“Digital technology has supported SMEs like us massively to expand our business” – Shrikant Parulekar of Astra Concrete

Astra Concrete, a pioneer in advancing concrete spacers in India, has been proficiently using digital technology to heighten its company. It has adapted digital tools to attain more customers as well as develop organizational performance. Astra, established in 1996, has grown into foreign markets.

Founder Shrikant Parulekar in interaction with SME  Venture shares more about his entrepreneurship journey

  • When did you start your journey as an entrepreneur? What are the milestones you have been achieved?

I started my journey as an entrepreneur in the year 1998. I started a unit for manufacturing concrete products in an Industrial Estate at MadkaimGoa. Since the beginning we have used to make products which are not the run of the mill thing, thus avoiding a rat race.

In 2008 we pioneered the manufacturing of specialized cement product called concrete spacers. We were the first and now the largest exporters of concrete spacers from India.

  • Can you mention some technologies that you are utilizing in your industry?

We are of the belief that continuous innovation and technology up gradation are key factors to remain relevant in today’s ever-changing and dynamic market conditions. Thus we believe in adoption and implementation of technologies that improve quality and efficiency. In our world of production of concrete products, we have imported and implemented HEM or High Energy Mixing technology to significantly improve our product quality to challenge the quality benchmarks set by Germans and Japanese on the world stage. We have also adopted practices like Just-In-Time, Agile manufacturing and mechanized material handling to reduce inventory costs, respond faster to customer demands and improve the efficiency of our shop floor workers. We have also leveraged the technology of the internet and smartphones to expand our reach in marketing beyond geographical boundaries to enable a shift from a “push“ based model to a “pull” based model of attracting customers to Indian shores.

  • According to you, what are the reforms / Policy Changes are necessary to boost your business

We are an export-driven enterprise and simplification of compliances are the urgent need to help remove unnecessary costs faced by us. One of the most important reforms needed today is the drastic simplification of compliance for MSME’s, especially in regards to direct and indirect taxation. Introduction of quarterly GST returns for enterprises to 50cr turnover and simplification of yearly GST returns will greatly help small industries, who will be able to save the monthly cost burden of a professional accountant. Also, a complete shift to a paperless mode for regular compliances like ITC refunds and export bill collection for EDPMS will help SMEs reduce significant compliance burden. On the export side, the introduction of more customs stations and ICDs in the country will help in a great deal in cost reduction to industries that pay uncompetitive costs in round trip road movement from ports of shipping containers for export.

  • What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?

In general, our journey was smooth and without any turbulence.

  • Can you mention the current key opportunities in the manufacturing sector?

We, as Indians, need to move towards additive manufacturing that 3D printing makes possible, of objects in a much higher scale and economic way than currently being practiced. Additive manufacturing is the future of the manufacturing industry, which can combine the benefits of customization and low costs to deliver the fantastic value our citizens have never seen before. This will require the leaders of government, society, and industry to share their collective vision and pool their resources to make way for the endless opportunities new generation entrepreneurs can forge into pragmatic products and solutions.

  • What is your opinion about current MSME Schemes implemented by the Ministry of MSMEs?

To be frank, the MSME ministry is has been performing a super job of promoting MSME schemes to upcoming and deserving entrepreneurs. We need our ministry to be dynamic in promoting and educating our budding entrepreneurs with the astounding helping hand our MSME ministry can provide. In today’s evolved world of 4G smartphones and widespread social media, MSME ministry, under the guidance of Hon’bleMSME Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari, whom I greatly admire for his proven record of fantastic performance, should greatly emphasize on spreading the benefits of its schemes to the entirety of the Indian citizenry to encourage and motivate them to take up the mantle of entrepreneurship.

  • How would you rank the key 5 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

I would rank the 5 key skills or traits of successful entrepreneurs as follows

  1. Ambition: It is easy to give up when the going gets tough, but it’s your strong ambition that will help you to get the tough get going.
  2. Creativity: To succeed in today’s ever dynamic market, an entrepreneur needs to be creative and innovative to address the needs of today’s ever-evolving society and businesses. New products and solutions are always brimming on the horizon to take or make unexplored market segments.
  3. Courage: In order to harness the power of creativity, an entrepreneur needs to have the courage and the calculated risk-taking ability to act on paradigm-shifting ideas. Though creative ideas may have been researched thoroughly, it takes the leap of faith in yourself to take the first step to transform your idea into fruition.
  4. Perseverance: Most successful entrepreneurs experience defeat and failures at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. But rather than surrendering to their defeats, entrepreneurs must learn from their experiences to refine and optimize their future efforts to motivate themselves to keep persevering.
  5. Learn & Listen: An entrepreneur must always keep his mind open to the experiences of his collaborators and teammates to upgrade his own understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. It this pool of shared wisdom and teamwork that ultimately propels an enterprise to its eventual success.

How do you see the MSME sector evolve in the coming 5 years?

I am a first generation entrepreneur. Thus, I can frankly say that I have gone through the grinding of setting up my own business solely on the beliefs about myself and the funding from my lenders. But borrowing money from the market and banks to realize one’s entrepreneurial dream is not a downside, but it’s an adrenaline-fuelled push to innovate and succeed.

Today’s MSME entrepreneur is blessed to have the connectivity and technology access we did not have while we dreamt of making it big in the business world. With the blessings of high-speed communication, evolved social networks and progressive millennial generation reaching a mature age, I can confidently say the many new entrants in the talent pool will seek to get the due value of their skills and ambition through the route of entrepreneurship. MSME sector will witness a profound growth as new solutions and markets open up due to liberalization and globalization of markets. Modern consumers find themselves with ever-evolving needs and higher disposable incomes to spend on new products and services our budding millennial entrepreneurs can develop and address. I foresee a massive sea of change, in general mindset and offerings, as people explore their skills, not through the safe and sure job mindset, but the risky but exciting entrepreneurial mindset to unlock the full value of their innovative ideas.

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