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Government push to start-ups can energise social sector: Gururaj Deshpande

NEW DELHI: Five lakh new start-ups every year in America generating 4 million new jobs for the US economy. Figures that Indian American venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Gururaj 'Desh' Deshpande reels off with pride.

And Deshpande, co-chairman of US President Barack Obama's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, also champions that start-ups can help engineer social change in India in the same way that they are helping revive the US economy. "In the US, start-ups are generating jobs even as the big companies lose them. And the government support through partnerships such as Startup America is helping to speed up start-ups," says Deshpande, who spoke to ET at IIT-Delhi, where he was attending a national conference on social innovation. He firmly believes that a similar government-led approach of providing access to research, mentorship and funds for start-ups can energise the much-needed entrepreneurship in India's social sector too.

According to him, the innovation corps programme run by the 
National Science Foundationof America, which helps scientists and engineers take their ideas beyond labs into broader impact fields, could provide a model through which innovative ideas could be taken out to solve broader problems in India. "Like the cutting edge start-ups in Silicon Valley, start-ups in the social sector too need to achieve excellence in execution for success," says Deshpande, who has been investing around $3-4 million every year in a social innovation sandbox project in Hubli, Karnataka, for eight years now. The sandbox project, run by Deshpande Foundation, incubates social innovation experiments and helps them scale up. So far, it has achieved 50 successful interventions. "When I started the foundation with my wife Jaishree, we felt that start-ups in the social sector were far more relevant in the Indian context than in the IT sector and like Silicon Valley is a hub of innovation in technology, Hubli, too, could become a hub for social innovation and local leadership," he says.

Sanjay Kadaveru, founder & president of Action for India, a non-profit organisation formed in 2012 to help scale the impact of social organisations by leveraging technology and government, too believes that creating regional hubs with hub champions is the best way forward for effective social entrepreneurship in India. "Besides the Deshpande Foundation, we have identified five more hub champions and have entered into partnerships with them. These are 
DLF Foundation for rural Gurgaon; Spice Telecom for western UP; Sangita Reddy of Apollo HospitalsBSE -3.91 % foundation; Srini Raju of Peepul Capital and Raju Reddy of Hitachi Consulting for Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu," says Kadaveru.

Indian government could become a partner in promoting social entrepreneurship that can make a difference for large sections of economically weaker sections. But for that, it has to get its policy act together, feels the entrepreneurial community in the country. "There are various problems including the protection of intellectual property rights which prevent India from becoming a global hub for entrepreneurship. In Indian government circles, the feeling is that entrepreneurship is only about IT start-ups, which do not need any support. (This is) a perception that needs to change," feels Subinder Khurana, founder & CEO, BankSmarts Solutions and chair, entrepreneurship nurturing programme, TiE Delhi & mentor, NASSCOMemerging companies forum.

New models of social innovation could emerge from India, especially from villages and tier-III towns. "But for that to happen successfully, the government has to support local incubators which will delve into local problems and involve local innovators Often a bias towards high-end technology will not work in the Indian context for social entrepreneurship ventures and it is far more important to focus on issues such as scaling up quickly and jobs creation," says Aditya Mukherjee, author and entrepreneur, who had set up Uoolabs, a start-up in Singapore. Currently, he works as a management consultant in Delhi.