CraftMyGift, Snapdeal, Krossover Intelligence and ZipDial. Wondering what they have in common? All of these are successful start-ups by student entrepreneurs in India. Entrepreneurship among students is a growing trend and many of them are taking it up every year, as opposed to the conventional process of college placements.
To encourage students to take up entrepreneurship, IIT Bombay had started Entrepreneurship Cells (e-cells) in 1999 on its campus. In 2003, four other colleges - IIM Ahmedabad, BITS-Pilani, SP Jain Institute of Management & Research and the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bangalore - collaborated to form the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN). Its data shows that between April 2007 and March 2011, over 1,200 students started businesses upon graduation or soon after.
“The numbers appreciated radically in the academic year 2011-12 when we saw as many as 800 students starting nearly 500 businesses upon graduation and over 250 students setting up their businesses while still on campus,” says K Srikrishna, executive director of NEN.
E-cells in colleges
E-Cells hosts various entrepreneurial workshops and speaker sessions where established entrepreneurs share their experiences, competitions for aspiring entrepreneurs and supports them by providing necessary resources such as funding, mentoring, consultancy and networking.
After the speaker sessions, E-Cells hosts the Idea to Execution stage (I-2-E) where, over seven months, a panel of experts brainstorm and analyse students’ ideas to filter them and make them workable.
Also, to help budding entrepreneurs, colleges conduct annual flagship programmes like e-fests and e-summits where they can network with industry think tanks and promote their research ideas. They even have competitions sponsored by big corporate houses where students from all over the country compete to showcase their business ideas.
“When students come with even a semi-formed idea, E-Cells channelises it through its various programs to give it a feasible shape,” says Puneet Tandon, student leader of E-Cells at Welingkar Institute of Management, Development and Research, Mumbai.
While coming up with an idea and getting it approved by a panel of experts is the preliminary stage of entrepreneurship, managing funds seems to be the uphill task for amateur young entrepreneurs. That was the plight of Sachin Kumar, a student of IIT Bombay, when he thought of setting up a solar lights manufacturing company with four friends.
“NEN provided us with couple of suitable contacts, but convincing investors of our plan seemed like an unending saga of pain,” recalls Kumar. Four of them now own a company called IlluminD Solar Technologies, which has a monthly turnover of around Rs. 28 lakh.
Without a strong financial background, banks generally don't provide loans to these start-ups. This is when investors come into the picture. However easy it may sound, getting investors on board is extremely difficult as they require a high return on investment.
“While judging an idea, we thoroughly check if it can be converted into business, has it been analysed properly in terms of market and how different it is from any other similar idea already present in the market” says Manish Singhal, member of Indian Angel Network and owner of Saarthi Consultancy, an angel funding firm.
Experts say that students opt for placements at the first place, just to understand the market scenario and then opt out to start their own ventures.
“Students are taking up internships and even joining other start-ups to gain practical knowledge as well as better comprehend prevalent market trends,” says Poyni Bhatt, who runs an incubation centre called SINE on IIT Bombay’s campus.
For instance, student entrepreneur Pratik Tiwari of MET Institute of Management could materialise his idea of starting an online portal of beauty products only when he interned with another such portal called www.beautycafe.com. Now, he owns online portal Fragume.com. “The internship helped me gain knowledge about the sector I was interested in. Once I had the required experience, the rest was taken care of by my mentor's guidance and sessions organised by E-Cells,” says Tiwari.
Entrepreneurship in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities
If you thought entrepreneurs are born only in reputed colleges and big cities, think again. Places like Pune, Gurgaon, Durgapur, Bhubaneshwar, Mysore, Indore, Bhopal, Jaipur, and Coimbatore have colleges which have strong E-Cells and have produced many successful entrepreneurs
When Rajat Soni started his food outlet Samosawala in Indore, he already had a great sense of business derived from his days at his college E-Cell. Today Samosawala is a popular name in Indore and Soni is managing his business and studies
In another instance, Ashutosh Padhi of Bhunbaneshwar has set up his biotech firm Ennoveo Biosolutions Pvt Ltd which is converting waste bamboo on Chilika Lake into usable paper. “Entrepreneurs are experimenting with diverse sectors like food, beverages and technology, apart from the attractive e-commerce space,” says Singhal
Entrepreneurship is being seen as one of the preferred career options by students, therefore, there are more first-generation entrepreneurs than earlier. However, experts say that its success also depends on factors such as preparedness to take ample risk, long-term perseverance, a sensible future outlook and excellent knowledge of the market
How E-cells work for student start-ups
1. Idea generation: Students are acquainted with the meaning of entrepreneurship and taught to generate ideas from their surroundings.
2. Idea validation: Ideas are arrived upon at brainstorming sessions, evaluated and worked upon by individuals/teams.
3. Business plan: The raw idea is then developed into a business plan, where the basics of accounting, raising finance and managing cash flow are taught.
4. Marketing plan: The financially-sound idea is put to the test of a market scenario, after which structured marketing plan, a definite brand building and sales strategy is arrived at.
5. Plan B: If the idea fails in the market, an alternative plan needs to be in place. The best plan gets a go-ahead and is provided with suitable contacts for the actual financing of the idea.
Networking is very important. Many of the alumni have met their future investors at E-fests and summits
Puneet Tandon, student leader at the e-cell in Welingkar Institute of Manage-ment, Development and Research, Mumbai
I had a vague business idea in my mind. My college e-cell helped me refine it and provided me with all the necessary resources to realise my dream
Tejas Wani, a student entrepreneur from Thakur Institute of Management Studies, Career Development & Research and co-founder of two travel start-ups, Iris Outdoors & Around the Globe Holidays.
Students these days want to do something creative and be independent. E-cells in colleges give them ample opportunity to do so and the result is an increasing number of student start-ups.