"Indians have by nature been entrepreneurial"

Ajay Agarwal, Finance Director, EO, South Asia, tells us why India is seeing a boom in the startup culture.

Q. There are business owners and then there are entrepreneurs. What is the difference?
Ajay Agarwal(AA): The difference between an owner and entrepreneur, as I see, is that the first one owns the business but is not involved in running it, while an entrepreneur is actively involved in the business and has a passion for it also. EO is for entrepreneurs, as you need to be actively involved in the business --- as they say "have a skin in the game and be the captain".
Q. India has a thriving entrepreneurial culture with the startup space booming. How does it compare with other countries globally?
AA: The startup space in India has only started to pick up pace in the last couple of years, especially with the tech boom. Indians have, by nature, been entrepreneurial globally. Take the Patels, who set up motels in the US or the newspaper stands in New York or London; Indian presence in the entrepreneurial space is obvious. It is just that the startups are now catching media attention. In the west, businesses were mainly driven by large corporations and with the dot com boom you are finding a lot of new entrepreneurs in these areas. This is also one of the reasons why everybody is now looking at startups.
Q. According to a report, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are the fourth-largest producers of unicorn startups in the world. What would you say are the elements that are making the IITs the nursery of Unicorns?
AA: IITs get the best brains in the student community due to their selection process and, therefore, it is not a surprise that they are the fourth-largest producers of unicorn startups in the world.
With the success of so many global new-age tech companies and also funding available through venture capitalist and angel funds, it is much easier for an engineering graduate to start up a fresh company, which was not the case 15 years ago.
Q. Why is there this entrepreneurial wave currently? What has changed over the decades?
AA: Coming of age of angel funds is allowing engineering graduates to take risk and venture out to create fresh enterprise. Earlier, most of this would had to be family-funded, in which case, someone would have to be either from a business family background or connected to a business family in order to start a business.
Q. EO seems to be an extremely innovative and interesting concept. So, what is it and what does it do?
AA: EO is a peer-to-peer networking organization, which enables young business owners learn from each other; as the saying goes: “it is pretty lonely at the top”. Even though every business has its own unique set of problems and issues, there is a common thread binding all these issues that business owners can share with each other and try to solve one another’s problems. This is the fundamental strategy of EO - to help and grow leading entrepreneurs by helping them engage with each other.
Q. What is the percentage of Indian entrepreneurs in the network?
AA: Currently, we are 1200+ members across the various chapters in India.
Q. Why should an entrepreneur join EO?
AA: At EO, one gets to meet other entrepreneurs and share experiences and problems and learn from each other. This is the biggest benefit I have found in EO. I have met some great people and made friends all over the world, many of whom I would not have had an opportunity to meet if it were not for EO.
Q. Are CFOs natural entrepreneurs? 
AA: This is a very debatable issue, as being a CFO is only one of the roles played by a successful entrepreneur.  An entrepreneur cannot go only by numbers, but also by gut feeling and vision, some of which may not make prudent sense to a CFO. I do not think anybody has been able to find a proper answer to this as of date.

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