E-Entrepreneurship Development Cell Required



Internet is perhaps the greatest revolution in science and technology that our generation can imagine. It has brought in many benefits to the society- cultural, economical and political.

It is in the interest of the society that the benefits which the Internet technology promises, should be harnessed to the betterment of the society.

One of the most important aspects of Internet is its ability to connect people through the communication network irrespective of their physical location. The benefit flowing out of this is the ability to bring about a collaboration of people for a common task without physically bringing them together into an office. Virtual offices are therefore a reality of the day.

Netpreneur-The Building Block of a Digital Society:

In  this Virtual work environment, any individual with a Computer connected to the Internet can  be part of a global office as if he is sitting along with his colleagues in the office. This can be called the concept of " Virtual Employment". Virtual employees can use their skills such as "Web Designing", "Editing", "Teaching" and many other faculties for and on behalf of a Virtual Employer. 

Similarly, a single Computer owner can interact with the whole world of Consumers and do business with them. This has given a boost to the concept of "Netpreneurship".

"Netpreneurship" is the ability to run a business on the Internet. It requires just the "Connectivity". A Netpreneur, as long as he has a service which the market requires can set up a viable business with his "Intellectual Capital" as the main input and the "Connectivity Infrastructure" as the only physical input.

A Netpreneur can be a self employed individual or one who predominantly employs several virtual employees. Those Netpreneurs who can afford their own computer and connect to the Internet and carry on business  can be called the Self Employed  Netpreneurs (SENs).

Those Netpreneurs who have more resources and engage "Employees" either for physical world services such as marketing, order fullfillment etc but carry on the main business activities on the Virtual Environment, are the Small and Home Office (SOHO) establishments.

 For convenience of definition, it may be necessary to define the scope of such establishments. I would define any Computer network of less than 5 Computers as a SOHO Computer network. Extending the same definition, any business with 5 or less number of physical employees can be defined as SOHOs.

Larger establishments including Call centers and  Medical Transcription units etc fall into the category of IT enabled Service Establishments beyond the limited scope of SOHOs. These bigger units have a strength of their own and are outside the scope of present discussion.

An enterprise cannot go smaller than one single individual namely the "Entrepreneur". In this sense, the "Netpreneur" is like the smallest building block in the "Business Network". He is like the "Atom" which is the building block of the physical world. His intellectual ability is the nucleus and the Electrons are  the elements of connectivity. Bigger the atomic weight, more is the energy potential of the unit.

The Netpreneur is a premium member  in the Community. He provides service to the community including employment. To the extent he provides services outside the community, he adds wealth to the community by his Export activity. He is a person therefore who needs to be encouraged by the Community for its own benefit. More the Netpreneurs in the society, better it is for the community.

Just as Atoms add up to molecules and molecules add up to elements with various properties. Netpreneurs add up to build other higher value added economic units in the society eitherj oining hands with other similar Netpreneurs or with other Brick and Mortar entities.  

Propsperity springs when an environment is created where such Netpreneurs flourish, enter into mutually beneficial partnerships and enjoy the benefits of a Connected society.

SOHO Service Providers:

While a typical Self Employed Netpreneur posesses his own minimum infrastructure of a Computer connected to the Internet, at the micro level, a Netpreneur can also run his business from a "Cyber Cafe" with shared facilities.

It is in this sense that the "Cyber Cafes" are actually "Business Enablers" and have a great role to play as "E-Bridge Centers" in an economy short of Money Capital..

The Cyber Cafes as well as Service Integrators (eg: Soho Network India)  who collate the services of the Netpreneurs fall into a separate layer of second level business units who are service providers to the Virtual Employees, Netpreneurs and SOHO players. Because of this direct relationship, these SOHO Service providers also belong to the industry surrounding Netpreneurship.

In a society like India starved of Money Capital but rich in Intellectual Capital, it is necessary for the benefit of the society to harness the individual Netpreneurship through aggregation. Such an aggregated entity will have economies of scale besides the strength of diverse resourses.

The society therefore needs to nurture the SOHO industry in whatever manner necessary.

Taking the example of the recent controversy surrounding Sohonet India, a company which is specializing in distributing work for SOHOs, it is evident that if the SOHO industry has to blossom, there has to be a mechanism by which the energies in the industry are properly channelised.

Without implying anything to the case of Sohonet India in which Naavi.com is working for an amicable resolution of conflict, it is evident that there could be business entities who may utilize the opportunity available for remote business development to their advantage and deliberately exploit Virtual Employees and even cheat the public.

There is also a possibility that a business well conceived and run with passion and good faith may fail for many reasons beyond the control of the entrepreneur. In such cases, all the affected persons would prima-facie feel that they have been cheated while they may actually be victims of circumstances.

This feeling of "having been cheated" gets accentuated when in the face of initial business setbacks the good entrepreneur tries to mend things without taking others in to confidence and keeps on increasing the risks in the hope that it would pay off in the end. Somewhere his calculations go wrong and then with hindsight every outsider will come to the conclusion that the entrepreneur even after losing hope of reviving the business kept on giving false promises and therefore cheated the public.

Many such good intentioned businesses suffer because of the illogical actions of Bankers or Venture capitalists who desert the project midstream and create a crisis. Ultimately the entrepreneurs of such ventures  are lost to the society and those from public who invested in such companies lose their investments. On both accounts, it is the society that suffers.

This experience is not new in India and we have seen NBFCs, Teak Companies and Capital market dependent Corporates suffering due to this syndrome of "Mid Stream Desertion by Capital Suppliers".

In certain cases, the regulatory system meant to protect the public are  themselves causes of such downfalls. The role of RBI in NBFC regulation and SEBI in Primary Capital market regulation are examples of such "Industry Down Trend Due to Regulation". Even in the Cyber Law area, I have been highlighting how aggressive pursuance of Intellectual Property rights  have been harmful to the Cyber Society.

Soft Regulation for SOHO Industry

However, considering the long term interest of the IT industry in India and the need to harness the SOHO potential, I feel that some kind of a "Soft Regulation" would help in the proper channelling of the potential of the Netpreneurs.

With this object in mind, and to trigger a public debate, I propose as follows:

1. Every State should recognize that Internet based business networking is a good business model having a potential to harness the individual Computer based skills of the members of the society and provide an "Employment Opportunity" to many of them.  In order to ensure that the industry is not spoiled by  a few scamsters, there is a need for some kind of regulation which is skewed more towards "Voluntary Compliance" rather than being "Restrictive".

2. It is therefore suggested that at every State Government level, the Department of Labour and Employment should  create a "Netpreneurship Cell" or "E-Entrepreneurship Development Cell", (EEDC) which would work as an apex monitoring body of the scheme for development of Netpreneurship for public good. ( If the State Government so decides, it can be under the IT department or Small Industry department or even a separate department for E-Governance  such as the one created by the Karnataka Government.)

3. This EEDC will provide a voluntary "Registration Facility" for different categories of people who would like to participate in the IT based SOHO industry. The categories would be

a) Virtual Employment Seekers (VES)

b) Self Employed Netpreneurs  (SENs)

b) SOHO business units (Units with less than 5 work units engaged in any IT related business). Small Cyber Cafes may also fall in this category.

c) SOHO Service Providers who use the VES/SENs in aggregation. (Large Cyber Cafes will also fall  under this category)

5. The Cell should  develop "Good Business Practices" for each of these stakeholders in the industry for voluntary compliance. (on the lines of what has been suggested for Cyber Cafes working as E-Bridge Centers).

6. Provisional Registration should be open to any stake holder who subjects himself voluntarily to the suggested norms.

7. Provisional Registration should be converted into "Accreditation" after some checks and inspections that may be prescribed on a periodical basis.

8. Similar Netpreneurship Cells developed in different States should form a "Federation" and exchange their experiences.

9. The Government can look at passing on any IT related business to this network on a priority basis to support such a voluntary work force of self employed Netpreneurs.

These "Accredited Netpreneurs" will be the building blocks of the era of IT Based Home enterprise in the Country. This project of building such a network should be an E-Governance Project for the Department of Labour and Employment in each State.

If this scheme succeeds, it will be first of its kind in the world aimed at organized development of the real benefits that the Internet offers as a business opportunity for the Community. 

I am confident that all genuine business entities will welcome such a move.

Comments are welcome.


February 23, 2003

Related Articles:

Sohonetindia Issue

E-Bridge Centers to promote Self Employed E-Entrepreneurs

Naavi's Articles on How regulation Affected NBFC industry in India

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