How are you finding opportunities?

Having been involved in ‘entrepreneurship education’ for close to a decade, I can tell you one thing — the weakest part of any entrepreneurship program is the ‘opportunity’ piece. Let me illustrate with a recent experience.

I met up with a few students who had undergone a complete year of entrepreneurship education. They had to do a two month market research on a product / service and write up a report. Based on the discussions with their faculty, they narrowed upon two ideas: (i) food distribution and (ii) nutrition bars. After worrying about how to go about doing a market research, they walked up to me (not sure why!), and asked ‘Sir, can you help us choose one of the two ideas?’ I did what I normally do – asked how they arrived at these two ideas / opportunities? They said many things but ultimately accepted that it was through ‘imagination’. So what they basically now wanted to do was ‘validate’ (which meant) ‘prove’ that their idea / opportunity was worth creating a business on. I spent the next 30 minutes explaining to them why this was wholly wrong. The surprising part – the two kids quickly latched on the idea of searching for opportunities, rather than spending two months validating one. My belief that students are really smart was proven once again.

How do you (aspiring entrepreneurs) find opportunities?

Opportunities can be either created or discovered. Discovery means going out to the world and identifying gaps. Creation means coming up with a need/want that is not yet felt. As an entrepreneur you got to choose which route you wish to take to finding opportunities. My rule of thumb is – if you are trying to figure out which route, take ‘discovery’.

Discovering opportunities means finding out gaps. The easiest ways to begin is to start out by identifying gaps in the industry side or the market side. On the industry side one can quickly draw out the value chain and start looking at ways to fill / improve / disrupt / etc what exists. On the market side, one can identify which needs are not fulfilled, which are underserved, and what can be better delivered. While none of these are exhaustive ways to locating opportunities, it is a good beginning.

My advice to these students was – identify a sector of your choice (interest); look at it deeply from either the industry side and/or market side; use all available secondary information first; identify and speak to at least 30 people involved in the sector; analyse all the information; and create a list of 25 hot opportunities in the sector. Create the report.

Do you think they will have spent their summer usefully?

Do you think they will have located more opportunities than they knew off before?

Do you think this is a better way to deliver entrepreneurship education than quickly fixing the idea and evaluating / validating it?

Share you thoughts! It matters!

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Knowing NITI Aayog for entrepreneurs

I am currently attending a course titled ‘Doing business with government’. Does the title of the course not sound cool enough to attend, especially in India? I am enjoying the course. Yesterday’s session was on NITI Aayog. The speaker was one who had recently retired from the planning commission. Hence expectations were high.

He started by bringing out the differences between the planning commission and the NITI Aayog. Fundamental differences of why the change was brought about, is it just a name change, and so many other questions were clarified during the short interaction. I thought of sharing a little from that session in today’s blog. After attending the session, I agree with the speaker that we Indians need to know more about the government and its functioning. Once we expose ourselves to the information that is shared by the government, we will be able to see opportunities. We may (probably) also stop complaining that we do not have enough information in India to make any fact based decisions.

What does NITI stand for?

National Institution for Transforming India (NITI)

NITI Aayog is a national level think-tank that replaces the ‘Planning Commission’. Is it just ‘old wine in a new bottle’? Does not seem like. While the planning commission thought for India as a whole, the whole activity was centralised. This means the assessing of resources nationally was done centrally. This activity will be continued by the NITI Aayog as well. The Planning Commission also did the tough job of allocating resources to both central and state level programs. Now this created a large power centre in the planning commission. It had the power to allocate – but this seems to have been stripped off the new think-tank, the NITI Aayog. With this, the NITI Aayog becomes a purely advisory body, a think-tank. There is now greater decentralisation of the planning mechanism with larger representation of states.

We were given to understand that the primary change between the Planning Commission and the NITI Aayog is the reduction of power to allocate resources. Other differences include: While the Planning Commission was more ‘top-down’ in its approach to planning and allocation, the NITI Aayog has been structured to be more ‘bottom-up’ in its planning, without any allocation powers. The powers to allocate is said to rest now with the Finance Ministry.

One of the big take aways from this course (i’m still mid way through the course) is that any Government is a different type of complex organisation with conflicting priorities which requires a tough balancing act. This makes governance very difficult, especially in a country as large and diverse as India. But as citizens of the country it is our responsibility, not to just vote every 5 years, but make an effort to visit the website of the government, read the various documents placed for public viewing and share thoughts. While doing this we may come across number of schemes, plans, programs and projects that the Government has approved for socio-economic development. We may also find opportunities to participate in the various development projects of the Government.

Doing Business with the Government is a wonderful course for entrepreneurs – I only hope that aspiring entrepreneurs realise this and make the maximum use of the interactions. For those who want to know more about the NITI Aayog, you may please read these links:

http://planningcommission.nic.in

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NITI_Aayog

Though the NITI Aayog is yet to have its own website, I am sure it will come up soon. I hope that the intent of the institution is implemented and India realises her true potential. Look forward to learning more about working with government and public sector institutions through this course.

If any of you have any questions and inputs on this topic, please do share! India is today the land of opportunities and the government promises to offer a few of them. Let us see if we can participate and play our part as entrepreneurs.

Opportunities in Japan – A Hyperaging Society

One of the key activities that entrepreneurs engage in is opportunity identification and exploitation. The latter is not possible without the former. In the last post (https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/finding-opportunities-a-skill-for-entrepreneurs/) we discussed the importance of picking this skill – identifying opportunities. Here is a good case of why it is important and how it can be applied.

Japan is an ageing society. Now this may not be news to people who regularly read international developments. But what is interesting news for entrepreneurial folk is that this is a certain change that is shaping up. No one can probably change this change that is happening. But if we put on our entrepreneurial goggles and look at this change taking place, there are innumerable opportunities that present themselves.

Here are a few who have cited and started leveraging it creatively:

Ayumi shoes – by providing shoes for the old which helps them avoid slipping and falling while also keeping knee and joint pains low

Benry corporation – by providing daily use services like buying grocery and delivery at doorstep, cleaning homes, etc for the elderly

Kozocom – by creating a social networking platform for the elderly

While these are just a sample of how entrepreneurs identify opportunities and leverage them, what is important to learn is that there are changes taking place all around us. These have to be closely watched. The opportunities they present for the skills you possess need to be identified. Only if we learn the skill of clearly identifying opportunities will we be able to find them. If we don’t find many, we may not find the right one. The above is only one more illustration on the importance of seeing changes and finding opportunities. Hence it is important to learn this skill well.

How do we learn this skill? Read more here: https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/entrepreneurial-skill-sensing-opportunities/

Happy Searching!

Finding opportunities – a skill for entrepreneurs

It is not uncommon to hear entrepreneurs constantly worry about the lack of data! In fact on of the weakest parts of any business plan is the description of the “opportunity”. Even trainers who facilitate business plan and entrepreneurship programs find it difficult to teach opportunity identification. But as Peter Drucker said, studying changes leads to finding opportunities. I have found it very helpful in teaching my students the skill of noticing changes. It has helped many of them kickstart successful start-ups. Many faculty who attend my ‘Faculty Development Programs on Entrepreneurship” also ask me how we can teach this aspect. So when I saw this news item I could not hold myself but share it.

Link to article: http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/telecom-subscriber-base-reaches-alltime-high-at-97-crore/article6871085.ece?homepage=true

TRAI reports are filled with information on the telecom space. This provides enough details to understand the changing trends and patterns in the telecom market. Companies, start-ups and others will know who is adding users, where, how many, amongst others. This could give hints as to whom they should collaborate or partner with for reaching potential customers. Looks like this information combined with increasing number of smart phone models below 5000/- would usher in the mobile commerce business much earlier than what many predict. Also the number of people requesting for number portability is also increasing. The amount of data usage on mobile devices is increasing. What kind of services do you think can be offered to this growing base of subscribers? Are there offline services that can be viable opportunities? How are many of these people consuming information? How many of them actually go for repairing their mobile handsets? Is servicing handsets a good business? Where are these new subscribers getting added? Are these people actually consuming data services or are they voice based customers? Hundreds of questions can be raised around these. Ask and you shall end up with the real opportunity in a while.

While each of these may be only data by themselves, entrepreneurial minds should consume all of this information and attempt to make connections. This will lead to fresh opportunities for their existing businesses as well as absolutely new opportunities as well. Reading reports and details related to market trends is a good place to identify and locate opportunities earlier than others. Learning to do this come through practice. This, then becomes an entrepreneurial skill that budding entrepreneurs should pick and existing entrepreneurs should sharpen.

Entrepreneurship Educators will do well to include activities like these into their programs and workshops. Inclusion of data / reports relevant to the area in which opportunities are being sought can bring about a different flavour to your course. Participants are bound to go back from the program with specific ideas and opportunities. Discussions around them could also bring out the sweet spots for business model innovations, new product innovations, service innovations, etc.,.

Identifying and exploiting opportunities is the most exciting aspect of entrepreneurship, but is also the least taught. But if we make attempts to experiment with datasets like these and futuristic reports, it could lead to the creation of some new pedagogies. I think so!

Lets all try and share our experiments so that we can make teaching entrepreneurship more fun and fruitful.

If you have any experiences around teaching / learning entrepreneurship, please do share and lets learn from each other.

How to find opportunities?

This is a question that aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners constantly ask. Rarely do they get specific answers. This is because most people think ideas are opportunities. In my book “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice” I spent a whole chapter trying to explain the difference between ‘ideas’ and ‘opportunities’ and how great businesses are built on their combination. But how does one actually find opportunities?

Here is one approach. Opportunities appear whenever there are changes taking place in the environment. If anything changes, there arises a need for something. This gives rise to opportunities. These may be problems, challenges, etc.,. But at the root of it all sits – change. In fact this is not anything new – Drucker (management thinker) wrote about it years ago. If this is so, the next question is – How do we find changes? At many times during the year, think tanks release trend analysis. Leading thinkers and think tanks suggest trends that are forming. Here is an example of one from the World Economic Forum website. The top ten trends extracted from their article for your reference (Link to WEF Article):

1. Deepening income inequality 

2. Persistent jobless growth 

3. Lack of leadership 

4. Rising geostrategic competition 

5. Weakening of representative democracy 

6. Rising pollution in the developing world 

7. Increasing occurrence of severe weather events 

8. Intensifying nationalism 

9. Increasing water stress 

10. Growing importance of health in the economy

Each of these trends also have detailed discussions on how they are changing the world around us – read whichever interests you. I am sure there are numerous other lists like these. Find and explore them – they will lead you to fresh opportunities. In the remaining post we will explore how we can dig into changes to find opportunities.

Are you wondering how these changes that are currently taking shape will create opportunities? Think again!

For example – lets take the case of ‘rising pollution’. If this trend attracts your attention, then you can look at all those who contribute to pollution (innumerable individuals and institutions) and those that are impacted by them (again innumerable). Why are firms polluting? Is it because they do not know an improved way of production? Are there better production methods or safer materials or improved machines? Can you design and create them? These solutions can be in various categories of pollutants – air, water, etc.,. Think deeper!

Another example: ‘growing importance of health’. If health interests you, look at all the obesity around you. Look at all the diagnosable diseases that were not diagnosed and resulted in irreparable losses to families and institutions. Can you create the next disease prediction algorithm? Can you create the next range of wearable medical devices? If you are a medical professional, can you look at improved chemical combinations to treat new diseases, especially lifestyle diseases. Think deeper!

If one looks at trends and then digs deeper, there is immense potential for discovering opportunities. The bigger the opportunity discovered, the bigger the changes of entrepreneurial success. Hence it is in the best interests of every entrepreneurial individual to learn how to locate opportunities – this is a skill worth picking up.

Are there other ways of locating opportunities? Do share your thoughts so that we can take this discussion further.