How Harsh Mariwala-led P2P platform ASCENT is helping small businesses scale up
Harsh Mariwala

Entrepreneurial ventures are about ideas – ideas that can take root, germinate and reach full bloom despite odds, before branching out to conquer the world. True that. But, weaving a success story is not as much about thinking out of the box, as it is about solving a real problem – the usual, and the unexpected.

The sheer number of failed attempts at entrepreneurship despite a booming Indian ecosystem is a testimony to this.

But, Marico Ltd chairman Harsh Mariwala is out there to change the narrative with ASCENT India Foundation, a peer-to-peer learning platform for the entrepreneurial community.

Founded in 2012, ASCENT acts as an advisor and catalyst for small and medium-sized enterprises, and provides a platform where they can share ideas, growth plans, challenges and success stories within a trusted environment.

“When I had started my entrepreneurial journey, the avenues to discuss such business topics were limited. ASCENT is my way of giving back. Through the concept of trust groups, the platform offers an environment to new-age growth entrepreneurs wherein they can address the challenges faced by every entrepreneur,” said Mariwala, ASCENT founder and chairman.

Disruptions are common in any business, and entrepreneurs need to learn a great deal about issues such as stakeholder management concerns, delegation techniques, talent attraction and retention, and fund raising. And, ASCENT is the go-to place to learn and to share.

“The platform cannot be considered as an incubator or an accelerator as they have financial services vested interest. We look out for entrepreneurs whose business model is by and large proven, and has achieved a significant scale. Once we identify synergies with applicants, we invite select entrepreneurs for a group discussion and try to understand their businesses better. We refrain from accepting members who have fixated ideas of doing business,” he added.

The platform has 320 members, with women making up for 10% and family-run establishments 37%. Manufacturing and services sectors from across 65 industries share the space with a 49:51 ratio. The organisation has one chapter in Mumbai, represented by about 1,000 members from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, and is exploring expanding to other geographies, including Bangalore.

“The platform organises huddle sessions, wherein we try to identify issues entrepreneurs are keen to deep-dive on. For example, if digital marketing is a requirement, then we identify an industry expert who can come and conduct a whole session on digital marketing. These sessions are curated in a way that only 30-35 members can be accommodated,” said Mariwala.

At present, we do not interact much with start-ups, because startup entrepreneurs are caught up with challenges related to day-to-day operations, as opposed to scaling up, unlike SMEs and MSMEs, he added.

The platform does not invest capital, but if any member is looking to raise funds it acts as a catalyst to facilitate conversations with venture capital and private equity firms. “We are also looking at creating a platform for queries on funding, but that is still a work in progress.”

ASCENT has also partnered with institutions, such as SP Jain and Stanford, to provide its members with insights in running a business.

But how would you measure success? “Well, if we have been a helping hand in a company’s growth journey from being a Rs 5 crore company to Rs 500 crore company, then we have done our part as a catalytic advisor,” said Mariwala.

Mariwala also manages the CSR division of Marico. Along with his daughter Rajvi, he runs Mariwala Health Initiatives, an initiative to drive mental health awareness in India. Sharrp Ventures is a family business office managed by his son Rishabh.

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