When we talk about starts ups and their future in India, we can only do justice to it by dwelling into the past, that gives us an understanding of the premise of this revolution of sorts that has engulfed our nation in the last decade. When I started my startup journey in 1994 after being expelled from the first formal entrepreneurship programme in India called BIBE - Burhani Institute of Business Entrepreneurship, I was told that despite being the topper of the batch, I was “least likely to be an entrepreneur”. I am sure they meant well and it was said against the backdrop of a different India, one of 1994. 

Today, after being a mentor and investor in multiple startups, participating in a gamut of funding rounds, a few entries, and exits, and loads of celebrations and heartbreaks later, I guess I can say that I have been blessed. I have had the privilege to ride this rollercoaster, experience this incredible journey and witness the change in the startup ecosystem of India.

Just like any other business vertical that originates in metros, the first wave of the startup revolution started in the major metros of the country. But today, more and more entrepreneurs are coming from tier two, three and even tier four towns. With the digital penetration in smaller towns and rural areas touching an all-time high, the world has become flat for these netizens. 

The exposure these guys are getting in terms of international news and app-driven information, has truly brought them on the same pedestal as anyone from a bigger city. If we look at 2008-09 as well, if someone hailed from a small town, their worldview was different from the big town folks. Thanks to the low-cost bandwidth (the Jio effect), I have seen discussions happening on Elon Musk and in certain cases Pablo Escobar being worshipped across the hinterland. Having said that, aspirations are truly global and growing, and so is their confidence.       

What is truly remarkable is the rise of so many characters. Unlike the big corporate world, where everything is very one dimensional, these young entrepreneurs wear their attitude on their sleeves.  

Today, we have a Ritesh Agarwal from a small town in Odisha building a $5 billion-valued company which is not a clone of any comparable Silicon Valley unicorn, and he is truly looking to storm the world. He is already in China and is now working towards building the largest hotel chain in the world by 2023. And did I mention that he is also a school dropout? And on the other hand, there is Vijay Shekhar Sharma, with his goofy grin and ready smile, sitting with Jack Ma and Masayoshi Son and still comfortable wearing his small town heart on his sleeve. 

In fact, it has suddenly become cool to be a co-founder, to have that as your title on social media. This is what I believe has posed some challenges as well. The biggest that I see is that almost all our reference points in the startup ecosystem are from Silicon Valley. We need more home-grown heroes. We need to talk about Indian entrepreneurs and not just the unicorn founders of today, but also take inspiration from the likes of Dhirubhai Ambani, JRD Tata, and the local entrepreneurs who defied the odds and built businesses when there was no ecosystem. 

But we are progressing towards some exciting times. With all the challenges and shortcomings, the Indian startup ecosystem will only grow from strength to strength. We have characters today who are ready to take on the world head on and have the creative and business acumen to succeed.  

The author is the founder and CEO at The India Network & Scale Ventures