My experiments with ‘Coalition Entrepreneurship’

Author : Sunny Narang

Source : From LinkedIn Archives

Date first published : 31st July 2014

There are many limitations of non-profits but it is also true that entrepreneurship does not have a solution to everything. So one has been evolving a theory of “Coalition Entrepreneurship/Venture Developmentalism” for almost 20 years .

Just look at how artisan-guilds built Ajanta and Ellora. In India look at any artisanal production. It is generally handled by a family plus a few workers from the same caste, and when there is a flood of orders, they outsource and keep a small margin for themselves. They will never build huge capacities as they are never sure of any kind of permanence. We do the same in our multiple manufacturing industries in India. If there is an overflow of orders there are producers at a lower price with no working capital who just do job-work. This forms the basis of flexible manufacturing systems with lean capital or one can say “Coalition Capital”.

One developed a system where one could coordinate non-profits, designers, private stores, state-bodies and artisan producers. Artisans were taught to never depend on one buyer — usually exporters — since it would make most artisans bankrupt as there were always electricity, weather, social and logistical issues. Over time artisans learnt to build up a portfolio of exhibitions, stores and job-work. This is a long story but it helped them diversify and have something or the other as back-up. Most created coops and had their private businesses, whatever got them work.

So I realised that any innovation that is shared and takes a long term to establish needs multiple partners.

In Football/Soccer we have to deal with Federations, Associations, Sports Authorities, Reliance, clubs, players, coaches, fans, media, domestic and international partners in order to create a whole new ecology of digital content, buzz and evangelists . In 2012 there was no hope at all. So we spoke to all the stakeholders including the Indian Army who ran the Durand Cup — the 3rd oldest tournament in the World. We built the platform and pipelines and everyone spoke to each other through us. And we operated without ego, using FaceBook and YouTube as our instruments just like a Pied Piper to the young. We spent money on PR and content to build interest in the whole game, which was shared by no other partner or stakeholder at that time. We also built a pipeline and platform to train and play players in Denmark at our team FCV which was then a 1st Division team, and is now in the Danish Superliga .

We all know Anna Hazare’s story — he made the village temple with his pension money from his Army salary. And that inspired the whole village to pitch in later.

In India, someone always has to be a sutradhaar (sutra is thread in Hindi and one who threads up the beads or the narrative in a play is the sutradhaar) who will pay for the thread and the initial beads and then the people will come.

So I have what I call the Public-Private-Professional-Professor-People-(choose what you want here — Pied-Piper/Path-breaker/Performer/Philosopher/Poet) Partnership — the 7P model ;-)

When I spoke with Larsing Sawyan’s father Prabhat Deb (the founder owner of Shillong Lajong Football Club) back in November of 2011, he seemed to me like a wise warrior who had fought many battles. An award-winning architect, a musician and a passionate football fan, he along with few friends had founded Shillong Lajong FC to build a powerful pan Shillong and pan Meghalaya club to face the outside clubs in the 1980’s. It took them 30 years to get to the I-League 1st Division with the big boys of Mainland India. They were the first club to achieve this distinction from the North-East. They did this by making their team pan North-East — Nagas, Mizos, Manipuris, Arunachalis, Assamese et al. They were the positive icon of what North-East talent could achieve . But to play with the big boys one needs funds and better structuring, PR outreach and marketing support. That is how we as Anglian Football moved in. In 2012 we became the first investors in an Indian I-League club and that also owned by North-Easterners. This was despite 30 specialists in football and investment strategy telling us we were making a big mistake in an area with frequent political instability. We persisted for we saw talent and passion, not just among the owner-family and players, but in the people of Shillong and the North East. They turned out in huge numbers to watch football matches at all local league levels for the more than 80 teams in East Khasi Hills.

We helped build a smart football strategy team headed by Dhruv Ratra and Nikhil Sharma (one a Bay Area entrepreneur and the other a marketing man but both with an unlimited passion for football and statistics !) and we finished 6th in the table above clubs like Pune FC and Mohun Bagan in 2013–14. All this with one of the lowest team budgets across the entire I-League!

When John Abraham in his recent press conference in Guwahati, for the ISL team name release “North East United Football Club” said “I always had a fascination for football and North East. When ISL process started, we decided to have the team Guwahati or else we would have stayed away. By naming the team after the entire region, we want to project the eight states as a force to reckon with in Indian football,” we felt vindicated.

In the football version of IPL, when a new era in Indian Football is going to begin, the North-East will be the foundation of one of the 8 original teams . We feel we played a role in getting North-East talent projected and discovered, and are delighted to have been a part of this journey .

Anglian Medal Hunt was ideated with an Infrastructure PPP expert, an ex Income Tax Commissioner and MD of Goa state Infrastructure company, Maneesh Bahuguna. I found the investors with family seeding and Maneesh got his Goa friend Peter Vaz, owner of Sporting Club de Goa and son of a Trade Union leader in a Govt printing press, a staunch Catholic and a first-generation builder-developer in Central Goa. Also joining us in this unique and never done before (in India) coalition are Ajay Agrawal a serial-tech entrepreneur, Pradyot Deb Barma from the royal family of Tripura (also Editor of TNT-The North East Today and General Secretary of the Tripura Congress) and a couple of professional friends. Of the 11 AMHC athletes selected by the Indian Commonwealth Games team, 8 have won medals , of the total of 64 medals India won.

All the models I have attempted are usually very complex, with multiple stake-holders and seemingly long-term. In reality their movement have been short-term!

So we learn as we go along, as in Microspin that is a manufacturing start-up where I got academics to invest with me and my family before NSDC gave it a loan. Microspin is a disruptive technology in cotton spinning where small farmer cooperatives can own a spinning mill, and in fact make fabric from raw cotton within a 25,000 square feet shed. I call it the PCfication of Main-Frame spinning mills that brings the cost from more than 100 crores down to less than a crore! It may be the technology that makes Vidarbha vibrant again, and no cotton-farmer has to commit suicide again. It needs that one big push with the state believing in it and a big investor group. It is about humongous scale, the replication in cotton what happened with Amul and milk. This is about true democratisation of production.

I have supported, mentored, funded, catalysed, right-sized, hand-holded almost 100 individuals and enterprises by now which include politicians, NGO’s, artisans, manufacturing businesses, sports, activists, writers, singers and musicians, documentary film-makers, spiritual gurus, et al .

The mind-boggling diversity of India excites me, and I have never, even for a moment in my life wished for boring simplicity. It challenges one to think out of the box all the time. It forces one to keep moving, to build newer and newer coalitions for creativity, equity and sustainability.

I see “Coalition Entrepreneurship” as the way forward, not only in India , but to build global networks for change and transformation, to build value with a philosophy that all can win, in varying degrees. And the most important thing is to build a community of shared imagination, belief and values within every coalition. Its not easy, but that is really the only way.