Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust: “Our aim is to assist jobseekers in the bottom of the pyramid become job creators”
Economic Times (ET): What prompted you to start BYST 30 years ago?
Lakshmi V Venkatesan (LVV): I was pursuing a career in the high-tech industry in the US. In 1990, when I accompanied my father (then President of India) on a state visit to the UK, I got an opportunity to sit next to King Charles III (then Prince of Wales). He shared with me details about one of his very interesting programs in the UK. It was about choosing young school dropouts from underprivileged backgrounds and making them extremely successful entrepreneurs. I also came to know that their first millionaire was someone of Indian origin, and I instantly thought, ‘why can’t I get such success stories in India too?’
Though in the nineties entrepreneurship was not a much sought-after career option among either educated or rural youth in India, I presented this concept to Indian industry stalwarts like JRD Tata and Rahul Bajaj, among others. Inspired by the idea, they immediately agreed and guided me to set up the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) in 1992.
ET: How many entrepreneurs have your organization groomed till now?
LVV: BYST has created awareness and counseled more than a million youth, helped set up over 12,000 ventures, facilitated loan disbursement of close to Rs 550 crore through public sector banks without any collateral or security, and achieved a success rate of 95%. In turn, these entrepreneurs have created around 4 lakh jobs and nearly Rs 5,000 crore in wealth.
Lakshmi Venkataraman Venkatesan, founder, BYST.
BYST has been creating economic opportunities for young men and women in the marginalized sections of society for the past three decades. We primarily assist disadvantaged, bottom-of-the-pyramid Indian youth to develop business ideas into viable enterprises under the guidance of a mentor. The focus has always been to assist jobseekers to become job creators.
ET: What are the key challenges you come across while grooming entrepreneurs from the lower strata of society?
LVV: Young entrepreneurs from the lower strata of society are often invisible to policymakers, even within the development sector. Even the micro-entrepreneurs from this segment do not know how to access the larger ecosystem. The ‘missing middle’ represents a large percentage of India’s youth who fall between subsistence enterprises and the more formal SME sector. These people may have the skills but not the institutional support. Policymakers need to give special focus to this group.
Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness among the youth. In the early ’90s, mass entrepreneurship at the grassroots level was unknown; there was a widespread lack of awareness about entrepreneurship opportunities; there were no mentors to guide budding entrepreneurs, and youth mostly wanted a secure job with the government or a large private company. Today, while more unemployed and underemployed youth are ready to embrace entrepreneurship, they still lack the know-how to do so. Also, there is a lack of a supportive ecosystem for the bottom-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurs, or grampreneurs, as we call them. Unfortunately, the situation has improved only marginally.
ET: Most of the entrepreneurs’ you groom are said to not have any exposure to mainstream business and banking processes. How does your organization bridge this gap?
LVV: Our model for grassroots entrepreneurs is designed to accommodate underserved youth in the 18-35-year age group who may have limited educational achievements and come from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds. BYST also conducts programs to identify prospective entrepreneurs. We also counsel youth one-to-one for entrepreneurial training.
The youth undergo a blended development training where they are briefed on the concept of entrepreneurship, banking practices, customer relations, business accounting, project preparation and soft skills in the art of selling and all the essential components of entrepreneurship.
Access to capital is also considered a major bottleneck. Under our access to financing initiatives, bank loan facilitation up to Rs 50 lakh is enabled through nationalized banks without collateral.
We have an example of a young entrepreneur who became incredibly successful. He went on to compete with over 1,000 entrepreneurs from 45 countries to win the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2022 in the “Covid Resilience” category. With his mentor’s support, he has built a Rs 1.1-crore business in 2 years. He has created jobs for 120 people (direct and indirect jobs). While many businesses shrunk due to Covid, his sales increased by 1.129% within a year and he has started manufacturing sim racing parts and now plans to set up offices in North America, South America, Europe and across Asia.
AND: Overall, successful entrepreneurs are building models that can replicate their success. Most of them have placed micro-entrepreneurs at the very core of their strategy. Do you think this is missing in the Indian model?
LVV: The Indian economic development models have not been very effective in placing micro-entrepreneurs front and centre. Since Independence, India has attempted to give importance to small-scale industries but has succeeded only sporadically. In the last few decades, our government’s focus has been on skilling. Now is the time to go beyond skilling.
Policymakers need to focus on creating an ecosystem with all the essential components and innovative tools for creating awareness at the grassroots, counselling, improving access to finance and, most importantly, embedding mentoring into the entrepreneurship development ecosystem. The government should encourage entrepreneurship at the grassroots and adopt an India-specific model like that of BYST’s. A national network of mentors should also be built to assist young, grassroots entrepreneurs at every stage of their journeys so they can develop into competent and empowered business owner-managers.
AND: Tell us about BYST’s medium-to-long-term plans.
LVV: We have a vision to create and support 1 million grampreneurs to generate 50 million jobs.