“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher Namaste friends!I launched my first restaurant, Malini, in 1986 when I came to Pune as a young man. Today, my family and I run a chain of three restaurants in Pune city. I also run a food processing and packaging unit where I employ 150 workers.But, let me tell you how my journey of entrepreneurship started in the first place… In 1983, I completed my Hotel Management Diploma from the Food Craft Institute, Pune. During my college years, I was always keen to hear and learn from those who were 8-10 years my senior. I closely followed their debates and discussions on new business ideas and how to bring them to fruition. The firm resolve of my seniors to strike out on their own in life left a lasting impression on me. Therefore, it was only natural that three years after graduating college, I decided to take the plunge and launch my first restaurant. While I was busy managing the affairs of my restaurant, I continued to follow new developments in the world of business. I had a keen sense of curiosity about new industries and new markets, a trait that I retain to this day. Over time, I firmed up an internal belief system that the best way to overcome challenges in life, whether personal, professional, or related to one’s community or business ecosystem, is to have a keen sense of purpose and conduct thorough research before embarking on a new venture. In the mid-1990s, I came across BYST activities when they used to organise meetings and get-togethers at my restaurant. I enrolled myself as a mentor with BYST in 1996 because I wanted to share my experience (of running and managing a business) with young entrepreneurs. Over the years, I have been in touch with more than two hundred entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur from a rural background, I am able to relate to the challenges my mentees face. One of the main concerns I identified was entrepreneurs giving up on their dreams due to lack of proper guidance. It gives me immense satisfaction that I am able to use the wisdom I gained (while establishing my own business) to nurture my mentees. When my mentees respond to my feedback and implement my suggestions in their businesses, I feel even more committed to being a mentor. I also get to learn from other mentors and my mentees. In 2018 I advised my mentee Swapnil Kudale, Founder, Sky Power Industries to build up an emergency fund. Against his own will, he honoured my advice and started saving a small sum every month. Today he acknowledges that my advice proved very timely and a life saver for his business during the COVID-19 lockdowns. He was not only able to retain his workers and sustain his business, but also able to diversify into new product lines. I try to help every mentee visualise a clear growth trajectory for his/her business. I have been able to help my mentees plan for fast growth through diversification and introduction of new products. When one of my mentees in the paints industry faced the challenge of low sales volumes over a prolonged period, I advised him to start manufacturing and selling distemper paint colours that are cost effective and hence, extremely popular with rural home-owners. Shortly thereafter, my mentee saw a significant improvement in sales volumes, and he was able to steer his business back to profitability. Some of my former mentees are are high-fliers today, having established successful businesses. These bright and industrious entrepreneurs have created around 4,000-5,000 jobs. Five of my mentees won prestigious national and international awards like YBI Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the JRD Tata Award. These milestones give me a sense that a special force is driving every young entrepreneur who I engage with. I continue to enjoy cordial relations with my mentees. Often, when a member of my group comes up with a new business idea, we are quickly able to size up the market potential, the estimated sales volumes, the time required to break even, and the risks involved. I feel happy to be able to serve as a ‘sounding board’ for my mentees and friends’ business ideas, even before a single rupee has been invested. I have contributed to BYST’s mission of developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the rural heartland of western India. I also function as ‘Buddy Mentor’ to new mentors and familiarise them with the BYST mentoring process. It is my passion to nurture entrepreneurs. I am on this mission for the last 25 years. I felt extremely privileged to be selected as the Youth Business International (YBI) Mentor of the Year 2021 for the Asian region. My journey would not have been so satisfying had it not been for my family’s unstinted support and wholehearted participation in my mission. I learned my earliest business lessons from my father, who continues to run and manager a bakery outlet at the ripe young age of 75 years! Now that our sons have grown up, my wife also spends her time running a Mongini’s bakery products store. While our older son runs a Civil Works construction firm, the younger one is learning to manage the operations of our food processing and packaging unit. The Shejwal Family, Pune Courtesy: Mr. Subhash Shejwal I count myself extremely lucky to have been a co-traveller with my many mentees and my family on their wonderful journeys of business exploration, expansion, and growth. I am deeply grateful to all my seniors, my mentees, my friends, and my family for allowing me to be a part of theirs.