A Start-up Warning

Strategies anchored in incubators fail to foster entrepreneurship

Written by Krishnamurthy Subramanian | Updated: February 8, 2016 1:04 pm
Krishnamurthy Subramanian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during the launch of “Startup India” action plan at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

The government’s “Start-Up India” initiative is laudable. In its action plan, a public venture fund is conspicuous by its absence. This is an excellent move. But while the government has avoided one misstep, it seems to have taken another: As part of the action plan, it intends to create a policy and framework for setting up incubators across the country in PPP mode. The plan envisages setting up 35 new incubators in existing institutions, where 40 per cent of funding shall come from the Centre. This does not seem prudent. Research by the Kauffman Foundation demonstrates that the incubation centre strategy is ineffective at promoting entrepreneurial activity.¹ Strategies anchored in incubators fail to foster entrepreneurship because the tactics are not suited to the experiential and collaborative process that characterises entrepreneurship.

Incubators are set up to provide start-ups with office space and basic services, which will free up funds and allow them to focus on core business functions. Office space and overheads, however, are hardly effective or vital, and research shows that this support will not necessarily lead to a surge in successful entrepreneurial ventures. Unless a start-up requires capital-intensive equipment, the incubator does not help it significantly, and may only serve to harbour businesses that would otherwise not survive. Some incubators purport to go beyond office space and provide more diverse support services, such as accounting and bookkeeping, legal and management advice, and intellectual property assistance. Research, however, provides no evidence to suggest incubator firms perform better than non-incubator firms.

Instead of focusing on incubators, there must be a long-term emphasis on entrepreneurs as individuals who learn by doing and interacting with others. States seeking to promote entrepreneurship must create communities characterised by dense connections among entrepreneurs and organisations that support them. Research indicates local connections are far more important to the success of entrepreneurs than national or global contacts because entrepreneurs in the same business environment are the best sources of specific information and knowledge for those starting new businesses. Also because entrepreneurs need to interact and learn
frequently and on an ad-hoc basis to meet emerging challenges.

While books and courses may inform continuous learning, there is no substitute for advice from local business owners as entrepreneurs navigate the complicated decisions they face at each stage. Other entrepreneurs can offer the most effective advice specific to the new business’s situation and locality. These connections, however, are not easy to make. It is often difficult to find other entrepreneurs or meet investors; and investors have trouble identifying local entrepreneurs. State governments can facilitate networking between entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship support organisations by bringing them together in an environment that catalyses learning and the formation of relationships, and offers opportunities to discuss challenges candidly and receive feedback and advice. Events that bring entrepreneurs together to learn and connect create vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystems and with minimal investment.

Among other steps that the government needs to take to make the Start-Up India initiative successful, is simplifying taxation for start-ups after their three-year holiday. Taxes matter, but what entrepreneurs are most concerned about is tax complexity. Simplifying tax codes and payment systems so they are easier to understand will relieve what many entrepreneurs feel is a burden on them. Also, land-use and zoning regulations are consistently flagged as significant concerns of entrepreneurs. Surveys consistently find that start-ups identify rules relating to zoning and land-use as the ones that create the greatest difficulty for them. This concern is likely to be significant because about half of all entrepreneurs start their firms within their own homes, while only 40 per cent rent or lease space. One immediate action states can take is to establish transparent criteria for zoning approvals and institute quick and transparent decision-making processes by local bodies. Both are crucial to start-ups, especially those in the earliest stages. Cumbersome and long decision-making processes are detrimental to entrepreneurs who have business ideas, operating cash, and customers, but must wait months to find out where they can locate their businesses.


¹ Yasuyuki Motoyama and Jason Wiens, 2015, “Guidelines for Local and State Governments Entrepreneurship,” Kauffman Foundation Research Paper | - Subramanian, a board member at Bandhan Bank and NIBM, is associate professor of finance at ISB, Hyderabad

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  1. K
    Feb 8, 2016 at 11:22 am
    'Start-up' incubators need enterpreneurs who take sophicated 'incubation' training to maximise profits with minimum risks. When even the basic training facilities are hard to find, how profitable will be start-up 'incubators'?
    1. G
      G M
      Feb 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm
      Man made brehmenical fundamentalist religious order is a big departure from real original tolerant Hindu religion. These pseudo Hindu fundamentalists rears it's head whenever Sangh Parivar occupies centre stage. After 60 years of independence we are still in the dark age where ideologies of hatred responsible for hi ji's ination is insutionalized (R.S.S.) and is ruling the roosts . Hundred thousands of farmers has already died of suisides. Thousands of solders have laid down their lives for the service of the nation. By and large most solders are son of farmers. Is this our celebrated slogan JAI JAWAN AUR JAI KISSAN. ? Then for noticing the distress of father (farmers) and son's(solder) requires a responsible government . Which unfortunately we don't have. Everyone belonging mainstream has a opinion that right wing extremist residing in safe and secure neighborhood are much more ferocious and ruthless than leftist in far away insecure interior of India.
      1. G
        G M
        Feb 8, 2016 at 2:09 pm
        बी.जे.पी. के पहले था जय जवान और जय किसान, बी.जे.पी. के बाद है मर जवान और मर किसान | मत भूलो श्री मान् , अधिकतर जवान हैं किसानों की सन्तान | सब हैं हैरान और परेशान, खून के प्यासे ले रहे हैं नौजवानों की जान | अगर पूछो पैग़ाम, तो बताते हैं मेरा भारत महान | बहुत हुआ बलिदान, अब बस भी करो लेना इम्तेहान| जो अगर न बचेगा इन्सान, तो किसका होगा कल्यान | अगला चुनाव भी आना है, वोट मॉगने जाना है , सम्भल जा नादान , वर्ना ा होगा अन्जाम |
        1. M
          Madhuri gaddam
          Feb 8, 2016 at 6:18 am
          The article talks about building local linkages and also criticizes the idea of incubators in the same breath. The idea of incubators is also enabling the budding start ups to learn from each others experiences and create a mutually enabling atmosphere
          1. P
            Feb 8, 2016 at 7:45 am
            The issue here is supply side vs the demand side, supply side is full of hope, we have done this, made funds available , made infrastructure available, now respond. May agree to the author that we need collaborative networks, which result in experience sharing and resultant development of ideas, which may result in fostering and development iof creativity. Are knowledge centers the answer, instead of incubation centers, which are based on fond hope that change may be brought in by supplying the goods. It will also help people with sound academic and industry knowledge to interact with would be entrepreneurs.
            1. S
              Feb 8, 2016 at 3:00 am
              Inequality in opportunities and economic conditions is a direct result of feudal systems. In the modern world, there are still remains of feudalism intact. All these forms of feudalisms contribute to the inequalities in opportunities as well as economic status of people. One of these feudal remains can be directly identified and there are of a couple others that are more insidious but make even greater contribution to inequalities in opportunities. The first and possibly the less harmful is the presence of various royalties - the Saudi king, the British queen, the orted kings, queens, princes and princesses of Europe and Asia. This can be directly recognized as feudal and the world can not call itself modern in governance till these systems of royalties vanish. The second form of feudalism is indirect, flourishing unabashedly in the so called democracies - which is, the entrenchment of dynasties within the different realms ociated with democracy. The different political parties in Indian subsonent - Congress party in India, various dals and Kazhagams in India and the different parties in stan and Bangladesh spring readliy to mind. This dynastic entrenchment stunts the onset of real democracy and subverts the real gains democratic forms of governance can provide.To counter this feudalism, political parties and deocratic insutions have to self regulate and people must force them to restrain from such tendencies of dynastic entrenchment. There is another form of feudalism that is even more indirect and is even more insidious, and possibly the greatest and most direct contributor to inequalities. It is much less recognized as feudal as it thrives even in what are considered the developed and elite parts of the world, and is even hailed as free enterprise wich is supposed to usher in economic freedom for the mes. The free enterprise as of now is a misnomer because it indulges directly in the use of the feudal mechanism of employment. Employment is a surrepious form of feudalism in that, employment, for the tenure monopoizes an enterprise's hold over an individual's productive potential and time. Full-time employment is completely devoid of distribution of risk for the employee. An enterprise spreads risks across multiple clients, multiple business opportunities as well as multiple employees. Full time employment constrains an employee in taking all the risk with one employer. This creates a stranglehold of employers over employees, while also making the employer a disproportionate beneficiary of the economic results. To counter this sort of feudalism, employee work hours must be capped at say four in a day or about 20-25 in a week with a given employer. People who want to work more or earn more as employees can work with other employers. This spreads the risk to an extent for the employee and enables people to explore avanues other than employment too. And it can reduce the levels of unemployment across people. Even more desirable would be to do way with the system of employment altogether, which can be instrumental in bringing down the disproportionate nature of benefits. People will organize themselves as enterprises that collaborate with other enterprises to produce products and services.Doing away with employment can really bring down the spread of feudalism and can create much more equal work conditions in economic sphere than what is possible now. Making people responsible for their governments as well as their own work is the desirable direction to take.
            2. V
              Vivek Verma
              Feb 9, 2016 at 3:15 pm
              what author is trying to establish is that new startup India campaign offers little on startup collaborations, impact of knowledge spillover from established entrepreneurs. Yes he is right in his analysis. The most important thing for startup to succeed is availability of resources at easy distance. Why IT startups at silicon valley have good success rate because entrepreneurs get benefited by knowledge spillover from business cluster. Indian start ups, mostly IT services based is going through a phase of consolidation and capacity building. While established one's are catching up with global peers, the emerging one are going through a learning phase. Startups mostly confined to Bangalore are likely to do better than startups anywhere else. Government is doing right thing by making sure that startup culture gets to inuins like IITS and others.
            3. A
              Feb 11, 2016 at 5:17 am
              Start-up can not go through success at all with the help of envisaging incubating centres. Although theoretical learning is different from practical learning. So, government should must understand this thing. Person who go through start-up should must be helped not only in initial stages but further also.
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