Bangalore: Sandeep Singh was not sure whether to scale up his business or not.
Answering queries: Ravi Narayan of MentorSquare Advisors Ltd. Hemant Mishra / Mint
His firm, Hi Tech Stampings Pvt. Ltd, makes rotors for pump and motor manufacturers in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, home to nearly 40% of India’s motor production.
Early this year, he was unsure of his next step in an uncertain business environment. So Singh, a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, sought advice from MentorSquare Advisors Ltd, a firm running an online forum of mentors with a global network that advises small enterprises.
“We wanted someone to give us the macro picture and ratify a decision we wanted to take,” says Singh, chief operating officer of Hi Tech, a firm with Rs10 crore sales and 45 employees. Three mentors responded with advice, which helped, he adds. Based on the advice, the firm is scaling up its business, but cautiously. “Not many places you can get professional ideas, particularly if you are a small manufacturing unit,” Singh says of the network, which counts 40% of its some 1,500 members from a manufacturing background. Another 40% of members— who pay Rs5,000 quarterly or Rs15,000 a year—are from the technology sector.
Started in November, MentorSquare has over 90 mentors—a majority entrepreneurs with expertise in building businesses—offering advice on issues such as business ideas and access to global markets.
Mentors, in return, get equity stake in the MentorSquare Advisors, which has kept aside up to 25% of itself for the purpose. This ensures commitment in their task, says director Ravi Narayan.
In India, the technology industry has followed models adopted in the US through entities such as The Indus Entrepreneurs and Proto.in, an event for promoting start-ups, where entrepreneurs tap into the knowledge and network of peers and business leaders to improve their businesses.
But in manufacturing, small-scale units have to make do with industry associations that typically address issues in an industrial area or lobby with the government for incentives and better facilities. But, such forums often don’t share expertise in business matters of running a unit, or issues such as scaling up or seeking new markets.
“The advantage (here) is access to a knowledge bank and network of the mentors who are global, not limited to one city or region,” says Narayan, who is also the founder and managing director of Mentor Partners, an early stage mentoring and venture fund in India and the US. “The members can also tap into the resources (in the forum) for investments and marketing their products.”
The queries from entrepreneurs can be on operational issues and also advice on what business opportunities they can explore. Recently, a businessman from Coimbatore, whose family has been in the textile business for five generations, wanted to start a new venture outside his family business, says Renukaprasad Belgur, a mentor on the network and executive director of Avasarala Technologies Ltd.
“The youngsters have money and have studied abroad. They want to explore new areas, but need assistance on the way forward,” says Belgur, declining to identify them.