CHENNAI : Harsh Mariwala, founder and chairman of Marico launched the second chapter of ASCENT Foundation, a peer-to-peer platform for entrepreneurs, in the city recently. With over 350 entrepreneurs in Maharashtra since its launch in 2012, the platform is now looking to expand its footprint in Tamil Nadu. CE talks to the founder of the FMCG giant (Fast-moving consumer goods) about ASCENT Foundation, entrepreneurship and more. Excerpts follow:
What made you choose Chennai over other cities?
Chennai has a high degree of quality entrepreneurs. Integrity and governance is good in the city. It is a popular auto hub and the surrounding towns like Salem and Coimbatore are profitable business hubs. A combination of these factors led us to choose Chennai.
What do you think is the biggest change in the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of India?
Changing consumer habits and evolving technology has created a desire among most of the youth to start their own business and become entrepreneurs. These young successful entrepreneurs also act as great motivators hence pulling in a lot more aspiring entrepreneurs.
How has ‘digital disruption’ changed the business ecosystem?
The digital world has opened up newer opportunities. The limitations which were there earlier have now been minimised. Earlier when you had to launch a new product, you had to advertise it on television or in the press, now they are advertised on the digital platforms. This gives a lot of freedom to the entrepreneurs and permits them to enter into businesses that they were not able to enter.
How does the ASCENT Foundation foster entrepreneurship?
ASCENT Foundation targets entrepreneurs who have reached a certain scale and is not meant for startups. The transition from small enterprise to medium and then large isn’t an easy task. Since I’ve already gone through the transitional journey, I wanted to help the small entrepreneurs do the same. It will have a multiplier effect on all the stakeholders.
What is the biggest challenge that small and medium enterprises face today?
The biggest challenge is always the problems associated with people. If you have a good business model, I don’t think there is any constraint in terms of resources or funding. The bigger challenge is to attract talent, retain talent and to delegate the work.
Is the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector ailing?
Demonetisation and disruption did have an impact on the sector but their ability to bear the impact was possibly lesser and to an extent that it may have had a longer impact on the enterprises. The task lies in the hands of CEO or promoter to ride over the disruption successfully.
Of your 350 plus members in Maharashtra, about 45 are female entrepreneurs. Do women face different challenges than men?
Yes, that could be possible. There could be some resistance from the employees and family members to accept a woman leader. Some of the issues they face are also complex. It may not happen with every woman but it could affect some. (Inputs by Manav Chordia)
What is the most important skill that an entrepreneur should cultivate?
An entrepreneur must know how to win the market and how to sustain the edge that they have got. They need to find that competitive edge. And once they identify it, they must keep sharpening their skills so that they can maintain the edge. They should focus on good talent acquisition and build a culture that makes people work in a cohesive manner.