Research & Revelations
The last week has been a loaded one. We have worked hard primarily on completing our Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Gap Analysis. It’s always difficult showing up in a new culture and in less than a month seeking to identify its leading entrepreneurial players, inherent resources, and institutional voids. In the case of Nepal, the entrepreneurs are resilient, the resources aplenty but underutilized, and the gaps formidable.
The last week has been a loaded one. We have worked hard primarily on completing our Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Gap Analysis. It’s always difficult showing up in a new culture and in less than a month seeking to identify its leading entrepreneurial players, inherent resources, and institutional voids. In the case of Nepal, the entrepreneurs are resilient, the resources aplenty but underutilized, and the gaps formidable. We’ve diligently pursued our objectives here, and our multiple stakeholders have offered positive feedback as to the quality and depth of our investigations thus far. This made reflecting on the hours and hours that went into the creation of the Gaps Analysis document a bit easier.
In the course of researching and meeting Kathmandu’s most prominent entrepreneurs as well as business incubator operators, we have learned a ton and forged some great relationships. Business owners are almost always dynamic individuals, who are often open to sharing their interesting trials and travails. And, for a somewhat tight-to-the-vest business culture, they have been relatively open and willing to introduce us to fellow entrepreneurs. Through the triangulation method of interviewing stakeholders in this environment, we have gained some real insight into this business ecosystem and its constituent participants. This has been very helpful in producing a comprehensive analysis of the entrepreneurial scene.
The highlight of the work week was meeting Vidhan Rana, the founder of Biruwa (translates as “Seedling”) Ventures. Vidhan was educated in Michigan, where he was first exposed to the concept of business incubation. After graduating, Vidhan had an opportunity to pursue a Master degree in Washington DC, but instead chose to return home to start his own entrepreneurial venture. After registering an office space for six months, working closely with Entrepreneurs for Nepal(E4N), and networking extensively with other local entrepreneurs throughout Kathmandu, he co-founded Biruwa Ventures in July 2011 with only a few thousand USD. From this initial investment, Biruwa’s value has at least doubled every year it has existed.
While Biruwa is best known for its shared workspaces, Biruwa also offers legal and accounting services, consulting, mentoring, and investment. When it started, Biruwa only offered seven workspaces in one location. Now, it offers more than 100 workspaces in a number of locations across the city. In its first years, it expanded into the consulting realm in 2012 with Biruwa Advisers, and then into the seed investments realm in 2013 with a sister company, Biruwa Ventures. Additionally, it just recently developed a real estate arm called Biruwa Spaces. Their partnerships have grown to include the largest names in town: Microsoft Innovation Center, Rockstart, and The UnreasonableInstitute.
However, there is still a lack of strong business vision around town and investors know that. Venture capital, private equity, and even angel investors, while all existent, will not be very active until this young class of entrepreneurs forge their first, major successes. We even discussed the lack of the crowdfunding initiatives in Nepal, which we were surprised to find was disallowed by the Central Bank of Nepal.
We then questioned Vidhan about Biruwa’s mentorship program, “Biruwa Brainstorm”. The participants in this program are mostly students or recent graduates. The majority of participants in this program are often surprised by the difficulty and time involved in developing good business models. They are given homework or tasks to complete, and consequently, many participants become overwhelmed and never return. Despite this, Vidhan swears by the benefits of having a strong mentorship program, as he was the beneficiary of it in the United States.
And finally before leaving, we asked Vidhan about his own recommendations for the future of the ecosystem in his nation. His first point was that youth education focusing on private enterprise must be improved. Entrepreneurship should be taught starting in high school, and while in college, youth should be allowed to work in real-life consulting projects (much like a TEM Lab). He also mentioned the necessity for entrepreneurs becoming familiar with the lean startup business model, recommending that it be taught at business schools. His other major point was that all the existing models have to be adapted to Nepali culture and business environments. His last point was that while entrepreneurship can expand without the aid of government, it will never reach the levels he hopes for without improved government leadership and updated regulations on foreign direct investment.
This past weekend, we were also able to get out of Kathmandu and head out to the famous Chitwan National Park. Rather than flying, we elected to take a four-hour road trip so that we could really see what the rural environment was like in Nepal. Once we left the suburbs of Kathmandu, we began driving through a beautiful green valley with a beautiful, teal river running it. This road, which featured switchbacks, precipitous drops, and the constant bypassing of slow, freight trucks, was an exercise in moments of wild excitement and paralyzing fear.
We arrived in Chitwan just after nightfall and found some nice rooms at the Travelers Jungle Camp. We quickly booked a full day of sightseeing in the national park, had some dinner, and went to sleep knowing that the next day promised some exciting activities. People travel to Chitwan because the National Park is internationally known as one of the best places in the world to see exotic animals such as bears, rhinos, and even the occasionally Bengal tiger. For this Saturday we had booked a full day of travels with just that hope. We started at 6:30am with an hour-long canoe trip, followed by a two-hour jungle hike, and finished the day with an afternoon Jeep safari. It was an truly an amazing and exhausting day. Unfortunately, we never did see a ton of this big-ticket wildlife.
The early morning canoe ride featured a sort of hazy, elegant mist that hovered over the river as we passed through. While it limited the visibility of anything on the shore, it did create a sort of mystical ambiance that proved an interesting start to the morning. By the time we started the morning hike, the fog had evaporated and the sun came out. The hike went primarily along a well-trod path through the forest and along a river, but we occasionally ventured off the path when our guides sensed the potential presence of wildlife. The hike and Jeep tour featured beautiful scenery as well as sightings of monkeys, deer, boar, peacocks, and some distant rhinos and sloth bears. The trail winded back towards the main road and our hotel, and around noon we were able to stop for some lunch and a refill of some water. Perhaps the coolest experience came when we stopped at a crocodile sanctuary to see hordes of these ancient, reptiles, which were rescued from the grips of poachers and illegal trading houses to be rehabilitated.
That evening, we returned to our hotel covered from head to toe in dust and grime and immediately signed up for another, four-hour hike at dawn the next morning. That too was magnificent, although again, we were mildly disappointed by not seeing the big-ticket animals that make the park so famous. In the end, were still very appreciative of the overall experience. We headed back to Kathmandu in the afternoon along the same winding highway of fun and craziness. Regardless of not having encountered too many of the lethal, renowned beasts, Chitwan is a beautiful and well-maintained national park that served as a perfect respite from the bustling city life in Kathmandu.