S. Rajagopal, Chairman and Managing Director, SIPPO, talks about motivating young entrepreneurs to adopt innovative marketing strategies

S. Rajagopal works hard for the welfare of entrepreneurs and their development. Through his innovative programmes and training modules he has lit the lamp in the lives of so many people. Though his initial ‘S’ stands for Subbiah Naidu, his father’s name, he is better known as SIPPO Rajagopal in business circles. SIPPO stands for Small Industries Product Promotion Organisation.

An expert in cluster formation, 75-year-old Rajagopal initiated the first cluster for sungudi, the traditional tie-and-dye craft of Madurai weavers, in the city. Through SIPPO he has formed many such clusters for Athangudi tiles, Nachiar Koil brass lamps, Swami Malai idols and Thirubhuvanam silk sarees.

“It is a skill development exercise,” says Rajagopal. “We provide training to enhance their technical skills and improve the quality of the product. Besides, we also organise design workshops to make them understand the strategies to attract people,” he says.

Born into an agricultural family in Sangarapuram near Bodinaickanur, Rajagopal was introduced to the English alphabet only in VII Standard. He studied chemical engineering and worked at the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute, Karaikudi, as a scientist. His father inspired him to go into public life. “Though my father was a government servant, he took part in the freedom movement,” he says. “In those days, our house was a boarding place for those who came down from our native village seeking my father’s help. Once, he went to a college seeking admission for a boy from our place, but the principal of that college took time to meet him. Irritated, he founded the Mannar Tirumalai Naicker College,” recalls Rajagopal.

In his career, Rajagopal has frequently ventured out of his field, into battery making, cardamom oil extraction, masala powders, broiler chickens and land promotion. He would like to see new age entrepreneurs take similar risks.

In an attempt to teach his methods and successes to upcoming entrepreneurs, he started SIPPO two decades ago in association with the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation the National Small Industries Corporation.

“I had a severe setback,” he says. “I started this organisation purely to market indigenous products. In my first attempt, I opened an office in Madhya Pradesh and sold jet pumps that were produced here. Sensing quick money, some units bypassed me and sold their products directly and I suffered a huge loss. From then on, I decided to do only advisory role.”

SIPPO was then converted into a training centre. “So far, we have trained more than 10,000 persons,” he says. “We now have a mobile training centre which does capacity building programmes.”

The organisation now conducts many entrepreneurship development programmes on food products and processing in association with the Ministry of Food Processing. At present, training programmes on jute products and screen printing are being organised. “We have developed more than 200 entrepreneurs in jute products,” he says. SIPPO also offers training courses on saree printing, garment manufacture, and production of simple chemicals like washing and cleaning powder. “We feed them sufficient inputs to prepare project reports and arrange for bank loans. We also conduct design workshops and arrange to obtain artisan cards for participants.”

Many who are in the business do not fix the salary for themselves, he says. “We teach them how to fix costing,” he says. “Raw material, processing, electricity and marketing costs are all calculated. People also forget there is a margin for the marketing. They suffer losses because of that. You work and draw a pay for it. They don’t know how to separate pay and profit.”

From fixing the project cost to arranging for a bank loan, improving the product to suggesting marketing techniques, SIPPO takes care of everything.

Rajagopal’s objective is to bring out new entrepreneurs and enhance their confidence level. More than 70 percent of his trainees are women. He also runs a consortium where experts are roped in to clear doubts.

Says Rajagopal, “You can become a businessman even if you have Rs.10,000. But you should be confident of your abilities and should have the urge to succeed.”