What can Indian entrepreneurs tell us about surviving COVID?

  • Entrepreneurs in India have been impacted by five key trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • A recent study shows that they have mastered the crisis thanks to digitization, cross-industry collaboration and localization.
  • The rise of social enterprises and attention to the well-being and resilience of themselves and those around them also helped these business leaders survive and even thrive during the pandemic.

Entrepreneurship and the micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) sector contribute almost a third to India’s GDP. However, the sector is particularly vulnerable to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic as it tends to have fewer resources than large companies.

We did one to learn with 107 Indian entrepreneurs to understand how they have navigated the pandemic. Our study reveals five emerging trends for entrepreneurship in India.

The dominant trend is the acceleration of digitization, aided by increasing consumer adoption and acceptance of digital services and products. This digital reset has driven the use of contactless digital technology for financial transactions, opened develop new markets and inspired a hiring tour among digitally-enabled startups.

It supports the growth of digitally enabled hyper-local business models such as meesho and PayNearbyas well as the rise of vernacular language technology startups such as slang.ai.

Adoption of new technologies to solve challenges in education and healthcare has also increased. quantity started developing augmented reality educational tools to make classrooms more engaging. Qure.ai Interpretation of radiology images based on AI algorithms helped in COVID-19 assessment and made healthcare accessible and affordable.

Digitization enables teleworking and moves workers away from metropolitan areas towards new job opportunities in non-urban centres. When we interviewed Sarika Gulati Gupta, the founder of a video production company role on socialshe said of new hires: “[Before] we were limited to people based in Delhi or Mumbai. Now they sit in their houses and say in patinaas long as they are good, they can work with us.”

The dominant trend is the acceleration of digitization, aided by increasing consumer adoption and acceptance of digital services and products.

—Sreevas Sahasranamam, University of Strathclyde; Ute Stephan & Przemyslaw Zbierowski, King’s College London

2) Intersectoral collaboration

The complexity of the challenges posed by the pandemic has inspired cross-industry initiatives in which governments, start-ups, universities and civil society have worked together. Funded by the state, for example C-CAMP COVID-19 Innovation Development Accelerator (C-CIDA) has supported startups in diagnostics, ventilators, therapeutics and cold chain technology.

Such collaborations also help entrepreneurs to participate in government regulatory processes related to the commercialization of technologies. A typical example is the RNA Extraction Kit for COVID tests developed by the research facility Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology (SCTIMST). It was commercialized by Agappe diagnostics after receiving regulatory approval within months.

Collaborations also help to expand the development of entrepreneurs’ products or services. As Prabhav Garudadhwajan, founder of startup Agri Supply Chain EasyKrishiShe told us: “I created a virtual network with scientists during the lockdown when their labs were closed. They were all open to talks. When I meet with investors now, they are surprised at how much innovation we are sitting on.”

The focus of the Government of India support package for the MSME sector during the pandemic was Atma-Nirbhar Bharat (Self-Sufficient India). It offered incentives and guidelines to facilitate localization of specific industries such as electronics manufacturing and toy making.

The pandemic also gave the National Electronics Policywhich envisages turning India into a $400 billion electronic systems design and manufacturing (ESDM) hub by 2025 ESDM incubation center in Hubli and the Super Fab Lab in Kochi Supporting electronics supply chain localization by developing hardware startups.

Global multinationals are also supporting this localization trend by establishing new ones manufacturing cluster and platforms for Indian small businesses. Such initiatives could help create more reliable supply chains, boost local employment and reduce the carbon footprint associated with moving goods and reduce India’s electric imports, which it is currently doing Account for 13% of all Indian imports.

Localization could help create more reliable supply chains, boost local employment and reduce the carbon footprint associated with moving goods.

—Sreevas Sahasranamam, University of Strathclyde; Ute Stephan & Przemyslaw Zbierowski, King’s College London

4) The rise of social enterprise

Indian entrepreneurs showed high levels of community involvement during the pandemic, volunteering their time (52%) and business services (65%) for social causes. Efforts have also been made to generate Funding for COVID-related projects. Her social commitment was among the highest we observed worldwide about entrepreneurs from 23 countries.

Three pie charts showing the time spent by Indian entrepreneurs volunteering for social causes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The social commitment of Indian entrepreneurs was among the highest of those observed in the study from 23 countries

Image: Sreevas Sahasranamam, Ute Stephan, Przemyslaw Zbierowski, Post-COVID-19 Entrepreneurship: An Assessment of Short- and Long-Term Implications for Indian Small Businesses (2021), University of Strathclyde.

Many entrepreneurs we spoke to also highlighted the increasing social and environmental awareness of consumers. This intersection of entrepreneurial community engagement and pent-up consumer demand for sustainable products/services supports the development of new social ventures, particularly in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and sanitation.

Support structures for such companies have emerged or gained prominence during the pandemic. For example the makerspace movement saw Maker’s Asylum Development of health products such as oxygen concentrators and air purification respirators.

Similarly, contextualized blended and grant-based funding models have also emerged. REVITALIZEcreated by the Samhita Collective Good Foundation (CGF)supported informal sector entrepreneurs during the pandemic. research shows that a greater presence of such grant capital encourages individuals to engage in social enterprise.

5) Corporate wellbeing and resilience

The pandemic has led to increased awareness of mental well-being in many countries as pandemic-related stress has threatened the productivity of entrepreneurs. But we observed that life satisfaction and perceived stress of Indian entrepreneurs were comparable to pre-COVID population estimates.

The healthy lifestyles of Indian entrepreneurs during the pandemic seem to play an important role. For example, many Indian entrepreneurs exercised for at least 30 minutes a day (69%), slept well (58%), practiced yoga or meditation (45%), and found solace in religious or spiritual beliefs (58%).

4 charts showing healthy lifestyle choices made by Indian entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic;  Yoga, exercise, sleep, religious or spiritual beliefs.

Healthy lifestyle choices during the pandemic played an important role in Indian entrepreneurs’ ability to weather the pandemic.

Image: Sreevas Sahasranamam, Ute Stephan, Przemyslaw Zbierowski, Post-COVID-19 Entrepreneurship: An Assessment of Short- and Long-Term Implications for Indian Small Businesses (2021), University of Strathclyde.

These trends are important because they indicate the personal resilience of entrepreneurs and their attention to self-care to maintain that resilience. The research finds that this is a crucial basis for this personal creativity and productivity and for them resilience and future growth their shops.

These five lessons point to that resilience and robustness of the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be the main drivers of India’s ambitions to become sustainable and inclusive 5 trillion dollar economy until 2025.

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