Thursday, August 10, 2017

Kashmiri startup czar defies turmoil, sets up business in 4 nations

Defying the spate of violence that continues to ravage the valley, Kashmiri youths are riding the wave of economic reforms by floating start-ups in various sectors. Presumably, there are challenges of starting businesses in a politically turbulent environment. Young entrepreneur Faiyaz Ghani had almost given up on his dreams of setting up his own outfit. But today, his business flourishes.

About 3 years ago, Faiyaz gave up his plush job at a vet medicine factory with a view to starting his own biotechnology venture in Kashmir. But first, he had to find a business partner. He did find one, with some difficulty, but the partner eventually left him when he did not live up to the expectations of the project. Now the onus of success of the project lay solely on Faiyaz's shoulders, but he didn't back down anyway - and continued to shuttle between Srinagar and Delhi in search of funds. 

He tried venture capitalists, banks, and investors, but none responded. As time passed, Faiyaz's debts rose. At one point, he felt sure he'd seen the end of the road. And just when he was about to give up, he received a buyout offer from a large pharmaceutical firm.

The offer was lucrative, and Faiyaz reached the buyer's Noida office to seal the deal. While he waited in the conference room for the company reps to appear, he Googled the founders of the company to keep himself busy. Their story stunned him - they had struggled to make it work for 30 years flat before they tasted a measure of success.

Something told Faiyaz that his battle had just begun. Sitting there in that conference room, he chucked the idea of selling out his company and began to ponder on what was pulling him back. And then he realized that he had never made an effort to protect his business from waves of political conflict in Kashmir.

What he did next was to shift certain important operations of his business to Uttarakhand to sidestep the political turmoil in Kashmir, but nonetheless continued to house the company's head office there, in order to retain the company's Kashmiri identity. The R&D department continued in Kashmir as usual. And slowly, he won back popular support, and funds too.

Today, a proud Faiyaz recalls, "The first contract came along from Taiwan, but today we do business in 4 countries and are registering for 4 others. I started the company with a capital of Rs 20 lakh, and this year we've signed contracts worth Rs 15 crore. Our revenue has gone up by 700 times."

Faiyaz says it is unemployment that holds back Kashmiri youth despite a good education, thanks to political violence in the state. "The dependence is mostly on government jobs. My success story will certainly have a positive effect here."

While he agrees that start-ups in Kashmir are few, he's upbeat about the fact that even those on the block are doing well and going global. Sadly, support from the government is minimal, and there's loads of red tape. Coupled with that, there's paucity of funds. "These are territories where venture capitalists fear to tread. Under the circumstances, the government should take a step forward and address the issue of funding these startups as best as possible," Faiyaz said.

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