Blog Post

A trip to uncover the heart of India’s entrepreneurs

If there’s one thing acting as the pulse behind the growing entrepreneurial spirit in India’s cities, it’s the rise of the Indian middle class. With India’s GDP growth rate of 7 to 9 percent over the past couple of years, an increasing amount of India’s 1.2 billion population are willing to buy goods online, consume mobile data and text messaging, and expect more electricity from a more reliable grid (and some of that from clean power). Just look at this stat: India is adding 20 million cell phone users every month according to The Climate Group.

India’s growing middle class will likely want many of the same things we have in the U.S. That idea has led to the launch of practically a dozen startups and big companies looking to be the Groupon (s grpn) for India. This population will also want to one day consume as much electricity as we do in the U.S. That energy consumption growth, along with China’s, will be a serious contributor to climate change.

But the more important aspects to understand about the growing Indian middle class and the emerging ecosystem of Indian entrepreneurs are the nuanced differences required to create successful, disruptive startups and game-changing services in India. In some ways the next-generation of Indian mobile, Internet and cleantech markets will actually leapfrog those in the U.S., because there’s less legacy infrastructure in place.

For example, India will be adding many gigawatts of solar power to its grid by 2020, just to be able to offer any kind of power (fossil fuel or clean) for the urgent electricity demands of its cities, many of which commonly face rolling blackouts. Trusted realtors we’re familiar with in the U.S. aren’t so common in India (no Coldwell Banker so to speak), so a startup like New Delhi-based Agni Property can take that opportunity to brand the home-buying process and start it online. Agni Property investor Ashu Garg, a partner with Foundation Capital, thinks real estate will move faster online in India than in the U.S. Mobile access and cellular networks in India are trumping landlines and fixed broadband infrastructure.

Some of these key differences are what has kept me thinking as I prepare to take off for a whirlwind trip to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore over the next two weeks with the Geeks On a Plane group, organized by angel investor Dave McClure’s 500Startups (see disclosure below). Geeks on a Plane brings together about two dozen people who are a mix of founders, investors and tech execs (and one reporter: me) to meet with and learn about the entrepreneurs in another country. This month it’s India, and the Geeks crew in recent months have covered South America and East Asia.

Yeah, I know I’m lucky. It’ll be my first trip to India. But I will be working hard to try to uncover those differences and figure out what makes Indian entrepreneurs tick. No doubt I’ll be influenced by one entrepreneur and journalist (and long time friend) who left India to be a founder in Silicon Valley. (Yeah, that’s Om). And along the trip we’ll be meeting with fascinating entrepreneurs and investors like Snapdeal’s CEO Kunal Bahl, the Mumbai Angels, the head of Google India, a tour of GE’s Indian research headquarters and my own meetings with a couple solar execs.

I’ll be reporting all along the way and you can follow my stories on GigaOM and GigaOM’s greentech channel. Thanks to a Tata mobile laptop card, an added data connection from Verizon, and Wi-Fi in most places, I’ll be connected throughout the trip. I’ll be toting with me my Macbook Air, my Sony NEX camera, Flip video, and HTC Incredible. Stay tuned for my photos, videos, and reports from the trip.

Disclosure: Geeks on a Plane covered part of the cost of the trip.

Image courtesy of Friar’s Balsam, mckaysavage.

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