Published: 09th May 2019
Started because of Kargil War, this start-up is helping Indian Army veterans become entrepreneurs after retirement
I Create India mentors army veterans to set up their own businesses after their retirement. The organisation also provides access to capital during the first stages of setting up a business
Approximately 60,000 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and Junior commissioned officers (JCOs) retire from the Indian Army every year. A majority of them are in their mid-thirties or early-forties and most of their family commitments — children’s education, marriages, etc — are still to be fulfilled. Being in the army is respectable and has its rewards but living a fulfilling post-retirement life is not all that simple. The need for an income stream is critical and urgent.
That's where I Create India is making the difference. Started by US-based Indian couple Harsh and Aruna Bhargava, I Create India is a 20-year-old company which has its global headquarters in New Jersey. While they have been focusing on empowering unemployed youth and disadvantaged members of society, especially women at the grassroots level through rigorous entrepreneurship training, mentoring, access to capital and handholding, they have turned their attention to Army veterans recently, "These veterans are mostly from a rural background and have been on duty away from their families. After retirement, they look forward to living with their family in rural areas. They have acquired different vocational skills during their service and have imbibed certain traits which are essential for a successful business – perseverance, risk-taking, discipline, teamwork, quality and punctuality - to name a few," says Ulhas Kamat, CEO, I Create India, before adding, "They also feel that they like to be their own boss and not serve under somebody. All of this reinforced the view that the veterans need to be provided with an opportunity to learn entrepreneurship skills so then they can make an informed choice about their second innings."
Creating jobs: I Create focuses on empowering women at the grassroots level through rigorous entrepreneurship training
So what led to the setting up of this company? To this Ulhas responds, "Like many pathbreaking ideas, the origin of I Create stems from riots, police firing and the death of a few unemployed youth trying to enlist for the army during the Kargil war. The founders were visiting India in 1999 when the Kargil war was at its peak. The army had advertised for 120 positions. There was such a huge number of unemployed youth that over 100,000 young men showed up for the jobs. A riot broke out and the police opened fire and three young men who had come looking for jobs to support their families, died. It is was this incident that gave birth to the idea of I Create. Harsh and Aruna then decided to start an organisation that would help create jobs and job creators or entrepreneurs through entrepreneurship training in India."
I Create has conducted more than 20 pilot employment programmes covering 730 veterans. After this training, 50 from among these have already started their enterprises and others are being mentored to establish their businesses. The success achieved through these workshops led to the execution of an MoU with the Directorate of Indian Army Veterans (DIAV). "I Create and DIAV have jointly agreed to address this urgent issue by establishing various Business and Innovation Centres (BICs) in the country for the veterans and their families so that they can consider being job creators instead of becoming job seekers," adds Ulhas.
A helping hand: I Create has conducted more than 20 pilot employment programmes covering 730 veterans
The founders of I Create keep visiting India for updates but they wanted someone to take charge here, thus Ulhas, who had worked in the US with a business development agency and then moved back to Bengaluru 10 years ago, came on board. "We have centres at Bengaluru, Goa, Jaipur, IIT Gandhinagar and Vadodara currently. We have also started receiving queries from other developing countries like Nigeria, South Africa and more to do the same," says Ulhas.
It was not an easy ride for the founders to set up a large scale organisation that could cater to the needs of people. Even when they partnered with some existing non-profits, it was difficult to get adequate space for workshops and conduct programmes. However, they worked their way through it. "We have always believed in the 'quality' of the programme vs the hype of quantity that is most prevalent among many 'project-oriented' NGOs. That's what made us click, maybe. We are now focusing on national level partnerships, with serious players. Some of the examples are Directorate of Indian Army Veterans, SKF Ltd, Pratham, Youth Department of Government of Karnataka and more," explains Ulhas.
Speaking about the organisation's future plans, Ulhas says, "I Create has developed, over the last two decades, a Practical Entrepreneurship Development Ecosystem, to help people at grassroots level start their own enterprise if they choose to. This is a five-stage process of awareness creation, training in entrepreneurship skills, mentoring to develop a business plan, linkages to finance and handholding, once the business is started. Such a system is the need of the hour to help create more job creators than job seekers," adding, "We are offering our IP to any non-profit organisation with a national level presence that wishes to adopt our model and impact the development of entrepreneurship in India."