‘Start up’ is a buzzword of the day. On Independence Day, from Red Fort, Prime Minister Modi gave a call for ‘Stand up India, Start up India’. He reiterated it in detail during his visit to Silicon Valley. Karnataka government announced a plan for having ‘Start up Policy’, it will be the first of its kind in India.
So much talk about ‘start ups’, but what is a ‘start up’?
Bibek Debroy, Member of NITI (National Institute for Transformation of India) Aayog in today’s op-ed in The Indian Express tried to define ‘start up’, as per his own admission, the definition is ambiguous. According to him ‘start up’ is a sense of disruption in status quo business environment; it has a commercial application and most importantly, ‘presence of an entrepreneur and it is an act of entrepreneurship’. With the given framing the design of ‘start up’ becomes inclusive. Thus, this definition brings a lot more people in the room, who are not per se college graduates owning laptops and fluent in English.
I remember in our childhood, we used to call suited booted man with attaché case -a businessman. From then on to now, my own understanding of ‘businessman’ has changed. The indistinct definition reflects the same understanding. It brings waste-pickers, waste sorters and godown owners, re-processors all under the ambit of ‘start up’ or as we used to say in past ‘businessman’. Street vendors, cobblers, neighbourhood tea shop walla are all entrepreneurs with their big and small businesses. For some a new venture i.e. starts up is a representative of risk taking ability, for the others it is survival strategy.
As mentioned above, our collective understanding of economic spaces is maturing. Street Vendors Policy, later Street Vendors Act is one such example of the maturity. Issuance of occupational identity cards to waste-pickers by Municipal governments in Bengaluru, Nelamangala, Pune, Pimpri Chinwad and Srinagar is another benchmark. Municipal Corporation of Bengaluru moved one step further. It installed Dry Waste Collection Centres. Many of these centres were allotted to wastepickers and small scrap dealers, recognizing their entrepreneurial abilities. Now these units have become small micro-enterprises channelizing waste streams in the city for recycling. Coconut shell waste which in past had no value, and was dumped in neighborhoods, is now being sent to furnaces as fuel. Thermocol waste which was again either dumped or burned is being used in buildings as insulation material. Multi layered plastic is collected and sent to ‘waste to fuel’ units (though, not a best way to dispose or process them). All this became possible, thanks to the recognition of entrepreneurial spirits of informal waste workers. Dry waste collection centres collect and aggregate such waste items, supply it to the markets which otherwise were distant or unknown.
This is just a demonstration. To be honest, it is still very little and but a great beginning. More needs to be done. Any proposed ‘start up’ policy or framework has to take this evolving understanding in account at state or national level.