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Alan Rosling: We are seeing an explosion of ambition

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-07-2017 Sonya Dutta Choudhury

From online wallet Paytm to medical database start-up Practo and data analytics firm Mu Sigma, many of India’s best-known start-up stories feature in Alan Rosling’s book Boom Country? The New Wave Of Indian Enterprise. The author has spent years working in India, as the chairman of trading house Jardine Matheson and as an independent director on the board of Tata Sons. He even turned entrepreneur, co-founding solar energy company Kiran Energy in 2010. Boom Country? doesn’t delve into any of these experiences, however. Instead, it draws on a series of interviews with entrepreneurs, investors and government officials to offer an analysis of entrepreneurship in India.

Rosling, who lives in Hong Kong, was in Delhi recently to promote his book. In an interview with Mint, he discusses the roots of his fascination with India, his interactions with entrepreneurs, and the surprises that came his way during research for the book. Edited excerpts:

Boom Country?: The New Wave Of Indian Entrepreneurship— By Alan Rosling, Hachette India, 270 pages, Rs599.

What was the inspiration for writing the book ?

India has always been entrepreneurial. But now we are seeing an explosion of ambition, of people who want to change the world and make the country better by starting a business. I wanted to examine this movement.

Were there any themes that emerged during your study of entrepreneurs for the book?

I decided to interview 100 entrepreneurs, seeking a balance of experienced and more recent entrepreneurs, those who have succeeded, failed and are still trying. There were two themes. One, the transformative impact of education. All the entrepreneurs featured are graduates, almost all engineers. The second, and even stronger, common theme was the importance of exposure to the US, either for education or employment. 

Did anything about the study surprise you?  

The most interesting one was that women are very under-represented in business in India. Only 6% of the people I interviewed were women. In my opinion, it should be easier for women to work in India because of more family support, and being able to afford domestic staff, which is not possible in other countries. Yet women told me horror stories about trying to raise money and the kind of dismissive attitude they got from men. 

The title of your book is a question. What is your view on the future of entrepreneurship in India?

If you read the conclusion, I have tried to answer the question, but frankly only the next 20 years will be able to answer this. The biggest difference between the entrepreneurs of India, and California or Cambridge, is that the top universities in India are not as connected to the start-up culture as universities elsewhere are.

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