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How This Network of New Generation Industrialists is Creating a Fresh Pool of Entrepreneurs "In order to build a relevant entrepreneurial ecosystem, like the government agencies, the corporates too have an important role to play"

By Baishali Mukherjee

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When he left his secure job of managing 75 skill training centres of a renowned company across Bengal in 2014, it was at the behest of his mentor who was his employer. He was encouraged by employer turned mentor to start a skill training business independently. The initial fillip helped him set up five centres.

This is the story of Uttam Hui and his mentor Rahul Dasgupta, Joint Managing Director, Globsyn Group. Within a year into our operation, Hui has successfully registered 1159 students who are trained in sectors like banking, retail, and hospitality at five districts of Bengal.

"We have successfully created over 300 district job opportunities and are connected with Globsyn and various Government ministries besides becoming the national assessor for Retail Sector Skill Council. It is time there are more like me who feel encouraged to start their own ventures without any fear of failure and ALFA Network will be the guiding force to incubate and show them the right direction to achieve success," he enthused.

ALFA Network is a forum formed with new generation industrialists and leaders from Kolkata along with century-old trade and industry body ASSOCHAM to boost India's vision to create Entrepreneurs for tomorrow. With a special focus on entrepreneurship, it has started to engage with Central ministries such as NITI AYOG and Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and Department of Education in the state of West Bengal to take this agenda forward. The members come from 30 different sectors with over 300 years of experience of running businesses.

From a tailor cum line-man working for a big brand to an entrepreneur, the growth story of Abur also resonates with Hui. Vivek Goyal, Co-Founder and Director, Zinc London and also a mentor of Alfa Network helped Abur buy 30 machines and invested in his humble factory. Today, Abur runs a factory with 250 machines and has a workforce of 300.

"Had I not received the support in my initial days I could not have outperformed my own expectations. Presently, I am all set to open another factory," shared Abur.

Start-up Mentoring is About Scaffolding the Unit

It is now a general consensus that start-ups need to find the right guidance at the beginning of their venture, to sustain and thrive. With this aim, ALFA Network is working towards easing procedural hassles, stringent labour laws and economic regulations in the process turning growth into a mass movement.

Dasgupta feels mentors act as a guide for a start-up by not only encouraging and providing information and knowledge but also stimulating personal and professional growth. "A mentor often acts as a sounding board, a trusted advisor that brings forward their successes and failures and often helps a start-up to get connected to the right opportunities that help in business growth. At times, the mentor might also decide to participate with equity in a venture," he elaborated.

For Devesh Bansal, Director, Skipper Limited and an ALFA member, mentorship can vary between start-ups but typically a mentor would look to advises, connect, train, motivate and help structure and drive an entrepreneur towards achieving their goals.

According to another member Aditya Vikram Mehta, Director, White Castle Hospitality and Director, Jaypee India Ltd. as a network ALFA believes in promoting start-ups and it does so by connecting entrepreneurs with possible investors, organizations, incubators, and accelerators. "However, when it comes to mentoring, we believe, our job is to primarily scaffold the start-up with our experience and knowledge so that they are able to achieve their vision," he iterated.

Aiming a National Growth

ALFA has around 10 success stories of start-ups who have been mentored by the members and are running successful and sustainable businesses today. Most of these start-ups have been handpicked by the members and represent sectors like manufacturing, hospitality, education, gems and Jewelry and apparel amongst others.

The network has a mission is to grow its membership and mentorship program nationally. "We intend to have close to 100 mentors for the start-up community by 2018. On the demand side, ALFA has already started working with IIM-C and other start-up accelerators and have extended our members as mentors to these ecosystems," shared Dasgupta.

Business Linkages Works Better Than Funding

The support program provided by the members is strongly pegged on providing business linkages to the fledgling businesses. The members jointly voiced that business linkages are more important than funding for a start-up.

"In most cases when a start-up raises capital, it spends it on marketing, promotion and client acquisition. We believe the entire process can be cut short by connecting start-ups with our member organizations or connections from the external business ecosystem. This not only saves time or money but also helps a start-up gain credibility which helps them to become sustainable quickly," enunciated Dasgupta.

Elaborating further Bansal proclaimed that the start-ups that they adopted and provided linkages have grown to become sustainable and credible much quicker. "Many of them have also gone to acquire newer client and most importantly, financially, these entrepreneurs have been able to deploy their capital to improve their products and services rather than invest in client acquisitions," he notified.

Collaborative Approach Between Seekers and Providers

Speaking about creating a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, the members shared that in order to build a relevant entrepreneurial ecosystem, like the government agencies, the corporates too have an important role to play. "Our mission at ALFA is to work with the corporates and the start-up community to build a cohesive and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem," informed Dasgupta.

On the prerequisites of the start-ups, Mehta charted out three basic elements - a clear vision, identifying the problem they are trying to solve be passionate about it, putting together a passionate and talented team that has espoused the vision and finally, focusing on a structure, process, and discipline at an early stage - for not just raising funding but to scale quickly.

Baishali Mukherjee

Former Freelancer

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