Entrepreneurs are heroes, period. Not only do they create jobs, generate wealth and produce goods or services that society values, but they also sustain economies and act as agents of change in the global economy. For the purpose of this article, I will refer to their businesses as MSMEs (Micro, small and medium enterprises) and define them as businesses that employ between 1 and 500 people.
In developed economies, MSMEs create most of the jobs and sustain entire economies. An OECD report estimates that 60-70 per cent of all jobs in developed economies are created by MSMEs. In USA, there are over 27.9 million MSMEs that contributed roughly to half of the non-farm GDP. That effectively means that these tiny businesses having between 1 and 500 employees together generate as much value to the economy as all the major corporations and governments in the US put together.
MSMEs in India are underperforming hugely Known for its entrepreneurial spirit, India has produced some great entrepreneurs such Laxmi Mittal, Dhirubhai Ambani and Jamsetji Tata. However, if you look at the data closely, you will find that that Indian MSMEs, as a group, are severely underperforming heir global peers.
For example, MSMEs employ 40 per cent of India’s workforce and yet generate only 17 per cent of its GDP. In contrast, China’s small businesses employ 85 per cent of its workforce and generate 60 per cent of its GDP. The comparison with the US and the UK is almost as stark.
While the number of MSMEs in India looks impressive at first glance, standing at 48.8 million, the picture in reality is not as rosy. Most of these 48.8 million businesses are not formally registered and therefore, technically speaking, aren’t really MSMEs. When businesses aren’t registered and legally recognised, they miss out on opportunities to access credit, technology and growth opportunities.
Why is this happening? : Issues There are a host of issues that plague Indian MSMEs ranging from the poor availability of infrastructure (roads, electricity) to the lack of adequate skilled manpower. However, two issues stand out as the biggest roadblocks to the growth of MSMEs in India.
Entrepreneurs in India complain that they have to jump through hoops to start their companies. Registering a company usually takes about a month and involves significant expenditure including “incidental expenses” at various government offices.
The concept of single window clearances just does not seem to exist as several government bodies ranging from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, the Labour Department, the Income Tax Department and the Commercial Taxes Department come into the picture. Of course, depending on the nature of the business, several other departments such as the Health Department, Fire Department or the Police Department need to be approached for licenses or “no-objection certificates” even before making a single dollar in sales.
The following table shows how India compares to South Asia as well as to the developed countries (OECD) on key indicators pertaining to the ease of starting businesses.
Due in large part to the burden of complying with the myriad regulations, most of India’s small businesses remain unregistered and in the process, limit their growth and potential.
Key issue 2: Lack of adequate capital Capital (credit) is the lifeblood of business. Indian businesses face a massive shortage of capital and struggle to get bank loans or funding. High interest rates and the need for collateral for bank loans limit the access that small businesses have to much needed capital.
The Planning Commission of India estimates that in FY 2014, there exists a credit gap between demand and supply of Rs 15, 66, 089 crores (MSMEs). This figure does not take into account the fact that a large section of MSMEs cannot afford to give collateral for loans.
The concept of collateral-free loans for MSMEs, guaranteed by a government fund is slowly picking up in India. The Government of India launched the Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS) for MSMEs in the year 2000 that attempts to stimulate collateral-free credit to MSMEs by guaranteeing over 75 per cent of the loan amount lent by banks to MSMEs.
The road ahead: A massive challenge or a gargantuan opportunity? The eco-system around MSMEs represents both a massive challenge as well as a gargantuan opportunity for the country. Success with repairing this eco-system can pay rich dividends in the form of accelerated job creation, wealth generation and economic prosperity. Failure to address this problem could mean a sluggish economy and moribund growth for an extended period of time.
In the next article in this series, we will look at some of the steps that can be taken by the government to unleash entrepreneurship in India and truly put it on the path to long-term growth.
First published in The Economic Times. Republished with permission.
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