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India's North East is Transforming Rapidly to Make Entrepreneurs Feel at Home Connectivity and infrastructure is poor thus posing a challenge to entrepreneurs who want to gain more consumers

By Sanchita Dash

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Ask anyone about the map of the start-up ecosystem of India and cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi NCR, Mumbai... are the ones that will be in the top list of star start-up destinations of India. These cities with their infrastructural and networking prowess attract not just the best minds of the country but also the moolah (we are talking about investors, from across the globe).

Far-off parts of the country often find it difficult to claim their sport in the Indian start-up ecosystem. But an emerging ecosystem comes from the land of magical beauty – the North East. Slow but steady, the start-up environment has been growing in the North East, with the state governments too encouraging entrepreneurship and creating a space for entrepreneurs to ideate and innovate.

Entrepreneur India spoke to founders of start-ups based in the North East about the challenges of starting up in the area and also their hope from the growing ecosystem.

Hope Amidst the Troubles

Even for a tourist booking a ticket to the land of the seven sisters, there's a lot of planning required. Connectivity is poor in the remote parts of the states thus posing a challenge to entrepreneurs who want to gain more consumers. Vijay Byrsat, founder of Centre Of Learning, Knowledge and Services (COLKS), said, "We are not only geographically isolated and delinked from the rest of the country but also have poor infrastructure."

The communication, transportation and IT infra is very, very poor in these areas. Byrsat believes that these challenges make it difficult for them to compete with their counterparts from other parts of the country. "The cost of logistics in our region is 8 per cent to any metropolitan city whereas nationally it is 2 per cent. Lack of any big industries such as packaging manufacturers, high quality printers, etc takes a toll on meeting our dealing deadlines as we need to source them from other parts of the country," he said. It takes around 25 days by road transport if they ship materials from Kolkata.

For any initiative to prosper, investment is not just required in terms of funds but also ideas, time, labour, efforts etc. However, the biggest challenge they face is the challenge of perceptions, believes Shubho Shekhar Bhattacharjee, Co-Founder, Centre of Excellence in Indian & Western Music (CEIWM). However, Bhattacharjee has a word for the wise. "The rest of the country, particularly people who have never visited or have worked in the NE have a stereotypical perception about the region, that it is unsafe, that there are no resources available etc. That is absolutely untrue. The NE is as safe or as unsafe as most of the other parts of the country," he said.

Bhattacharjee is also optimistic about overcoming infrastructural bottlenecks. "After all, the spirit of any entrepreneurial venture also involves finding, creating and managing resources where they may not have been apparently available," he said. Bhattacharjee successfully turned around the barrier of perceptions for their stakeholders and set up the Centre of Excellence in Indian & Western Music in Shillong and Tura, Meghalaya.

Government's Efforts to Improve the Ecosystem

The rising need for a Digital India is not one that is aloof the North Eastern part of the country. The state governments are waking up to improve the entrepreneurial conditions. There are a lot of appreciable efforts made by government organisations, private establishments and individuals, believes Byrsat. "We have the Indian Entrepreneurship Foundation (IEF), of which I am a proud to be associated with. It is India's first collaborative ecosystem for small scale entrepreneurs that works to educate and empower entrepreneurs across sectors," he said.

Talking about Meghalaya, he cites the example of the Meghalaya Institute Of Entrepreneurship (MIE)- a government organisation which has been working for enterprise development and capacity building of the people in the state to improve their livelihood. "We have the newly launched North East Entrepreneurship Fellowship(NEEF) which connects, networks and moulds entrepreneurs from the North East Other. There are institutions such as the Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), Guwahati and Dlabs, ISB Hyderabad which are also making concerted efforts to boost the start-up ecosystem," said Byrsat.

In recent times, there has been a lot of hype around investment in NE these days, particularly in Assam. But Meghalaya too is not far behind. "A lot of all round development initiative in the state has been taking place over the last few years, including setting up of some of the finest educational institutions like IIM, NIFT to name a couple. This surely would go a long way in creating Meghalaya as a preferred destination for resources and training," said Bhattacharjee.

Another development is the mega cultural and convention infrastructure that is being set up in Shillong. This will further boost the region as a preferred destination for events, conventions etc.

Rapid Transformation For Growth

As the efforts are on to transform the North Eastern part of India, entrepreneurs are filled with hope about growth at a fast pace. The current generation of the NE entrepreneurs are mostly first generation entrepreneurs with zeal to change the world. "They have a diverse range of innovative products and services. Being first generation means that they are still in their growth phase and coming from a challenge riddled region invites even more innovation," believes Byrsat.

Sanchita Dash

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Senior Correspondent, Entrepreneur India

In the business of news for 5 years now. Making my way across India thanks to my career. A media graduate from Symbiosis, Pune, I have earlier worked with Deccan Chronicle (South India's leading English daily), T-Hub (India's largest incubator) and Anthill Ventures (a speed-scaling platform). 

Stories, movies and PJs are my thing. 

If you hear 'The Office' opening score randomly, don't worry it's just my phone ringing. 


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