Advancing Start-Ups in India
IVLP alumnus Yatin K. Thakur shares his experience of helping to strengthen India’s entrepreneurship movement.
Yatin K. Thakur is a major new player in India’s entrepreneurship movement. Starting his first company as a high school student, he has founded over seven start-ups; scaled up Startup Weekend events in India, during which participants pitch ideas for new start-ups, form teams around those ideas and develop a working prototype, demo or presentation—all in 54 hours; and co-founded Startup India, a company that works with entrepreneurs to develop solutions to some of India’s biggest problems.
In June 2016, the Washington, D.C.-based Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) selected Thakur to serve as the acting managing director of its new affiliate, GEN India. What Thakur brings to GEN India is business innovation, development and entrepreneurial experience.
Global Entrepreneurship Network President Jonathan Ortmans describes the Indian government as a great and active proponent of entrepreneurial growth. “We look forward to contributing to that effort and connecting the ecosystem to a global movement that reaches 160 countries,” he says.
Thakur sees his primary role in GEN India as putting in place “an ecosystem for India’s entrepreneurs with access to investors and customers as well as government, legal, technical and business plan advisors.” He will also play an active role in planning the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, an annual event created by President Barack Obama in 2010 to support entrepreneurship around the world. Thakur notes the 2017 summit will be held in India, “attracting a large number of entrepreneurs to India and strengthening India’s presence for a global exchange of ideas.”
A self-described social entrepreneur, Thakur’s 13-year business career reveals a consistent pattern of development in both urban and rural settings, and “in the smallest of towns across the country to provide all entrepreneurs with a support system and create an ecosystem within their towns, where they can leverage networks to start their enterprise, perhaps a handicraft business, or try to solve social issues like sanitation or access to water.”
Thakur founded Optaamaze Corporate Solutions Private Limited in 2007 to train Indian youth by providing them basic communication and industry skills for employment as insurance agents, security guards, etc. Within a short time, Optaamaze grew to a $10 million (Rs. 67 crores approximately) company. In 2008, he founded Grameenmobia Social Enterprise to empower farmers through mobile technology, providing them access to stock prices, soil reports, land details, crop patterns and weather information. And in 2011, Thakur co-founded Moonlighting Delhi. By 2012, Thakur was working on Startup Weekend events in India, “where you come up with an idea and you walk out with a start-up by the end of the weekend.” Entrepreneurs who attended Startup Weekend started coming back to Thakur asking for additional support for their companies.
In 2013, Thakur launched his start-up CoworkIn “to provide the developing start-up economy with access to affordable office space as well as a community for validation of their ideas and help in scaling up their small businesses.” He says that multimillion dollar enterprises, including OYO Rooms and UrbanClap, grew out of these coworking hubs.
Thakur recalls his struggles to sustain and grow his companies. “I didn’t have access to capital or friends to motivate and support me. It was just me, Google and my computer,” he says. So, he decided to help youngsters start out because “they were in the same state of mind I was in when I was 16.”
During his visit to the United States as a participant of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in 2015, Thakur reflected on the impact of his work and what he could do to help define the digital future of India. He learned about U.S. cities and universities adopting technology for civic innovations and how the government, industries, educational institutions and private individuals could integrate effectively to solve problems. This experience convinced Thakur “the strength of collaborations between different stakeholders in an ecosystem leads to a very high-impact and innovative environment.”
Defining entrepreneurship as the power to change and make a difference, Thakur developed a simple philosophy: “If you really want to be an entrepreneur, you will require a lot of help, and to get help, you need to give help.”
Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.