajkumar, to me, is a social entrepreneur.
My wife’s uncle (Mr. Bhaskar Jois) in Hebri, inherited the business of event management from his father. The business involved catering to events like weddings, political rallies etc. He inherited this business several decades ago and put a lot of innovation into it. He created a system that would have the capacity to cater to large events. As a direct result of it – he was able to handle catering work that came directly to him and also those that would be out-sourced to him. Slowly in Hebri, the marriage business started booming and this man had become the undisputed king of marriage event management. About 6 years ago – when his daughter got married; 11000 people attended the wedding. Look at the astounding size of his personal network! Recently, I am told that he catered to an event where 50,000 people attended.
Bhaskar dodappa has created a system – that today provides jobs and money for lot of cooks, cleaners and event infrastructure providers. The system he has created also ensures smooth and rich experiences for his customers. As a result of this, not only has he become rich – but he has created wealth for other people as well. To me Bhaskar dodappa is an entrepreneur.
My wife works for SAP labs. She often talks about a very senior colleague of hers. This man joined SAP Labs India as a Developer in 1999 and within 3 years, was a Team Lead/ Development Coordinator. In October 2003, he was elevated to a Development Manager and donned that role for two years, until he was handpicked as the Executive Assistant to Board Member Gerhard Oswald in Sep 2005. At an age of 33, when most people are busy considering different options and cementing their place in an Organization, he was made the Managing Director of SAP Labs Gurgaon. He can proudly be seen as one of the Youngest Managing Director of Global Multi National Corporation (MNC) in India. His name is V. R. Ferose. Today Ferose is the Managing director of both SAP Labs Gurgaon and SAP Labs Bangalore. Prior to joining SAP, Ferose worked with Ramco Systems as a developer (HRMS) for 2 years. He graduated from the National Institute of Technology(Warangal) in 1997 with a B. Tech. degree in Computer Science and Engineering. Talk about being enterprising, without starting a company ever!
I have known a friend for a very long time now. During his student days – he always felt the insufficiency of formal education. To him studies was not fun. At some point during his graduation he realized that he just doesn’t enjoy studying anymore. He quit his studies and began undertaking education of a different kind. He began exploring education opportunities in the area of human potential, spirituality, meditation and adventure. His quest led him to experience life from a completely different angle. Today he leads workshops for people in India that help them to see life as a celebration, instead of a ordeal. Together with his wife, he has founded MPOWER, an organization that conducts workshops and outbound life-experience programs (out in the forest) for students and professionals on ‘celebrating life’. His name is Murali Krishna. What I particularly love about Murali is his life style. He is clearly very passionate about enabling people to celebrate life – and he himself is an example of such a life. He works for 3 (or so) months in a year – and he is off for the remaining months. He travels around the country, visits places that most of us would only hope and dream to visit. While most of us work hard at providing a formal education for our children, Murali provides practical education for his kid. Most kids learn “A – for apple, B for bananna, E for elephant, …, L for Lion, …, P for polar bear..”. Murali takes his kid to the snow mountains, actually shows a polar bear to his kid and says “P for polar bear…” Murali has created happiness and joy for a lot of people, as a result of which he has generated a lot of wealth himself. To me Murali Krishna is an entrepreneur.
When I started off my journey as an entrepreneur; I got a lot of “inputs” from different people. People created the following meanings of the word for me
- It means starting a company with a brilliant idea.
- It means starting off with a great business plan!
- It means giving one presentation after another to tom-dick-and-harry investor in the city, so that they can invest in my company.
- It means going from 2 people to 2000 people within 5 years
- It means going public within 3 years and being listed in NASDAQ.
- It means becoming Google or Microsoft of Apple or Infosys or WIPRO or MindTree. Any other form is just plain useless.
But for me entrepreneurship was about – “working on technological areas that I love and having the adventure of bringing together like minded people under one roof and building something fun together”. I did not start my company with a great idea. I have not taken any venture investment so far (although I did try and every single VC declined). But the company I started now has 6 people. We all love our jobs. We earn enough money. We are generally quite happy with ourselves. If I tell all this to say Subrato Bagchi, he would say – “being an entrepreneur is not about becoming self-employed.” But then how does it matter? Mr. Bagchi doesnt hold the ultimate authority to define the meaning of the word ‘entrepreneurship’ to each and everyone on this planet.
The point is – can we make a word mean something so that it empowers us? That is what my ‘social’ project is all about. I started the project as a part of my Landmark SELP program. Even after SELP program is over, I am still continuing. My interest is to share with as many engineering students as possible and create for them a new relationship with the word entrepreneurship. Infact the new relationship will be created by them, not me. I want to share my experiences and share life stories of real-life entrepreneurs (not the Narayana Murthy, Subrato Bagchi types…) so that their existing relationship with the word will be broken. At the cost of repetition – can we make a word mean something so that it empowers us?
A lot of students, during their final years of engineering work on super-interesting projects. Many of them have the potential to create huge impact on the society, in terms of products, jobs and wealth. But most students settle down into just about any 9 to 5 job. If those students took on this and started being enterprising – I am sure we will see a lot more innovation from this part of the world.
I have thus far spoken to about 500 students from MS Ramaiah, JNNCE, RVCE and RITM about my views. I can sense that a good percentage of these 500 will go on to create wonders in their future – all because they themselves created a new meaning for the word entrepreneurship, a meaning that would empower them and not scare them.
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