What is grassroots entrepreneurship and why I want to study it?

When I started with my PhD, I knew that at some point I would have to do a field visit. Had I studied European social entrepreneurs, which is also a very interesting phenomenon, a field visit would have been closer to home and easier to organize. But I didn’t choose my research topic based on easiness but based on my passion – and that brought me kilometers away from home to India.

Entrepreneurs need in general financial capital (a loan from the bank or from previous entrepreneurial activities), human capital (education, skills, experiences) and social capital (the network around the entrepreneur) to develop innovations. In my research I focus on grassroots entrepreneurs, who basically have none or very little of these essential resources. Nevertheless, they managed to develop products that are bought by people living outside the village of the entrepreneurs. I want to understand the innovation process – how the entrepreneurs went from having an idea to developing a product and selling it accross India.

While it is a difficult process for any entrepreneur to convince retailers to take a product on the selves, it is even more complicated to do so for a grassroots entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs do not have the business processes (procuring, production, marketing, accounting and so on) as organized as for example entrepreneurs who have been trained at business schools. Grassroots entrepreneurship in India is also particularly interesting because it is a very hierarchical society. This is an additional complexity for grassroots entrepreneurs, who are based in a rural setting far away from the formal structures.

The cases I am looking at, are very famous cases and various local and international newspapers have covered the stories about these grassroots entrepreneurs. I have read every newspaper article written and watched every video clip about those grassroots entrepreneurs I want to cover in my study. So, I have a good understanding of what happened in the innovation process. However, I have not heard the story told by the actors themselves – the grassroots entrepreneurs – and that is the reason I came to India. I want to meet the persons behind the famous innovations and let them tell their stories.

And why I am interested in this particular topic? These are very inspiring individuals and there are many lessons these grassroots entrepreneurs can teach anyone. My curious mind cannot stop seeking for answers to all my questions – the how’s and why’s of the process. I also think that these entrepreneurs have not gotten the attention they deserve from researchers, policy makers or the general public. I want to do my share and have the grassroots entrepreneurs at the core of my research.


Marleen Wierenga