What is common between a 50-something middle-aged grey-haired person in Bangalore, once the owner of a printing press, "making a mistake" and shifting jobs - with a 30-something young Indian fella armed with a US degree, married and divorced, dating afresh furiously while pursuing his professional aspirations in Chennai – with a 30-something single young woman in the National Capital Region owning an apartment and disregarding the pressure of social norms to marry – with a mid-30s Indian couple, well-educated, experimenting in life and delaying having children - with a 30-something Gujarati man passionate about trekking and adventure sports?
Well if you haven’t guessed it already, these are all some profiles of entrepreneurs in India’s new wave of starting-up economy.
While globally there is much attention on the potential for the Indian start-up economy with Prime Minister Modi now also exhorting Start-up India in his 2015 Independence Day speech, the new Indian entrepreneurs are also ushering in quiet but potentially fundamental societal changes and the implications of all this might go beyond business.
Sure, they are creating new jobs, seducing global investors and high-net worth individuals, transforming business models, and scripting new ways of making products and services reach the end consumer despite institutional voids in an emerging economy like India. But these Mann Der Tats, or ‘men of action’ as Joseph Schumpeter once called entrepreneurs, are also changing societal norms about risk-taking and failure in today’s India.
To be sure, it is unclear whether these sociological changes actually started when India liberalised in the early 1990s or are a product of a start-up wave that began five years ago, ushering in a more experimental Indian society. But the association is clear. Not every day will you find (as this author recently noted), the father of a 26-something start-up founder, maintaining his personal intelligence with a database on investors (from VC/PE to HNIs) for his son’s venture – and doing his own analysis of the policy environment – all this while doing his day job in a public sector unit.
It is worth noting here that start-ups and their potential to usher in societal change was indirectly hinted at by Schumpeter himself in his work on creative destruction both in his 1911 and 1934 tomes when he stated that the entrepreneur is the innovator who implements change within markets through the carrying out of new combinations. It is left to the more nuanced to grasp that to make new combinations work, and to usher in changes in markets, consumers, producers, policy makers and related stakeholders have to join hands – which will automatically imply changes in the smallest unit of societal organisation in modern economies (like that in households).
Also, this is not the first time India is witnessing a wave of entrepreneurship and associated sociological changes. The same may have been true when the Swadeshi entrepreneurs got bitten by the bug around and after World War 1 or when Indian pharmaceutical entrepreneurs created clusters of medicine-making in places like Hyderabad or Ahmedabad. One can even conjecture this to be partially true in the context of new Indian entrepreneurs in India’s now-established software industry when they came into being few decades back. And we are also not talking here of the rich history of social entrepreneurs in India over many decades ushering in societal change.
Purely conventional for-profit entrepreneurs in the 2015 starting-up India seem to be playing an important role much like sociologists have documented in the erstwhile Mittelstand in Germany or in the Silicon Valley in the United States. These changes now are intimately evolving in your backyard: Take notice, adapt to it or feel uncomfortable in falling behind. After all today, even school kids are part of India’s new breed of Mann Der Tats and these changes have started percolating deeper than you might have contemplated.
Chirantan Chatterjee is a Faculty Member in Corporate Strategy & Policy at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore