In recent years, entrepreneurship has gained a new popularity in the form of Start-up. Organizations are coming together to fund these start-ups. There are banks funding them, angel investors, venture capitalists and lot many to back these entrepreneurial ventures. However, this was not the picture around 30 years back. And definitely wasn’t a case in the North-Eastern corner of India. But as it is often said; innovative minds create opportunities, they don’t wait for it.
One such example is, Dr. Nomal Chandra Borah, Founder Chairman of GNRC Group of Hospitals. Born into the family of a marginal farmer Nomal Borah had to overcome acute poverty to raise the foundation of GNRC –a multi-specialty hospital –the first such in the private sector in North-East India.
The story of Dr. Borah is not a typical rags to riches story. Rather his journey of entrepreneurship is worthy of including in the course curriculum of business school. In fact, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has already done this.
His journey of entrepreneurship have paved all the way from nothing to making an investment return of Rs. 70 crores –one of the highest returns on investment in India from health care sector. Dr. Borah could offer 70 crores on an investment of 20 crores only, in less than six years. However, this crores of investment return journey started with a loan of Rs. 1 when Nomal started his schooling. It is regarded that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. And it was Nomal’s need to continue his education that led him to invent ways to earn money.
Though he successfully invented ways to make a pen out of a bamboo stick and create ink by mixing some herbal products; necessity raised beyond that. He needed money for school expenses. He started selling betel leaf and betel nut freshly plucked them from his courtyard. Noticing that smoking triggers sale of betel nuts, the boy of 11-12 years planned to expand his new business. With his first loan of Rs.1 from his father he bought biddi and match boxes. However, he sold them at the same price he purchased them. Nomal’s belief of “Customer as God. And one should not think of earning profit on day one” has sown its seed at a tender age of 11.
Being a student Nomal could sell only on Sundays. And after four weeks he returned that one rupee to his father. The overwhelming face of his father, when he accepted the one rupee from his son, was an incomparable achievement for young Nomal. This whole act of raising a business from one single rupee at the age of 11 reflected well that Dr. Borah has always had the instincts of a good businessman.
In a world where children takes over their father’s business, or starts their own business with parents’ money; it could be surprising how Nomal considered his liability to pay back that one rupee to his own father. It was not out of pain or shame that made him do so, it was his belief to return even a single penny if taken from others. Since then whatever amount it was –may it be his loan of Rs.1000 from Bank of Baroda or a private equity fund of 20 crores –he returned them all within time. In fact, GNRC gained the reputation of being the first enterprise in North-East to get private equity funding and returning three-and-a-half times of that investment. However, it is not reputation which motivated Nomal to repay back whatsoever amount of money ever taken; rather, it is his aim to set a good example so that other entrepreneurs of North-East has to face lesser hurdles to find investments.
The principles which had sustained GNRC as the top super-specialty health-care center in North-East since the last 35 years are the ones which can establish any entrepreneur. They can be the stepping stones of every entrepreneur in his way to achieve success.
The very first and the most important tenet of any business is disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors. And an Entrepreneur is a continuous innovation. They re-create themselves, re-invent themselves. When others are sleeping they should remain awake and think how to do the same thing but in a different way. This is the very principle which has kept GNRC in the race amidst all financial crises, inflation, lack of opportunity and rising cost of living. In 1987, when the hospital was opened the cost of a CT-scan machine cost 65 lakhs. The salary of the radiologist was Rs.2000; which was however four times more than the government had paid. And each CT-scan procedure to patients was charged Rs. 2000. Whereas, today in 2019, the same CT-Scan machine is purchased from multi-national companies at the expense of two crores; and are been operated by radiologists whose salary has increased by 250 times. But surprisingly, the cost of CT-scan has been reduced to Rs.900. It was made possible only through innovative ways to manage expenses.
Comes next in a life of an entrepreneur is his humbleness. Respect the dignity of labour. And the inevitable is ‘failure’. An entrepreneur becomes successful with failed steps. So was the case with the young founder of GNRC, whose initial years were never easy. Many had made it a tough journey for him. From the DGTD (Director General of Technical Development), whom Nomal wrote 200 letters to acquire the import license of a CT-Scan machine to his visits to the electricity board for more than a 100 times –all a failing endeavor. It is the entrepreneur who can never lose heart and fail to attempt. It is his determination that will reap success –like after all such unfulfilling attempts; Nomal didn’t lose patience to visit the Guwahati Municipal Corporation office 17 times within 16 days and successfully attained the building permission in 1986.
An entrepreneur’s journey is not smooth, but it is possible. Like in Germany where 22 million people are entrepreneurs in a population of 88 million; and like England and USA, where one among every 11 people are entrepreneurs; in India, one cannot find even one in thousands. But it is the responsibility of the entrepreneurs to work hard. Because, it is only them who can improve the economic condition of the country by creating employment, and thereby reducing poverty. As Dr. Nomal Borah always says, “You don’t lose, until you quit. Be persuasive. Do not give up.”