Where Should New Businesses Start?

Aditya Mishra is the founder of Headstart Foundation, a non-profit group focused on supporting and encouraging entrepreneurship. It has chapters in all major Indian cities, where it runs Start-Up Saturdays, meet-ups where people share stories of start-ups, and share links, advice, and even join one-another’s start ups. Headstart is an unsung success in having already transformed India’s entrepreneurial culture through its 5000 members and still counting — all without any major external funding or governmental intervention.

My namesake was talking to me about the cardinal failure of all start-up clinics and advisories that he has attended, including several major VC conferences now operational in India. That is, they ask you to create a business model and then receive feedback and advice on. But this activity is floating in air, he said. How does anyone know anything about the business case without grounding it in some problem or context in which it can take root? You don’t start a business on the back of a business model — you start it on the basis of a real need or challenge which you aim to solve or redress through your business.

This problem becomes more acute when we think about social businesses or social innovation companies, which aim to do good while also doing better. Even though these kinds of ventures can now get business advice from VCs and other advisors, they’re on their own for figuring out how to have a positive social impact.

This is where he sees the future of the Design Public Conclave, of whose advisory board he is also a member. The Conclave process must define new challenge areas for Indian society, he said, and frame them in innovation terms. This could be water, sanitation, healthcare, rural service delivery, governance, urban mobility and administration or new challenges of the future, and articulate more clearly the innovation challenge. Then we need to get established players to see how far they can go, and beyond that we need to get the entrepreneurial community involved. That’s how innovation can address India’s grand challenges.

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