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Entrepreneurs who think ‘society’: advantage early movers

Entrepreneurs who think ‘society’: advantage early movers

  • 25 Aug, 2014
  • Business Line

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.

Many 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.

Two stories, 20 years

Sreedharan 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.

Gauri 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.

"The 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

Since 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.

"A 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.

"Across 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.

"Simultaneously, 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.

While serious 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.”