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One Helluva Network

Here’s a network to reckon with. With 250000 registered members, 539 institutional members supporting 70000 students, 3500 events a year attended by 350000 participants, 1200 trained and certified guides and 3000 voluntary mentors on board, the National Entrepreneurship Network aims to create an ecosystem which supports high-growth entrepreneurs in order to help create jobs and drive economic growth in India.

Started in 2003 by IIT Bombay; IIM Ahmedabad; BITS, Pilani; SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai; Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bangalore, NEN is supported by the Wadhwani Foundation, a philanthropic initiative of Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, Chairman of the Symphony Technology Group, and The Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India. It has offices in Bangalore and Mumbai.

In all 326 entrepreneurs have been successfully supported by NEN and 3000 others are in the pipeline. But isn’t the number too small, you ask Executive Director Dr.K.Srikrishna. “The numbers may look small right now and these ventures may not even survive but we believe that by increasing the number of entrepreneurs and creating a sense of entrepreneurship, we are increasing the probability of success. The next few years will see the required traction,‘ he assures.

There are a few approaches that NEN has adopted to achieve its goals. The foremost one aims to build institutional capacity by partnering with academic institutes. Institutions typically have four stages of involvement. The Excite stage where we have experts deliver talks which help create a buzz, next is the Engage stage where we involve students in live exercises which are then analyzed, then we have the Create stage where they actually set up small ventures on campus and finally the Support stage where the trained and certified faculty support entrepreneurs inside campus and outside. “Beginning this year we have a small fee for institutions registered with us,” explains Dr Srikrishna.

Madhavi Lokhande teaches Finance at the Wellingkar Institute of Management Development and Research in Bangalore. She has been a trained and certified mentor with NEN for the last five years. She has this to say about her association: “ At a basic level, it helps me with live case studies in the class room. I mentor not just students but women at the grassroot level along with high-fliers who are beneficiaries of the Goldman Sachs’ 10000 women entrepreneurs by 2013 global initiative. This gives we a wide spectrum of perspectives, which have made my life richer. I have grown as a human being while being rooted.”

Nagmanohar who first experienced NEN while at college doing engineering is today an entrepreneur. He and his two friends – Darshan and Rahul – started a hotdog joint ‘Hungry Hogs’ in 2010. They have three outlets in Bangalore today. Nag has this to say about NEN :”We were extremely excited when we first heard of NEN. At college we were heading the E-cell which gave us tremendous exposure and learnings. The entrepreneurial fire was lit. Once out of college we brainstormed one night and came up with 50 –odd ideas – most of them revolved around food. We set up Hungry Hogs and its doing well. What we love about NEN is that they never push anything onto you but when we reach out to them they respond immediately with help and resources.”

NEN also uses a group-purchasing model to aggregate support for institutes, members and entrepreneurs. Support includes a bank of volunteers for speaking and mentoring opportunities; corporations eager to support innovation; fast-track access to funding and incubation; learning tools and materials. The NEN E-Club for instance is an initiative where future entrepreneurs gather to exchange ideas, brainstorm and ideate or attend workshops and seminars. The E-Club has 2600 members. NEN works with corporations like Tata, IBM who are keen on promoting enterprise and innovation.

In an age when the spirit of enterprise is recognized and celebrated by individuals and business houses, the benefits that organizations like NEN bring to the table are not always obvious. It’s a change in mindset, which works far more subtly and deeply.

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