Beyond Comfort Zones: Noour Ali Zehgeer’s guide to Kashmir’s startup culture 

Kashmiri Entrepreneur Sama Beg at co-working space ThinkPod during an event for her satrtup 'Koshur Wear'.

Noour Ali Zehgeer’s rise from a dreamy Burn Hall boy to a global entrepreneur is a tale of toil and triumph. The Srinagar man’s educational odyssey that took him from Kashmir to Germany infused a global entrepreneur spirit in him. As someone who commenced at HCL and implemented CDMA services across different regions, Noour calls Kashmir’s spirit for entrepreneurship as a sign of unique culture.

In today’s rapidly changing world, the entrepreneur underscores the importance of stepping out of comfort zones, urging youth to embrace challenges and persevere in the pursuit of their aspirations. Recognising the lack of clear direction and career counselling for many youth in Kashmir, he emphasises the role of mentoring and collaboration between educational institutions and industry experts to bridge this gap effectively.

Regarding entrepreneurship in Kashmir, Noour highlights the region’s unique cultural fabric as a source of strength, emphasising the need for resilience, adaptability, and innovation. He identifies promising business opportunities in sectors such as telecom retail, supermarkets, agri-based industries, and tourism, urging entrepreneurs to harness technological advancements and embrace innovation.

Despite challenges such as traditional mindsets and apprehensions surrounding entrepreneurship, Noour remains optimistic about the future of startup culture in Kashmir. In a freewheeling chat with Free Press Kashmir, the entrepreneur touches upon many factors that make entrepreneurship a game-changing endeavour for Kashmiri youth today.

Take us down the lane to your journey and experiences that shaped who you are today.

I hail from the Srinagar city. My educational odyssey began at Burn Hall School, followed by a stint at Bemina Degree College. Fuelled by a thirst for global exposure, I ventured to Germany for a course in International Business and later pursued my doctorate at Rajasthan University. My professional journey kicked off at HCL, where I delved into the telecommunications sector, spearheading the launch of mobile services in UP in 1996 and CDMA services in Punjab with HFCL. Subsequently, I took the helm of Motorola’s handset business in India. Venturing beyond borders, I joined the ranks of ‘Haier,’ a formidable $12 billion enterprise in China. With diverse experiences across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, I’ve honed my skills in multicultural environments, shaping me into the seasoned professional I am today.

When you look back on your journey, what motivated and compelled you to break away from the familial legacy and comfort zone, embracing inherent hardships?

Athletic prowess and an insatiable appetite for exploration fuelled my desire to carve a unique path beyond the confines of Kashmir. Passion for my profession coupled with an unyielding spirit to conquer obstacles propelled me forward. I’ve always believed that true growth lies beyond the realms of comfort, requiring sacrifices and unwavering determination.

Opening up about the difficulties you faced, could you elaborate on the challenges and sacrifices you encountered, and how this transition impacted your family? What did it mean for them, and how did they support your pursuit?

Crafting a roadmap for success necessitated sacrifices, including prolonged periods away from family and the social fabric of Kashmir. Despite the challenges, the unwavering support of my family served as a beacon of strength. Their understanding and encouragement fuelled my drive to provide for them, underscoring the importance of focus and adaptability in the pursuit of growth.

Let’s talk about stepping out of comfort zones; how crucial do you believe it is for today’s youth, especially in the current times, to venture beyond what feels familiar and embrace challenges?

In an era of boundless information, today’s youth are presented with unparalleled opportunities for growth. However, realising these opportunities necessitates a departure from comfort zones. It’s imperative for them to shatter preconceived boundaries, leveraging perseverance and dedication to achieve their aspirations.

Given your deep involvement in mentoring, where many youth might lack clear direction and face a dearth of career counseling, how do you view the importance of providing guidance and support in helping them make informed decisions about their futures?

While mentoring serves as a compass, empowering aspirants to navigate their professional journeys, it’s essential to recognise that the onus ultimately lies with the individual. Industry insights and counselling sessions can illuminate pathways, but it’s the aspirant’s commitment and diligence that pave the way for success. To bridge the gap, educational institutions must collaborate with industry experts to offer holistic guidance, empowering both youth and parents with informed decision-making tools.

Building on the need for guidance, do you believe there’s a gap in the existing support systems for youth in Kashmir, and what initiatives or improvements would you suggest to bridge this gap effectively?

Bridging the gap necessitates a multifaceted approach, encompassing parental involvement, educational initiatives, and community outreach. By fostering a culture of awareness and empowerment through counselling sessions, workshops, and interactive programs, we can equip youth with the requisite tools to navigate their professional trajectories confidently.

As someone deeply involved in mentoring, what would your main practical advice be to those who are just starting their entrepreneurial journey?

Embarking on an entrepreneurial journey demands meticulous preparation and unwavering resolve. Conducting thorough market research, fortifying one’s knowledge arsenal, and embracing resilience are paramount. Embrace the inevitability of challenges, for it is through adversity that true resilience is forged.

From your vantage point, what role can educational institutions and local communities play in fostering a culture of career exploration and guidance for youth in Kashmir?

Educational institutions serve as crucibles for intellectual growth, yet their role extends beyond academia. By integrating comprehensive mentoring programs and career-oriented initiatives into the curriculum, institutions can empower students with the requisite skills and insights to thrive in an ever-evolving landscape.

In a region with its distinct cultural fabric, what specific qualities or skills do you believe entrepreneurs in Kashmir need to cultivate to thrive, and how do you impart these lessons through your mentoring?

The fabric of Kashmir’s entrepreneurial landscape is woven with resilience, adaptability, and innovation. By harnessing the region’s unique cultural heritage and channeling it into their endeavours, entrepreneurs can carve a niche in diverse sectors such as tourism, handicrafts, and agriculture. Through mentorship, I emphasise the importance of leveraging indigenous resources and fostering a spirit of innovation to navigate the entrepreneurial terrain effectively.

Your expertise spans various domains, including business and mentoring. As a business coach, in what areas do you identify the most promising business opportunities considering the state of the economy in J&K?

Jammu and Kashmir’s economic landscape teems with untapped potential across various sectors, including telecom retail, supermarkets, agri-based industries, and tourism. By harnessing technological advancements and embracing innovation, entrepreneurs can unlock myriad opportunities for growth and development.

What would you say is the biggest impediment or challenge inhibiting young people from exploring business entrepreneurship opportunities in J&K?

The shackles of traditional mindsets and apprehensions surrounding entrepreneurship often deter young individuals from pursuing their aspirations. Breaking free from the prevailing ‘service-oriented’ mindset and instilling a culture of risk-taking and innovation is paramount to fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Jammu and Kashmir.

In your view, how does the start-up culture in Kashmir differ from other regions, and what strengths or advantages do you see emerging from this distinctive environment?

While Kashmir’s startup ecosystem is still in its nascent stages, it harbours immense potential for growth and innovation. The region’s unique cultural tapestry, coupled with its natural beauty, serves as a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurial endeavours. By leveraging indigenous resources and fostering collaboration, Kashmir’s startup culture can evolve into a beacon of innovation and prosperity.

How do you envision the future of entrepreneurship in Kashmir, and what role do you see yourself playing in shaping that future through your mentoring and business endeavours?

The winds of change are palpable in Kashmir’s entrepreneurial landscape, heralding a future brimming with promise and potential. As a staunch advocate for entrepreneurship, I am committed to nurturing the next generation of visionaries through mentorship and guidance. By imparting invaluable insights and fostering a culture of innovation, I aim to catalyse Kashmir’s transformation into a hub of entrepreneurial excellence.

What is the best career or business advice you have ever received?

The most profound advice I’ve received is to continually strive for self-betterment. In the pursuit of excellence, personal growth serves as an inexhaustible wellspring of inspiration and empowerment.

From your personal experiences or through your coaching journey, what piece of career or business advice would you want to share?

My journey has taught me the invaluable lesson of aligning passion with profession. By channeling one’s innate fervour into their endeavours, individuals can transcend mediocrity and achieve unparalleled success. Additionally, prioritising governance, process optimisation, and market intelligence are indispensable facets of navigating the labyrinth of entrepreneurship.

One thing facing many young people, that I would love to hear your thoughts on, is the feeling of an ‘endless hustle’. Working odd-jobs, lots of hours, and with little return. What would be your advice for young people in this situation?

The pursuit of lofty aspirations often necessitates an arduous journey characterised by ceaseless hustle and perseverance. While odd jobs and long hours may seem daunting, they serve as crucibles for personal growth and resilience. My advice to young individuals navigating this terrain is to work smartly in tandem with working hard. Prioritise punctuality, efficiency, and strategic planning to maximise returns on your investments of time and effort.

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