Business Planning

Developing nation entrepreneurship is great, but is nothing without direction and originality

Hunter Ruthven | 18 April 2016 | 8 years ago

Kathmandu retail
You’ll never be left wanting for a down jacket or pashmina in Kathmandu
A short trip to Nepal revealed a staggering level of entrepreneurship, but a dire need to innovate and create something distinct.

Whenever travelling abroad I always find it interesting to observe the levels of enterprise and new business that exist in different cities. Britain is in the midst of an entrepreneurial’surge, but in my experience it often still falls well short of what is going on elsewhere around the globe.

The sub continent, normally characterised as the region including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and SrI Lanka, has a population of approaching two billion people. It stretches from the tropics of South India and SrI Lanka to the lofty heights of the Himalayas, and its history includes the likes of the East India Company, Commonwealth and Mogul Empire.

Entrepreneurship is a deep-rooted value in the culture of the region, often seen as the benchmark of success and a form of lasting legacy for the family. This isespecially the case in Nepal, a country with some 29 million people and a big tourism industry.

The capital, Kathmandu, is a throbbing city of one million located in the heart of the country and the gate for most entering. While a trip down a British high street invariably takes you past shops of which the majority are the chain variety, Kathmandu commercial arteries are littered with independent offerings catering to all manner of requirements.

Tourism is the biggest industry in Nepal with eight of the world’s ten highest mountains attracting visitors from every corner of the world. Despite a number of natural disasters in recent years, the worst of which being the April 2015 earthquake which killed over 8, 000 people and injured 21, 000, record numbers are still arriving each year.

It provides a lucrative market for Nepalis to target, and is one that has been boosted by the arrival of high-speed internet and better mobile phone coverage in the nation. According to the World Bank, Nepal sits largely in the middle when it comes to ease of doing business. Surrounded by the like of Paraguay, Zambia, Albania and the Philippines, Nepal does figure quite highly for factors such as dealing with construction permits, registering property, protecting minatory investors and trading across borders.

Walking down a busy Kathmandu road quickly reveals how forthright locals are as traders. Each are keen to engage with possible tourist trade and confident their offering is the best. There is not theabundance of big business we are used to in the western world. While we have the likes of Tesco, John Lewis, HSBC or BT as big employers, Nepalis must think differently and consider how entrepreneurship might be the best way to achieve economic stability.

Namche Bazaar shopping
Enterprise has made it to destinations many thousands of metres above sea level
The same can be said when you leave bustling Kathmandu and head up into the hills. Despite the majority of goods and raw materials requiring yak or human transport for hours and miles on end, small local communities are powered by small business. A desire to be ones own boss and provide for their family means individuals take enormous risks. Pool and snooker tables are hauled over ragged terrain for days to fill out a bar, while gourmet coffee shops hope to make the most of cravings along the way.

However, the problem seems to come with a lack of variety and individual tailored offering. Shop after shop in Kathmandu stocks exactly the same products, while restaurants cater little for diversity and instead offer what each proprietor believes is most popular.

Time after time I hear established and successful entrepreneurs say that the most important piece of advice they could give is to make sure a new business is solving a genuine problem. It must be addressing a quantified gap in the market and be differentiated enough from competition to stand on its own two feet. It’s evident enough in London, with the churn going on at a high street level demonstrating new businesses are not packaging up a unique enough offering.

Nepal was a fascinating place to visit, and one can only take inspiration from the hard graft locals go through to make a living quite often you’d see shopkeepers pulling down the shutters at 11pm. But you have to wonder about how many can possibly last, and actually grow, without doing something significantly different.

It takes a brave and committed entrepreneur to do something different forging against the grain. In Nepal’s case, tourist numbers are likely tokeep swelling but company revenues will remain the same unless business owners step out from the crowd and take an original direction.

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