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Investor Spotlight: Dr Jagat Shah In Conversation with Anshuman Sinha

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In this Startup Pulse Podcast, Anshuman Sinha, Co-founder & CEO of Startup Talent & Co-founder of Startup Steroid, interviews Dr. Jagat Shah, Founder and Chief Mentor, of Mentor on Road. He is a multifaceted international business advisor with a relentless passion for hitting the road.

In addition, Dr. Shah has a PhD in International Business complemented by certification in management consultancy and cluster development. He is currently based in Ahmedabad, India, but has a global presence that extends to the USA and Canada. 

He has been highly active in the trade and investment commissions, previously holding the post of the trade and investment commissioner for the government of Manitoba. He founded successful ventures like Global Network, Vibrant Markets, and Smart Village. His experience and wisdom have left an indelible mark on the world of trade and investment. He is highly passionate about his non-profit organization, Mentor on Road initiative.

Anshuman Sinha begins the conversation by asking Dr. Shah about his multifaceted personality and college days. 

He starts by saying how he was brought up all over India while his father was a dedicated employee involved in construction for the Indian army. He grew up around India, sometimes staying in Shillong, Assam, and Calcutta. Finally, he settled in Delhi, where he received his preliminary education. He shared that he was always interested in international trade. This is one of the reasons why he chose to make it his career. From a very early age, Dr. Jagat Shah was highly interested in the world’s geography and chose it as his subject in the 11th standard. This helped him build his career and handle exports today.

Upon being asked about his choice of industry, he elaborated that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in India were not exporting at all. He realized that this was due to a lack of information and knowledge. He says that despite SMEs in India making good products, they had no prospects in terms of exporting.

Watch the Full Interview Here

Anshuman Sinha highlights Dr. Jagat Shah’s 26 years of experience in international trade, consulting, market research, and B2B matchmaking. 

He also mentions that Dr. Shah has visited over 20 countries, including the USA, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Turkey, Germany, the U.K., Egypt, and Tanzania. 

Dr. Shah also spoke about how he handled exports for many companies and knew their products were involved in a lot of merchant exporting. Based on his knowledge about markets, he understood the value of India’s cultural aspects. He elaborates that when traveling abroad, he noticed many pain points within the society that differed from those present within Indian culture because of the cultural values.

Dr. Shah’s Career at a Glance

Anshuman Sinha’s next question is about Dr. Shah’s career. He shares that his initial career began as a consultant company. He decided to provide consultancy to other companies so that they could enter the export market. He started his business, Global Network International Trade Advisory, which failed. The reason behind his failure was that 35 to 40 business people in Ahmedabad were highly interested in his business but needed more time to seek consultancy. The most common question asked him at the time was if he could guide a company on exporting, why wasn’t he exporting himself? Based on this question, he changed the trajectory of his career. 

He decided to start a training company to train companies to develop skills to enter the export market efficiently. Following this, he started the Global Network Institute, where he trained entrepreneurs for the next four years and took them to various countries to teach them about the market. 

Having done many tours around the world with budding entrepreneurs, he witnessed about 50% of his students join his consulting business once they understood the meaning of consulting and its similarity with training. 

Based on this experience, Global Network Institute eventually embraced 30 to 40 delegations worldwide and built a massive clientele of 100 companies. Given his experience with his first failure, he shares the wise and profound thought that every startup must “fail early and fail small.” He believes every failure would come with a “new lesson to build a better business.”

All About Mentor On Road

Anshuman Sinha’s next question is about Mentor on Road. Mentor on Road has covered 10,000 miles and visited about 35 cities in 35 States of America. 

Anshuman Sinha asks Dr. Shah about the idea behind Mentor on Road, the motivation behind the project, and where it stands currently. Dr. Shah replied that for almost 25 years, he had a long-distance driving hobby. 

This enthusiasm for moving with family all over India and other countries motivated him to start Mentor on Road. Dr. Jagat Shah shares that when Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister, he suggested that Dr. Shah attach some cause to his hobby and make something out of his passion. This motivated him to begin Mentor on Road, which is a name Prime Minister Modi himself had given him.

In 2015, Dr. Shah drove all over India from Ahmedabad to Coimbatore, Coimbatore to Calcutta, covering the East Coast back to Ahmedabad for 120 days. He met around 10,000 businesses and people in various chambers and associations. He also attended many meetings trying to find out what the challenges were within the Indian economic sector. Based on his experience, he realized that the main problem faced by companies within India was the ease of doing business, so he submitted a 49-liner report based on this feedback. 

He shares that he enjoys mentoring SMEs and women in the business realm. This passion kept him going long enough to meet the ambassador of the USA, who invited him to do a similar tour in the United States of America. Eventually, his U.S. tour started with the support of the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

The journey included a drive that lasted for 82 days from Boston to Tampa, Tampa to San Diego, San Diego to Seattle, and Seattle to New York. He conducted 115 seminars in 82 days and met with universities to explain the startup ecosystem prevalent in India. He believes that despite these entrepreneurs having startups in America, their eventual clientele would be the Indian people.

Dr. Shah further says that on his journey around the American states, he was briefed by the U.S. Department of Commerce about how only 5% of American companies export to any country in the world. This was not only due to the American market being vast in size but also due to their inability to understand the concept of marketing and entering a foreign market.

About Smart Village

The conversation between Anshuman Sinha and Dr. Shah eventually led to Smart Village, another project of Dr. Jagat Shah. The main premise of the project was to convert a village into a smart village within 1000 days.

Anshuman Sinha follows this train of thought and asks about the 1000-day Smart Villages program. He mentions that Dr. Shah has converted 62 villages in India into smart villages with the Smart Village 1000-day program. He asks what he means by bright town and how he changes a village within 1000 days.

In reply, Dr. Shah suggests that the challenge with India is that 65% of the country’s population currently lives in villages. This was one of the reasons why the villages needed to be turned into intelligent villages so that the people of the country could flourish. 

The main issue that the villagers faced was their mode of income. Most of these villagers were into farming while their children studied outside the village in towns and cities. Once the children had completed their education, they were unwilling to return to the villages because they did not want to farm, as they had witnessed their parents in poverty their whole lives. Unlike the commercial farming setup prevalent in the U.S. and Canada, Indian farming significantly differs due to the small land holdings.

Dr. Shah reveals that during his Mentor on Road tour in America, he met with the Indian diaspora and convinced them to adopt and convert the village that they belong to. He assured them he would not take any funding from them but would convert it into an intelligent village within 1000 days. His rule of “no funding necessary” perplexed many individuals. 

However, his commitment to change and innovation led him to start the program, and he committed to change villages and convert them within 1000 days. His fixation on the thousand-day mark was to give himself a time frame. He believes that “quantification is important,” and having a timeline will help him remain on track with his plans to convert villages into smart villages. However, his condition of no funding came with a clause. He wanted no funding from individuals. 

However, he requested that the town only be converted once the people adopting the village go onto the site and work collaboratively with the villagers. His program includes him working with his team along with the villagers for three days. These three days follow a bottom-up approach where the villagers are asked about the changes they want in the village.

In most cases, conversion projects do not have the option of seeking feedback from villagers. However, for the intelligent village, Dr. Shah made it a point to seek input with the help of a questionnaire from the villagers. Based on the feedback, he developed 70 parameters to help turn the village into a smart village. 

Some of those ideas and parameters include converting the schools into digital schools, constructing a primary healthcare center with telemedicine access, and turning the public utility roofs into solar panel rooftops. 

Another important parameter was to convert the farmers into value-added food processing manufacturers to motivate the younger generation to embrace farming and return to the village. The entire process of food processing manufacturing included providing opportunities for young farmers to participate in farming projects. 

Dr. Shah and his team motivated the young people by preparing a project report and getting them funding from banks without collateral security. Eventually, the young people from farming families had to return to the village to get into food processing manufacturing projects such as peanut butter by farming groundnuts and tomato ketchup by farming tomatoes. This got the youth interested and made the prospect of farming extremely glamorous. 

This carefully planned addition of food value in every village enabled Dr. Shah to turn the towns into intelligent villages and build an ecosystem where they could successfully function and work towards progress.

Having heard the story, Anshuman Sinha’s next question is regarding the funding for solar panels. It is a known fact that solar panels can be expensive. His next question is where the funding comes to put the solar panels on the rooftops of intelligent schools.

To this, Dr. Jagat Shah replies that he has a business model where he approaches companies that are manufacturing solar panels and ideally provides them with these business opportunities where they can have the terrace rights for 15 years under an agreement with the school, the panchayat, and the Primary Health center. 

This would allow them to provide solar panels to these rooftops for 15 years at the cost of the solar panel companies. The agreement also will enable them to sell the excess in the grid. Furthermore, his business model was highly reliant upon the prospect of CSR. This prospect allowed him to turn villages across India into smart villages and develop the country’s economic sector.

Dr. Shah’s take on women in business

Upon asking about the key insights that Dr. Shah has gained working with SMEs, startups, and women-owned businesses in particular, he replies that his primary mission on Mentor on Road in America was to engage with women in business in the U.S. as he had found out that initially, only 25% of the American economy consisted of women. 

However, in the year 2017, during Mentor on Road, around 66% of the American economy was entirely women. He was intrigued by the policy or the point of view which led to this increase. 

He talks about the educational difference while highlighting the support and insecurity of being a woman in business. He talks about the increase in the American economic workforce due to the uncertainty women often faced as the culture was highly independent. 

Due to the high divorce rates, there was a specific need for jobs, which saw a significant increase in women being involved in America. Compared to India, the familial structure prevalent within the society did not create a need or insecurity for women to seek job opportunities, so the involvement was significantly less. Based on his experiences, he witnessed how the American business realm changed due to the presence of women, who were provided with a support system in offices where their children could be cared for while they worked.

The conversation eventually shifts to the preliminary gap that SMEs often face due to needing more knowledge and information. He elaborates that small and medium enterprises have the skill to innovate but need to gain market knowledge to allow them to explore a foreign market. 

Dr. Shah endeavors to provide this very confidence and support to enable SMEs to take that leap and explore foreign markets. He says, ” India’s environment and ecosystem are extremely different.” The country has the potential to thrive due to the fantastic minds within it. 

He shares how he has recently witnessed leaders sharing 25-year plans into the future rather than a five-year plan, which is usually the norm. He shares that he educates SMEs based on an exciting framework called the Wolfenson framework. The World Bank has given the framework. Wolfenson, the bank president for ten years, suggested this framework, which inspired Dr Shah to implement it in Afghanistan. He focused on the seven forms of capital mentioned within the framework. 

He elaborates upon the three lower forms of capital: natural resources, artificial infrastructure, and money, as well as the four higher forms of capital: institutional capital, human capital, knowledge capital, and cultural capital. Long-term thinking is a cultural capital along with a wealth creation attitude. He believes in nurturing these capitals and incorporating them within the SMEs so that they can thrive, innovate, and bring necessary changes to the Indian economy. 

The conversation finally draws to a close when Anshuman Sinha asks him to share his opinion on his meetings with Prime Minister Modi, whom Dr. Shah has met countless times. To this, he replies that based on all his meetings with the Prime Minister, he has realized that he is a forward thinker and believes in fostering change swiftly. He calls him a “Yuga Purush,” which means the man of youth, as he believes that the Prime Minister can connect with the youth, which is the country’s future, but also motivate them to embrace a steadfast approach towards change and innovation.

Conclusion

Dr. Shah has exemplified the power of dedication and innovation in driving progress. Through his extensive experience and unwavering commitment, he has not only transformed businesses but also inspired countless individuals to embrace change and seize opportunities.

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