A mentoring model for entrepreneurs that turns job seekers into job creators

From earning around Rs 4000 a month in a job to co-owning a publishing venture with an annual turnover of over Rs 44 lakh, life for Avinash Dhume has taken a full circle. Despite a school education only till class XII and a modest background, he is not only publishing affordable and interesting books but also creating a lot of jobs for others. Besides selling books, he is distributing them to underprivileged children, thus combining his social commitments with his entrepreneurial skills.

For someone who sold samosas on the streets of Chennai, Haja Funyamin has come a long way to become the proud owner of Hafa Foods, a firm that yields huge profits and produces a range of snacks. A recent deal with a company to export his products to countries such as the US, Canada and Singapore is a boost to his already burgeoning business. Most of his employees come from some of the poorest communities. Eight out of his total staff of 35 worked as bonded labourers once.

Avinash and Haja both had ideas to set up businesses but lacked adequate working capital and proper guidance. This is where Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BSYT), backed by its strategic partner Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) came into the scene.

Lakshmi Venktaraman Venkatesan, who co-founded BSYT in 1992, explains, “It is a guru-shishya tradition for business. A lot of times young people have an idea about how to set up a business but they don't have the money or proper mentoring. They don’t know how to grow and expand their business. We counsel them, train them and provide access to financing as we mentor them.”

The financial assistance is usually in the form of a loan but BYST does not subsidise the interest rates or provide the capital in the form of a handout. “We help them survive in the market as it exists today,” she says.

Since 1992, the BYST claims to have supported 2500 ventures and generated employment for 25,000 people till September 2011. Elucidating with the example of Bhausaheb B. Janjire, an entrepreneur supported by BYST who now employs over 300 people, Ms Venkatesan explains how the main goal of BYST is assisting job seekers in becoming job creators who in turn will create more jobs, sparking a chain reaction of job creation in the process.

The ventures supported are small and medium enterprises and the initial loans are Rs. 5-8 lakhs on an average. Depending on what works in the local environment, the businesses can be as varied as herbal cosmetics to doll making to hi-tech electronics. Financial assistance is followed-up with guidance on optimising the money and reinvesting it properly at various stages of the business cycle.

A successful business strategy is a combination of many factors with innovation being an important one. To drive her point home, Ms Venkatesan cites the examples of an entrepreneur who came up with a unique electronic automatic controller to prevent water wastage from overhead tanks, and another who built the world’s smallest air-conditioner and has applied for a patent for the same.

The BYST business-mentoring model inspired by a similar model in Britain and tailored according to the needs and challenges of a developing country like India has found a global footprint. According to Ms Venkatesan, as many as 40 countries – most of them from the developing world – have emulated BYST’s model as… “what works in India is more applicable to them.”

Avinash who is running for an upcoming international business award had a tough time during the formative years of his business. There were times when his whole inventory got rained out. At times he was supplied substandard raw materials and the end clients blocked his payments for months. However, guided by his mentors at every stage, he managed to rise against all odds.