The Latent Entrepreneurial Exploration of North East India

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The North-Eastern region of India is yet to be explored to the fullest for entrepreneurship undertakings and in post-Covid it will be one of the favorite business destinations of India, as stated by Jitendra Singh, the Union minister for development of the north-eastern region (DoNER).

The markets are saturating in most parts of the country and hence northeast India has the reasonably uncharted potential of investors’ attention to the region. Pragmatic inferences reflect that India’s top Venture Capitalists and angel networks have their eyes on the region.

Since the last couple of years, there has been a paradigm shift in the mindset of the people from job-seekers, particularly government jobs to job-creators amongst the people of the northeast. The youth population, in particular, are realizing the importance of innovation to tackle the myriad local challenges themselves rather than expecting someone else to resolve the problems. As the region has received distinguished attention from the government, the youngsters have been leveraging the opportunity wholeheartedly,

There are several start-ups that have huge potential for business growth like e-commerce, entertainment, agritech, adventure tourism, media, and leveraging on local resources. Every region has its typical challenges and advantages, and it’s imperative to carve a niche. North-east India has carved a unique position in the nation’s entrepreneurial landscape by dint of its emphasis on social entrepreneurship which has innovations to deal with the society’s challenges.

While addressing the core local issues, these entrepreneurs from the northeast are innovating products and services that can cater to global demands. Entrepreneur, Tage Rita brews the world’s first variety of kiwi wines. Her venture is predominantly fuelled by the intention to find a market for the abundantly grown kiwi in Arunachal Pradesh. An entrepreneur from Meghalaya, Bestarly Marwain’s aromatic plantations are inspired by his intent to restore green coverage in the mining wastelands of Meghalaya.

The major challenges of northeastern start-ups are three pivotal factors: mindset, exposure, and skill-sets. The job-seeking mindset is intrinsic to the region’s upbringing in this part of the world. Therefore, extensive awareness drives, support of government and other institutions, success stories from the local ecosystem, imparting the right training, and a lot of time is required for boosting enterprising culture in the region.

Apart from job security, another very important element attached to a  career in this part of the world is respect. People want to hold a coveted position in administration rather than take risk and venture for entrepreneurship which they consider it not respectable career. Therefore, extensive and smart awareness drive to convey to the people the fact that entrepreneurship doesn’t just bring profit, but also immense respect by the positive changes that they bring in society and to the economy as courageous and ethical leaders. A radical change in mindsets must be brought both in the youths as well as in their parents to support the decision to take up entrepreneurship. To give the impetus to start taking risks without fear of failure, the need is to get exposed to a challenging environment where brilliant risk-takers are playing smart gambles to successfully resolve problems through innovative thinking.

Many innovative folks would bury their ideas without realizing the idea’s potential to be built into a profitable, scalable, and sustainable business. Innovators from metro cities like Bengaluru, Delhi etc deciphers the commercial viability of an idea as soon as it strikes. It is this kind of exposure and familiarity to entrepreneurship that the Northeastern region lacks.

Knowledge and skill-sets of doing business are very vital besides the mindset. Being more of a job-oriented community, the interests and academic curriculum are focused more on job-based subjects rather than on entrepreneurship courses. Many start-ups end up failing without strong and level-headed knowledge of business even if they have the right passion and risk-taking appetite. That’s one of the fundamental reasons why a lot of brilliant ideas are unviable and die down.

It’s a common mistake made by start-ups to focus more on their innovation rather than trying to understand the pain points of customers and align it with the market need. Another very important quality for a successful entrepreneur is grit. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t embrangled by lean patches but are rather quick decision-makers to tweak the business model according to the looming situation.

Automobile Technologies, the car service aggregator from Assam,  is a good example of grit and adaptation. When the lockdown had dried up their business, they swiftly transformed to offering vehicle sanitization services. So, it is important to stay agile, alert, and adaptable to situations.

The third unique quality, especially of the start-ups from this part of the world, is their knack at harnessing local resources to resolve problems. Be it a tea start-up from Assam, Esah Tea working closely with small tea growers to push the quality of tea production and help align it with the global demand, or the Meghalaya-based start-up Zizira-working closely with local farmers to procure, process, and sell quality herbs and spices to cater to a global market.

One of the pioneers of green entrepreneurship from Manipur is Mr. Ragesh Keisham a UNCTAD, Empretech Graduate, and a first-generation entrepreneur. His journey included many ventures prior to the foundation of “The SuiGeneris Inc”. During his quest he was very impressed with the numerous therapeutic benefits of Cymbopogon Citratus. As lemongrass grows wild in the land of Manipur, a very high yield was predicted for Cymbopogon Citratus. He launched The SuiGeneris Inc., a privately owned sustainable development enterprise that imported 10,000 saplings of superior quality Cymbopogon Citratus from Indonesia in 2007. On 21st August 2011, The SuiGeneris Inc. launched CC Tea, a naturally caffeine-free instant lemongrass tea. By mid-2012, the company had developed the first prototype for automating its tough manual works. Today, the company uses a much more advanced proprietary model, specially designed and tweaked for the purpose. Besides, there are many businesses that leverage the rich handloom and handicrafts of the region to brand at a national and international forum.

Promotional measures for entrepreneurship in North-Eastern Region

The Government has initiated and implemented several initiatives for improvement in enabling environment and vibrant ecosystem to enable entrepreneurs to tap the potential of the region.

The government has plans in a couple of years for the completion of important connectivity projects for capital rail, air, and road connectivity. Development of Inland Waterways- National Waterways 2 and National Waterways 16 will provide connectivity to Haldia through Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route and greatly benefit the eco-system by reducing cost.

Bamboo which has the potential to change the economy has got a boost with the setting up of bio-refinery at Numaligarh, Assam; Bamboo Industrial Park at Dima Hasao, Assam; with reduced imports following enhancement of import duty to 25% on bamboo sticks for Agarbattis and amendment in Indian Forest Act, 1927.

The institutional framework for the promotion of entrepreneurship is provided by several institutes like Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), Guwahati; three Indian Institutes of Information Technology(IIIT), Institutes of Hotel Management at Guwahati and Shillong, Film and Television Institute at Jollang-Rakap (Jote), Arunachal Pradesh, and National Institute of Design (NID), Jorhat, Assam.  These institutes provide opportunities for skilling and nurturing young creative talent and design aspirants from North East Region and boost entrepreneurship.   Further, KrishiUdaan Scheme to evacuate local produce, 586 Van DhanVikasKendras and Zoram Mega Food Park, etc. will boost entrepreneurship, trade, and commerce.  In Assam and Meghalaya, the PMYUVA Pilot is being implemented in selected Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), Polytechnics, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra (PMKKs) centers, and Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS).  Under PMYUVA, 25 project institutes have been selected for the pilot project on Entrepreneurship Development in Assam and Meghalaya.

Entrepreneurs in North -Eastern region have also been benefitted under various credit-related schemes. The Start-up India Initiatives aims at fostering entrepreneurship and promoting innovation by creating and enabling an eco-system.

The North East Venture Fund (NEVF), the first dedicated Venture Fund for NE has approved investments worth Rs 59.52 Crore in 29 ventures across sectors including healthcare, mobility, IT &ITeS, food processing/food tech, adventure tourism, agri-allied services, and handicraft.

Organizations such as  North East Handicrafts & Handloom  Corporation (NEHHDC), Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED), Khadi, and Village Industries Commission(KVIC) have launched E-Commerce portals such, which enable entrepreneurs including from North East to reach out to a wider market.   The organizations like NEHHDC and TRIFED are also supporting the marketing of NE products through other e-commerce platforms. 

While entrepreneurship is slowly but emerging in the region, it demands a lot of hard work, perseverance, grit, and skills to survive the initial failures. The North East region also has a lot of potential as a tech innovator, the digital advancement has yet to be explored, though there are few tech start-ups. Therefore this sector can be explored in the region. A radical change in the mindsets, thorough market research, understanding the needs, and determining prospective customers, and getting the right business acumen are prerequisites for entrepreneurial success.