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Thursday / March 23.

Start-up 2.0: Shifting Into Second Gear

start-up entrepreneurship

By Mohit Saxena

As is customary in every discipline, this New Year I will start off my writing series with a look back at 2015 and look forward into 2016. 2015 has been a phenomenal year for Indian start-ups. We had the world looking at us, wanting to join in the wave we are riding – it was the year where global confidence and trust in Indian ideas and engineering capabilities reached new heights. Entrepreneurs had the right access to resources; be it funds, human resources, platforms to discuss their ideas or get inputs. The overall ecosystem shaped very well and all of this happened not just within the IT circles, but also with the growing support and backing from governmental bodies. As with any such paradigm move, this wave has certainly brought ashore a number of positives including new and exciting employment opportunities, better economic positioning at an individual and national level, increased yet cautious confidence amongst entrepreneurs, to list some. I am not going to call this a bubble as I believe with educated steps forward, we can make this entrepreneurial wave permanent and recurring – a scenario where our country’s problems will be solved not by outsiders but by our own people.

For such a move forward, we need to look beyond the euphoria of 2015. We have a long way to go in mapping the current vigour in the start-up scene to solve the socio-economic problems of our country. If I were to state one area where we lagged behind in 2015, it would be our overt focus on re-defining and digitizing some of the more peripheral layers in our human hierarchy of needs – for instance, transportation, e-commerce, m-commerce and social computing. These were the areas where we saw a lot of growth from investment, engineering and user acceptance standpoints. While this was a good start to see initial success and build our start-up ecosystem, this year has to shape up differently. I am confident that this will happen with the right awareness and buy-ins at all levels including investors, budding and existing entrepreneurs and end users.

If I were to give an analogy, this is similar to book lovers wanting to initially lay their hands on the best sellers before they start looking at the rest of the book repository. At some point though such other books will also rise up in the stack ranking once the initial dust settles down. Similarly, most entrepreneurs have so far been focusing on the quick success ideas. However, 2016 will be that year where, as a community, we will start looking at the dark untouched corners.

The focus has to now move to the next level of societal problems such as public health and hygiene, education and sustainable living. All of these are critical for us to hand over a better India to our kids. This is however easier said than done as these areas do not guarantee overnight success. Given the uncertainties in the start-up world, entrepreneurs sometimes want to take a safe bet of solving problems in the commonly trodden paths. If I were to give an analogy, this is similar to book lovers wanting to initially lay their hands on the best sellers before they start looking at the rest of the book repository. At some point though such other books will also rise up in the stack ranking once the initial dust settles down. Similarly, most entrepreneurs have so far been focusing on the quick success ideas. However, 2016 will be that year where, as a community, we will start looking at the dark untouched corners – corners where healthcare solutions will reach remote regions of the country, better doctor-patient connects will emerge, improvement in the doctor-patient ratio will be realised, a fair chance to education for kids in the villages and cities alike will be valued, newer solutions to address pressing issues such as disposal of garbage, traffic management and road safety will come in – all with an unprecedented mass reach.

To quote another example here, it is welcoming to see Delhi authorities and people alike, giving a serious thought to the sky-rocketing pollution problems they are facing. Whether the odd-even vehicle drive program will be a success? Only time will tell. But, it is at least promising to see that solutions are being attempted rather than surrendering to growing problems. At the end of the day we all know we are a large country. However effective a government is, there is only so much they can do. We as responsible citizens need to pitch in possible ways to shape our own and ultimately our country’s future. We are positioned well with the right access to information and resources where we are not alone in solving these problems. To reiterate, the world including the most developed nations such as the US is ready to help us with funds and intellectual horse-power if we are ready to take the lead. What better time to innovate and elevate our socio-economic positioning to show the world what technology can help achieve. Let 2016 be that model year where our start-up stints take us into the less explored roads of “social entrepreneurship”.  In the subsequent articles I will talk about what such areas I will be involved with this year. Stay tuned!

Mohit Saxena is CO-Founder & CTO on inMobi, where he is currently heading the technology group at Global mobile ad network InMobi. He is responsible for providing strategic technical guidance to the business and leading the operational and development teams that are involved in building high performance and geographically dispersed scalable/fault tolerant enterprise systems.