The wind beneath their wings

The wind beneath their wings
It’s the age of entrepreneurs today. While many take to this profession as a result of their financial status, there are many others who get into the line of business to make a livelihood or purely for the love of it.

But no matter what the cause is, Deshpande Foundation (DF) in Hubballi started the Navodyami programme in  2011 to inspire and support aspiring entrepreneurs and to make micro-entrepreneurship a viable livelihood.

Navodyami is a programme that acts as a base for micro-entrepreneurs to work out their pyramid potency by being in rural and semi-urban areas of North Karnataka. While the programme mentors the entrepreneurs, it also provides financial support and develops a favourable ecosystem to help and build scalability. The ultimate goal is to encourage and empower rural entrepreneurship.

But entrepreneurship is a field that is inundated with risks. How does one ensure the sustainability? Gururaj Deshpande, founder of DF, says, “We never really know what type of idea works and what won’t. It so happens that ideas that sound great fail and ideas that sound not so good succeed. But we can predict with some certainty the sort of people who will succeed, even if it takes them several attempts.”

Navodyami, one of the most sought after programmes of Deshpande Foundation, has supported several efforts that range from handicrafts and cottage industry to textiles, ecotourism and home industries. So, some of the businesses they have supported include dairy, tailoring, terracotta pots, cane, organic jaggery, kasuti, masala products and many more.

The process

Navodyami comprises a boot camp involving three stages. Market orientation is the first stage in which assessment is done to help participants understand the demands of different types of customers. Based on the feedback and insights gained, the product or service is worked upon and repositioned in the market. The second stage, business viability, comprises training on crucial aspects of business finance, including the calculation of production costs, profits and loss, cash flows and future projections of the unique business plan.

In the final stage of plan presentation, applicants present their value-added business plans to a distinguished panel of entrepreneurs, bankers and investors to assess eligibility for the Navodyami Award — a high-touch mentoring intervention that provides all the necessary support to get business off the ground.

A multi-level screening is done to choose the navodyamis of the year. But even those who don’t make it to the final round get adequate training that provides all entrepreneur participants a rich learning experience. Belagavi, Dharwad, Gadag, Uttara Kannada and Haveri districts have Navodyami beneficiaries mentored by the Hubli Sandbox of Deshpande Foundation.

Naveen Jha, chief executive officer of DF, says, “We take in micro-entrepreneurs who have started business ventures and earn approximately Rs 5,000-10,000 a month.” A network of 70-80 business mentors from various sectors volunteer to mentor, thereby cementing a long-term professional relationship with the participants. The programme has trained more than 4,000 micro-entrepreneurs till now, and 35 winners have been awarded over two lakh rupees to help them scale their businesses.

The management team of Navodyami has seven programme officers who are accountable for the growth of Navodyami awardees. Assistance, advice and on ground support provided to these entrepreneurs are highly customised as they cater to the requirement of each business with pre-defined quantitative targets in terms of turn over increase.  Neelam Maheshwari, director, Grants and Navodyami programme, says, “I believe that a grassroots form of entrepreneurship will sustainably impact the livelihood landscape in rural areas of North Karnataka.”

One of the beneficiaries of Navodyami, Dinesh Devadiga, was a helper in a hotel earlier. Aspiring to be a successful entrepreneur, he started Annapurna Handicrafts Industry in 2006. He got into Navodyami programme in 2011 and obtained bank loan for his business expansion. Today, he produces 40 products and artefacts with an annual turnover of Rs 60 lakh, achieving a growth of 500 per cent.

Thirumaleshwar Hegde, a Navodyami food entrepreneur from Sirsi, says, “I would advise young entrepreneurs to market their products well in order to scale up. Finance can be arranged easily, but right marketing is crucial. New entrepreneurs should first study the market to understand demand for their products and then start production.” 

A successful woman micro-entrepreneur, Jaya Hannakalasi, talks about how the programme helped her, “Navodyami changed my life and attitude towards society. It opened my eyes, gave me exposure to the present market and its needs. I always thought candle-making had a small niche market with limited growth and no scope for innovation. But, I have realised that this is not true. Any idea, no matter how small, will click if you know how to market it.”

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