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November 2017 4th Newbiz Business Conclave Awards 2017

Published on: 2017-11-21 11:34:09     234 times read    0  Comments

“Building a vibrant startup ecosystem basically needs startup, mentors and money”​

Udaya Shamser Rana,  Minister of State for FinanceOscar Kneppers 
Founder, Rockstart Impact 

Rockstart was founded in the Netherlands in 2011 with an aim to help build an ecosystem and share the practices with the stakeholders in order to sum up the possibilities in terms of innovative ideas in business and how people can mix all ingredients to make this an energetic experience. It is really important to talk about the role of the government, financial institutions and people who build the startup ecosystem. And, it is indeed great to listen from young entrepreneurs like Aayushi who build businesses. It is important for us to determine what to do every day and how we can learn to help build the ecosystem. 

Looking globally, there are a lot of challenges and crises going on in every corner of the world. But it is also an opportunity for the world’s half billion entrepreneurs to build businesses facing some of these challenges, somehow finding ways because this is what entrepreneurs do. Since everything around us is changing, we need to keep moving and find ways to face the problems and build something better. 

While starting my first company in 1997, I and other members of the team worked in the attic for eight months where we wrote business plans and then started working on the figures. We searched for bank financing, but did not get the money which was the biggest problem for us. Things have changed nowadays as people can step forward and start. It has never been so easier, more relevant and cheaper to begin a company than today. ‘Step Forward. Start’ is Rockstart’s mantra number one. Step forward, get out of the comfort zone and build something! 

Rockstart puts entrepreneurs together in one space for peer-to-peer mentoring. This way, people will help each other and try to find solutions together. They will look at their networks as well as the networks of the mentors to share ideas and find solutions. 

The three business verticals for startups up to now have been in technology like mobile, smart energy and digital health. Artificial intelligence is coming soon. With the right knowledge, access to capital and space, startups can definitely achieve success. And, there is a space for aspiring young entrepreneurs here in Nepal. 

While working in Amsterdam, we always have the vision to build the greatest startup machine ever and that means it doesn’t have to be the biggest, but the best for any startup. We shared this with many people, and one day when Willem Grimminck saw us on a stage, he approached and said, “Hey can we set something like this in Nepal?” So, Nepal turned out to be our first foreign venture and we began to operate here three years ago. Rockstart Impact primarily focuses on accelerating entrepreneurs in the emerging regions, and the initiative in Nepal was a ‘beta project’ for us which turned out really well. So far, we have helped build 29 companies locally. 

In Nepal, there is a mismatch between the requirements of investors and what unique place entrepreneurs can provide. Nonetheless, we are also in a unique space where we can play with many things in between the big economies of the world, namely China and India. What we are looking here is to help build the businesses that are innovation driven, locally scalable and impact-oriented. 

Building a startup is really hard. Similarly, building a vibrant startup ecosystem is also very hard as it needs a lot of ingredients. The three basic ingredients to achieve this are startups, mentors and money. The only thing is you have to find the right people and to connect to the knowledge of the mentors who unlock their experiences. And, when it comes to money, there are risks that entrepreneurs need to embrace in order to become successful. 

In the Netherlands, we have worked with the government, other startup accelerators, banks and investors to create an environment conducive to startups. We worked in areas like easing the legal hassles and access to money. Access to money can be increased by providing tax benefits to private investors who invest money in the startups. There should be legal provisions to allow them to at least deduct the investments from the taxes if the ventures fail. It can be a way to get more people engage in the startup ecosystem. It is good to see that banks in Nepal have started to talk about possibilities in startup financing which wasn’t the case 5-7 years ago. Banks need space to invest and we need them, so get them engaged!

At Rockstart, we have launched six products and two of them just did not work. It was due to the factors like wrong timing in introducing the products. We decided to get rid of them as there was no way of making money and sustaining the products in the long term. In such situations, people are likely to get disappointed as they have invested a lot of time, money and energy to make things happen. Here, they need to learn to ‘pivot’ (get rid of it), change the business model and start over. No one likes to start over as it feels like failure, but it does not really matter. If you start over, you breathe, and go on as Steve Blank once said, “Entrepreneurship is hard but you cannot die.”


Rockstart was founded in the Netherlands in 2011 with an aim to help build an ecosystem and share the practices with the stakeholders in order to sum up the possibilities in terms of innovative ideas in business and how people can mix all ingredients to make this an energetic experience. It is really important to talk about the role of the government, financial institutions and people who build the startup ecosystem. And, it is indeed great to listen from young entrepreneurs like Aayushi who build businesses. It is important for us to determine what to do every day and how we can learn to help build the ecosystem. 

Looking globally, there are a lot of challenges and crises going on in every corner of the world. But it is also an opportunity for the world’s half billion entrepreneurs to build businesses facing some of these challenges, somehow finding ways because this is what entrepreneurs do. Since everything around us is changing, we need to keep moving and find ways to face the problems and build something better. 

While starting my first company in 1997, I and other members of the team worked in the attic for eight months where we wrote business plans and then started working on the figures. We searched for bank financing, but did not get the money which was the biggest problem for us. Things have changed nowadays as people can step forward and start. It has never been so easier, more relevant and cheaper to begin a company than today. ‘Step Forward. Start’ is Rockstart’s mantra number one. Step forward, get out of the comfort zone and build something! 

Rockstart puts entrepreneurs together in one space for peer-to-peer mentoring. This way, people will help each other and try to find solutions together. They will look at their networks as well as the networks of the mentors to share ideas and find solutions. 

The three business verticals for startups up to now have been in technology like mobile, smart energy and digital health. Artificial intelligence is coming soon. With the right knowledge, access to capital and space, startups can definitely achieve success. And, there is a space for aspiring young entrepreneurs here in Nepal. 

While working in Amsterdam, we always have the vision to build the greatest startup machine ever and that means it doesn’t have to be the biggest, but the best for any startup. We shared this with many people, and one day when Willem Grimminck saw us on a stage, he approached and said, “Hey can we set something like this in Nepal?” So, Nepal turned out to be our first foreign venture and we began to operate here three years ago. Rockstart Impact primarily focuses on accelerating entrepreneurs in the emerging regions, and the initiative in Nepal was a ‘beta project’ for us which turned out really well. So far, we have helped build 29 companies locally. 

In Nepal, there is a mismatch between the requirements of investors and what unique place entrepreneurs can provide. Nonetheless, we are also in a unique space where we can play with many things in between the big economies of the world, namely China and India. What we are looking here is to help build the businesses that are innovation driven, locally scalable and impact-oriented. 

Building a startup is really hard. Similarly, building a vibrant startup ecosystem is also very hard as it needs a lot of ingredients. The three basic ingredients to achieve this are startups, mentors and money. The only thing is you have to find the right people and to connect to the knowledge of the mentors who unlock their experiences. And, when it comes to money, there are risks that entrepreneurs need to embrace in order to become successful. 

In the Netherlands, we have worked with the government, other startup accelerators, banks and investors to create an environment conducive to startups. We worked in areas like easing the legal hassles and access to money. Access to money can be increased by providing tax benefits to private investors who invest money in the startups. There should be legal provisions to allow them to at least deduct the investments from the taxes if the ventures fail. It can be a way to get more people engage in the startup ecosystem. It is good to see that banks in Nepal have started to talk about possibilities in startup financing which wasn’t the case 5-7 years ago. Banks need space to invest and we need them, so get them engaged!

At Rockstart, we have launched six products and two of them just did not work. It was due to the factors like wrong timing in introducing the products. We decided to get rid of them as there was no way of making money and sustaining the products in the long term. In such situations, people are likely to get disappointed as they have invested a lot of time, money and energy to make things happen. Here, they need to learn to ‘pivot’ (get rid of it), change the business model and start over. No one likes to start over as it feels like failure, but it does not really matter. If you start over, you breathe, and go on as Steve Blank once said, “Entrepreneurship is hard but you cannot die.”

 

“Startup ecosystem growing despite many obstacles” ​

Ayushi KC, Founder, Khalisisi Ayushi KC
Founder, Khalisisi 

We started Khalisisi to help address the problems in waste management, especially for the recyclable waste. At present, 70 percent of the landfill wastes are recyclable. So, this type of business venture is much needed in Nepal, and people have become more conscious about waste management these days.

Until half a decade ago, there was no culture to support startups in Nepal. When I talked about starting a company with my friends, most of them did not know what a startup venture was. However, with the help from national and international accelerators and many other support groups, there has been a phenomenal growth of startups in recent years. This has created a sense of security in the startup ecosystem. I started Khalisisi after realising the value this business can create in the future, hoping that people would gradually accept our initiative and various support groups would come forward to help us. These factors pushed me into the unconventional business of waste management.   

Government support is indeed important for developing the startup ecosystem. Like every other entrepreneur, I too faced a lot of difficulties while registering the venture. During the process, my lawyer and other authorised government officials were so confused that they didn’t know about the particular category to get the company registered. This clearly indicates the level of apathy of the government bodies in terms of accepting innovative ideas in business. Such passiveness of the government has seriously affected the innovation of aspiring people. Similarly, there is the lack of clarity in taxation, billing and other legal issues.

Issues related to financing also create hurdle to start and make the business venture keep going.  Another challenge is related to the retention of human resource for the successful operation of the new companies. Likewise, gender issues still prevent women from realising their innovative business ideas. 

The traditional mindset of guardians in Nepal is another obstacle. Even in this modern age, parents don’t want their children to start their own business ventures. Society still considers failure as a major shortcoming of individuals, and this is one of the main reasons parents hesitate to allow their children to choose their own paths. 

Despite all these, the growing startup ecosystem has attracted a lot of youths in recent years. The perception about startups among the youths has been changing. With the growing number of venture capital funds and other investors, access to finance has been increasing, though slowly.  Now, we need to learn about innovative business ideas from the developed countries. If the government takes proactive approach and puts an effective legal framework in place, it will create an environment conducive to startups. 

 

 “Time for us to work in supply chain and start bootstrapping”​

Williem Grimminck, Director, One to Watch Williem Grimminck
Director, One to Watch 

One to Watch has been working as a fund manager in Nepal since 2010. We bring investors who invest in new companies. Having started investing in startups in 2012, we have invested in 15 companies in Nepal so far. The economic growth of seven percent in the last fiscal year made us believe that entrepreneurs have great potential to take the country to the next level. 

When I came to Nepal, one of the biggest issues was to find right sectors for investment. Then we joined hands with Rockstart in 2014. Rockstart helped us connect to entrepreneurs from across the country.  

Supporting the startups through mentorship has also helped us understand the local entrepreneurs and find ways to help them realise their ambitions and move to the next level. We have plans to increase investments in Nepal. We are raising a USD 20 million fund to help the startups growth. 

Nepali youths are now able to talk to their parents about their interest in starting a startup venture. This has been one of the biggest changes in the overall startup scene since I came here six years ago. When I looked to talk to entrepreneurs back then, I had a very few of them to share my ideas. Only forums like Entrepreneurs for Nepal used to organise programmes for startups in the country. Nowadays, businesses are organising helpful programmes with encouraging participation of entrepreneurs, startups, among others. There are many supporting groups for aspiring young entrepreneurs. Many accelerators and support groups make business models to help other businesses.

In the meantime, investors have started to take Nepal more seriously. Six years ago no one believed that Nepal has the potential to attract investment. A few years back, having a secure job and some money were enough to please a typical Nepali youth. Taking calculated risk was not a priority for youths in general. Now, the country has been gradually achieving stability in different sectors and one can have business plans for future here. Nepal is absolutely ready for investment. 

Now it is the time for us to work in supply chain and start sourcing the companies which come from bootstrapping. There are sources of seed capital and angel investment that provide capital to early stage companies. One to Watch looks forward to supporting ventures with good track record that have reached the breakeven stage. Beyond this, we also have multiple financers who come with aligned products. Many ecosystem players around the world have their own models that make them sustainable. In Nepal, it is important to reduce dependency on donor funds for the ecosystem to become mature. Currently, many of the players are dependent on money from different development partners. 

I have been invited to many interaction programmes with government authorities to talk about FDI. Mostly the interactions are about structuring, investing, exit and the process in between. I think, when foreign investors and the government understand each other better, the structure will become easier. The government can stay out and let the entrepreneurs and foreign investors work together. It is difficult to bring FDI in the country like Nepal which has not been systematic for long. European investors, for example, think twice before investing in Nepal. So many talented youths need investment to build their businesses. It is the responsibility of the government to create investment friendly environment in the country.  

 

“Collaborative approach necessary for bank financing in startups”​

Sunil KC, CEO, NMB Bank  Sunil KC
CEO, NMB Bank   

NMB Bank Limited has been operating for the last two decades. We have a joint venture partnership with FMO, a development finance institution based in the Netherlands. The primary objective of FMO behind having equity with a Nepali bank is to support sustainable economic growth, create jobs and empower entrepreneurship.

We are focusing on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and microfinance, apart from our regular banking activities. We are also partner for Global Alliance Banking for Values (GABV). A total of around 43 banks and financial institutions (BFIs) from around the world have partnered with GABV, to change the banking sector for supporting economic, social and environment sustainability.

As a member of GABV, we believe in the triple-bottom line concept where people, planet and prosperity are the three things we look into apart from profit. Our partner FMO has a network in 83 countries from where we can bring in the best practices to Nepal to share with the startups which will help them grow. We have a fund and we have launched 15 different projects over the last decade. There is a need to launch more projects to support the startups which will contribute to the economic growth of the country. 

The success stories of many Nepali startups have come to the surface in the last few years. Many youths have returned from abroad to start their businesses here. This is very positive for the banking industry. 

Our efforts in helping startups, particularly in the renewable energy sector, have made an impact. We can see many companies doing amazing works in the last six years. The last few years have seen Nepali banks engaging in SME lending and microfinance which is positive for the startup ecosystem. We are also participating in various accelerator programmes and boot camps. 

It is true that banks need to help create a viable space for young entrepreneurs. Banks view startup financing as a riskier proposition since the success rate of such ventures is very low in Nepal. Banks need to look very carefully while investing as they are the trustees for depositors’ money. Given the existing legal framework, there are certain regulatory issues in terms of collateral-free financing. Similarly, there will be a huge risk for BFIs to provide finances without any kind of collateral. One way banks can mitigate the risks associated with startup financing is by taking a collaborative approach with private equity funds, angel investors, and other actors in the startup ecosystem. Presently, the general trend of the financing structure is 70 percent debt and 30 percent equity. Probably we can work to raise the portion of equity to 40 percent by financing through private equity funds which will help to lower the risks. We also need to work towards finding ways to mitigate the risks in order to create a space for startup ventures. 

Banks look into the credibility and track record of the companies, among other things, while financing. In the case of startup ventures, we need to find other ways because the factor of credibility will be still weak. Banks also need to adopt openness as they have to take and manage risks while financing businesses. Being open will definitely help manage the risks properly. 

There also should be clarity on regulatory issues like entry and exit options of investors in the startup companies. More collaborative approach from all the players of the ecosystem is necessary. If all the players come together, banks will come more aggressively and contribute to help build the ecosystem. 

 

“Entrepreneurship is not only about digital revolution and should not always be urban-centric”​

Sohan Babu Khatri,  Founder and CEO, 3H Management Sohan Babu Khatri 
Founder and CEO, 3H Management 

I have already failed in three businesses which I take as my qualification. 3H Management is my fourth venture and I hope it will do well. I have witnessed a lot of changes in the mindset of Nepali youths throughout my academic and professional career. A decade ago, a lot of management students wanted to become banker. Now, many look to start their own businesses. 

Earlier, Nepali youths with entrepreneurial mindset used to have attitudes like ‘be your own boss’ and ‘independence’ while starting startups. However, the new generation understands that starting a business is not easy as they have already seen a lot of failures. 

The media should not only focus on the glamorous aspects of starting a business, but also needs to show the consequences and difficulties of launching a startup. Despite the difficulties, many young entrepreneurs have proved that hard work and dedication leads to success. It is because they were able to understand that only interest and passion is not enough to achieve success, and it is the capability, skill and understanding of issues in the market that is most important. 

Today, youths seek help personally from business leaders who have been their mentors. The mindset is changing for good these days, and many people are coming into this world of entrepreneurship with much knowledge and understanding than they had five or six years back.

All startup stakeholders should have an entrepreneurial mind for an entrepreneurial ecosystem to head towards the right path. The entrepreneurial mindset relies on effectual logic rather than predictive model or causal logic. Entrepreneurs believe that they can handle their ventures in any situation as they don’t want to be controlled by predictive outcomes.

One entrepreneur during the blockade back in 2015 asked me about predicting the future political and economic scenario in this country. I advised him that after the embargo ends, his venture should start working in such a way that it won't be affected by such blockades. Problems will arise. But entrepreneurs should be able to face the challenges. Entering into a business is only for those who can see opportunities in problems. We have been requesting the government to create an environment in the country where everyone feels safe in terms of doing business. With the growth of entrepreneurship in the country, the government's mindset will probably change and it will support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Another problem which I hear frequently is the retention of workforce in the startups. Inadequate remuneration has hit the staffers working in such ventures hard. Entrepreneurs need to have skills in managing human resources to create a suitable working environment in their organisations. 

At present, the discourses on the entrepreneurial ecosystem are too much concentrated on urban areas. The time has come for the stakeholders to work on investing in the rural parts of the country. They need to work from the bottom of the entrepreneurial pyramid to extract great innovation ideas. The focus should be on base of the pyramid of business and rural entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not only about digital revolution and should not always be urban-centric. 

We should spend more time on enhancing our qualities, capabilities and the business culture. The government should research and analyse the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the country, formulate necessary policies and develop a school level curriculum to create a favourable environment for young entrepreneurs.

 


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