Several small businesses run by entrepreneurs from small towns and villages near Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, are ready to begin after participating in a start-up competition called ‘Step Ahead’. Organised by RC Aligarh Icon, RID 3110, in association with the Department of Commerce at Aligarh Muslim University, the competition provided training to 32 candidates on the nuances of entrepreneurship, financial literacy, creativity, collaboration and growth. Some of the participants underwent a 16-week SURE (Stimulating Urban Renewal through Entrepreneurship) workshop, designed by the University of Houston and initiated by Professor Asiya Chaudhary from the Department of Commerce at AMU.
After presenting their business ideas and products, 10 finalists were selected based on judges’ evaluation and given an opportunity to showcase their ideas and interact with potential buyers, bankers and individual customers at a start-up fair. The Rotary network helped attract industrialists, professionals and influential people to the event. Impressed with the project outcome, DG Pawan Agarwal said that “programmes like this help aspiring small businesses realise their goals by deconstructing the complexities of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
District CSR chair Lalesh Saxena said that the start-up competition included two aspects — showcasing products and idea exchange — and a valedictory session. “Since this was a promotional fair, the participants weren’t allowed to sell their products but if they wished to, they could give out samples,” he added.
“Thousands of people aspire to be an entrepreneur but very few succeed in becoming one. I have been lucky to be part of Step Ahead. This well-thought and carefully constructed programme has helped people like me understand entrepreneurship better and has taken me one step closer to my dream,” says Nazreen Hasan, a participant. She has registered her trademark and applied for GST. Her loan for ₹5 lakh has been approved and she received multiple orders at the start-up fair for fabric patchwork. “But I was overwhelmed with joy when people called me an artist. Nobody has addressed me like that before,” she smiles.
Although not every participant walked away with a deal, Prof Asiya said that their focus was “to impart financial literacy, ignite creativity, foster collaboration, and provide opportunities for growth while helping them understand their options.” Recalling a recent phone conversation she had with one of the participants post the start-up fair, she says, “the young girl said to me that she feels confident enough to assist her father in his business and take care of the accounts.” Asiya considered this “a huge victory because the participant had gained the knowledge to run a business.”
The event concluded with a valedictory session attended by eminent guests, including Mohammad Gulrez, pro-vice chancellor, AMU. Awards and certificates were distributed to the participants who gained knowledge and skills to turn their dreams into reality.