The Foundation has helped 300 SMEs to leverage opportunities: Ajay Kela, CEO, Wadhwani Foundation

Wadhwani Foundation, a not-for-profit with the mission of accelerating economic development in emerging economies launched the ‘Sahayata’ Initiative in July 2020 to assist small and medium businesses, public health workers and early-stage startups in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Ajay Kela, President and CEO, Wadhwani Foundation spoke to ET on the work being done by the initiative, the impact of Covid and challenges and solutions for incubators. Excerpts

Economic Times (ET): Tell us about the work being done by the Sahayata initiative since its launch in August.
Ajay Kela (AK):
Under ‘Sahayata Advantage’, the Foundation has served 300 SMEs through business survival, growth, and SME capability building to leverage current opportunities in the marketplace. This support was led by the expansion of Foundation’s internal team to 60 business consultants along with a 100+ network of consultants from leading consulting firms and curated subject matter experts, advisors and mentors.

Under ‘Sahayata COVID-19 Skilling’ Program, we have trained 70,000 healthcare workers (including Asha and Anganwadi workers) with interactive videos while under the ‘Sahayata Public Health Innovation’ Program, we have funded six early-stage companies which have the potential of large-scale impact in the Public Healthcare Infrastructure for India.

ET: What has 2020 been like for the entrepreneurship ecosystem in India given the huge impact of Covid?
Impact of COVID-19 on the entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem was harsh. As per a recent TiE Delhi-NCR-Zinnov report titled, “COVID-19 and the Antifragility of Indian Startup Ecosystem”, 15% of startups have temporarily closed shop, 44% have a cash runway for less than 6 months, and 52% are struggling to raise funding.

However, entrepreneurs with resilience, innovation and perseverance recognized the unprecedented opportunities COVID-19 offered in healthcare, online education, streaming media, etc. and pivoted their business models to realize the once in a lifetime opportunity.

ET: Challenges that incubators face in India in the year 2020 and what are the possible solutions for the year 2021?
The key challenges facing the incubator ecosystem are the lack of robust entrepreneurial ecosystems or Incubators in Tier 2 and 3 cities, thereby inhibiting mass entrepreneurship in India; lack of robust business models for Incubators and lack of outcomes-focused metrics by government funders which is diluting rigor and startup success.

To address the challenges in the incubator ecosystem in India, suggestions for 2021 include:

  • Besides establishing Incubators in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, leveraging technology to support these startups by providing customized evaluation, context-sensitive tools, and timely mentoring.

  • Strengthening the incubator mentor pools through tapping into alumni, local ecosystems etc.

  • Fostering financial independence and business sustainability beyond the initial government support through an outcomes focused metric that will eventually draw the investor and corporate community to fund, sponsor, and support Incubators.

The Foundation has helped 300 SMEs to leverage opportunities: Ajay Kela, CEO, Wadhwani Foundation The Foundation has helped 300 SMEs to leverage opportunities: Ajay Kela, CEO, Wadhwani Foundation Reviewed by TechCO on 1/25/2021 Rating: 5

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