Prompted by job loss and reverse migration due to the ongoing pandemic, a growing number of blue- and grey-collared workers are starting up their own businesses in tier II and tier III cities, leading to the emergence of a bunch of startups catering to this new segment backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator.
They are aiming to upskill and reskill the new breed of micro-preneurs across states such as Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
They are hoping to help the entrepreneurs understand business dynamics, community and distribution networks as well as soft skills like marketing and communication.
Apna, for instance, has around 60 skill-based vertical communities or groups to assist workers such as electricians or plumbers who want to start their own business and help them network in order to learn about various market opportunities.
Take the case of Pune-based Kishore Patra.
The 36-year-old, who worked in a services company for 20 years, lost his job after it shut down recently. Patra then started a slew of businesses, including one that dealt with eco-friendly pencils and made use of Apna from February to hire around 200 people for the business. On Apna’s peer groups, Patra’s people skills and jovial personality soon made him an influencer of sorts, inspiring him to launch his own YouTube channel ApnaBizPandit.
“On the app, inter-vertical skills are quite common, which otherwise is difficult to see in the real world as these people do not cross paths. This helps these informal workers expand their services and assist each other to provide business leads, share their challenges, and communicate,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder of Apna, which has received nearly $2 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
On Lokal, micro-entrepreneurs are using the hyperlocal news and classifieds platform to build their distribution networks. The app, which raised over $3 million in seed funding from Y Combinator and others in November 2019, is available in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.
Recently, Ganesh, a small-time seller from Warangal, found delivery personnel to ship 1,500 hearing aid devices to others in his community via Lokal, a company executive told ET.
“We have helped facilitate the sale of vegetables, homemade ornaments and even a goat in Tamil Nadu,” the executive added.
Most of these sellers are new to the world of business and its infrastructural challenges – and this is where Lokal comes into the picture. “Many of them are private employees who have started selling essentials as they have not been paid salaries during the lockdown. More than 90% of local MSMEs have been adversely affected. Local beauty parlours and saloons are now selling and delivering beauty packages to sustain their income,” said Jani Pasha, cofounder of Lokal.
Data marketplace startup Aiisma, for one, is helping small businesses like corner stores, resellers and micro-entrepreneurs build a presence online. “Many individuals who are out of jobs now want to go online. They are looking to make a bigger impact locally and then attempt to build a nationwide presence,” said Ankit Chaudhari, founder of Aiisma.
On the other end of the spectrum, ReadyAssist, a startup that supports road-side repairs and fixes, is training engineers, diploma graduates and college dropouts through its ‘Mecademy’ initiative.
So far, it has trained over 300 workers and enrolled them on the platform, with the workers able to earn Rs 14,000 to Rs 25,000 a month based on incentives. The training also enables them to own a garage with support from ReadyAssist, founder Vimal Singh said.
“Through our training, we teach them quality, consistency, discipline and customer service,” Singh said.
The Bengaluru-based startup, which is currently active in the southern states, is looking to expand to tier-II cities in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.