Entrepreneurs who think ‘society’: advantage early movers
- 25 Aug, 2014
- Business Line
Two stories, 20 years
Independent thinking, persistence in enterprise pave the way for slow, steady change.
New ventures, great exits and
multi-million dollar funding news aside, entrepreneurs in India are
going beyond the ‘hot’ technology sector. Start-up Island has in the past spoken to small business owners concerned with social betterment, the environment, health and education.
of them have chosen to be layman focused, show interest in
sustainability, and giving back to society by first approaching
enterprise differently themselves. And there are more examples. In 1994,
Das Sreedharan started an Indian restaurant in Stoke Newington. Since
arriving in London in 1989, he had only one thing on his mind: feeding
people, making them happy. "I knew food and I’ve always been good with
people,” he says.
talks of entering the hospitality industry in the UK and losing his
job. Not knowing what to do in a foreign country, he found his feet
again when someone pointed him in the direction of a restaurant that was
up for sale. He turned things around for that property by starting his
first ‘Rasa’ there. "In just six months, many of UK’s popular newspapers
featured excellent reviews of Rasa. I was fortunate to receive an award
from TimeOut as well. In four years, we had regular customers from the
Americas and Europe,” shares Sreedharan. And India’s first Rasa opened
in Bangalore some months ago, 20 years since he first began business.
Jayaram spent two decades in the travel industry before quitting a
senior role in a well-known international firm. Her book Wise Enough To Be Foolish is a fictionalised memoir and provides one view of how dreams come
true. She started The Active Holiday Company earlier this year. It
specialises in adventure travel in the international market.
holiday space has many players. I’ve had to distinguish myself with my
product. My area of expertise is ‘international’ because that’s what
I’ve done for 20 years. From hiking to cycling and marathon tours,
guided and self-guided tours, we provide a bouquet of opportunities from
India,” says Jayaram.
It didn’t take her long to
strike that exclusive deal with the Virgin London Marathon and the Bank
of America Chicago Marathon. Indian runners now have sure shot places in
these prestigious races that nearly always get booked out in a jiffy.
"This is a business of tomorrow, not an enterprise of today or
yesterday,” she declares.
What now of the 20 years that are ahead?The next score
appearing on television shows and hobnobbing with names like Jamie
Oliver and Anthony Bourdain, Sreedharan is keeping expansions in the UK
reined in. Rasa has seven outlets there. But beyond growing Rasa in
India, there’s Rasa Gurukul in Chalakudy, Kerala. A culinary school,
Ayurvedic healing programmes, a coconut oil mill, a smithy that makes
pots, pans and equipment are part of the larger plan.
culture hub, a garden of dreams,” reveals Sreedharan. "Wholesome
cooking can heal the world. Societies are in confusion in spite of
material excess. Obesity, modern disorders, food shortage and such are
common. Indian food across the world has to have a rebirth. I want to be
a big part of that.” Jayaram’s dream is just as large.
age groups, more Indians are opting for active holidays. If they choose
a Nilgiris trek first, they often graduate to climbing Kilimanjaro and
the Himalayas. This base of the pyramid will continue to expand.
this will lead to more employment for the Sherpa and other local
communities, for example. Lack of employment causes their families in
particular to disperse,” she shares.
enterprise requires sound planning and a long-term view, keeping society
at the centre takes heart and big vision. And then like Jayaram says,
"History proves that early movers have the advantage.”