College students take a plunge, launch commercial ventures

  • Nisha Shroff & Shehzin Shaikh, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jan 28, 2015 18:38 IST

As an athlete, Shriyans Bhandari, 20, a final-year BMS student at Jai Hind College, Churchgate, used to run through four pairs of sports shoes every year. This prompted him to think about how he could utilise these shoes to make something else, something new.

He now recycles used shoes to make eco-friendly slippers. “Globally, 35 crore sports shoes are discarded annually,” says Bhandari. “Sports shoes have a shelf life and this prompted me to refurbish them into slippers.” Bhandari now runs a year-old company called Greensole, out of his home, using social media and word of mouth to market his goods.

Similarly, Naomi Leone, 21, a final-year electronics and telecommunication student at St Francis Institute of Technology, Borivli, has started a venture called Styledge. The four-month-old outfit offers to set up e-commerce portals for up-and-coming and independent fashion brands.

Like Bhandari and Leone, many city college students are experimenting with entrepreneurship and successfully managing businesses alongside academics. Until recently, this kind of entrepreneurship was seen mainly among students of elite institutions such as IITs, IIMs and certain B-schools. Now, however, the number of undergraduate students joining entrepreneurship cells is rising sharply.

“Today’s students want to serve the nation in their own way and be a part of the entrepreneurship network, which was, to a large extent, dominated by the elite,” says Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College. “These students realise the risk involved in start-ups but do not mind testing the waters while they are still young.”

Adds Uday Wankawala, consultant (Maharashtra Region) for the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN): “There are now a variety of channels through which students can get investors and network with industry think-tanks. There has been an advanced ecosystem around the students where E-cell faculty members as well as social media encourage them to start their own ventures.”

Students have also developed soft skills like communication, research and conflict management through e-cells, which help them understand the market better, says Dhananjay Kalbande, professor-in-charge of the entrepreneurship cell at Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, Andheri.

According to data from NEN, which runs e-cells in colleges, Jai Hind’s began in 2007 with 50 members and now has over 400 budding entrepreneurs. KJ Somaiya College of Engineering in Vidyavihar launched its e-cell in 2011-12 with five students and now has 150 members. And Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics in Vile Parle is launching an e-cell this year with 15 students.

College-Going Entrepreneurs

Fusion Bites from a 22 year old restaurateur
Situated in Lokhandwala, Andheri, Go Panda is a restaurant set up by Yash Chandiramani, 22, a final-year BMS student at Jai Hind College. Chandiramani defines Go Panda as a fusion between pan-Asian cuisine and the fast food culture. Started in September 2014, today he has a 14-member team that helps him run the restaurant.

With two more ventures running alongside — a social media marketing initiative and a marketing company that caters to night clubs — Chandiramani wanted to start a full-fledged space of his own in the food industry where people could get a quick, well-priced meal.

Initially, Chandiramani didn’t know anything about aspects of the food industry such as purchasing equipment and ingredients, dealing with suppliers or designing a kitchen.

“I have spent days studying how a restaurant works from books borrowed from hotel management students and by actually visiting kitchens to see how the food industry works,” says Chandiramani.

According to Rakhi Sharma, head of department, BMS, Jai Hind College, through workshops, conferences and competitions hosted by the college e-cell, Chandiramani have got an opportunity to meet people from the industry, where they helped him understand the finer nuances of how the business works.

While he got his initial investment through his two other ventures, he is now gradually recovering the sum and is hoping to open more franchises across the city.

“To start something, a student has to research that sector and validate the research with expert opinions. My work became much easier as I was hand-held by experts from the e-cell,” says Chandiramani. “While there are many possible distractions, I stuck to my day plans and could manage my studies and ventures together.” His customers, meanwhile, are a happy lot. “I love the concept of blending cuisines. For instance, the dish called Malaysian Kurma has Indian and Malaysian flavours,” says Vikramjeet Singh Garewal, 22, a regular at Go Panda.

Styledge: A marketing and E-Commerce Portal for Indie Designers
Naomi Leone, 21, a final-year electronics and telecommunication student, and Aaqyl Chagla, 21, a final-year IT student at St Francis Institute of Technology, started their venture, Styledge, in September.

The startup works to provide ecommerce portals to up-and-coming independent fashion and design brands, also marketing the brands on various platforms (mainly Facebook, Instagram and through blog posts), also providing payment portal integration and providing logistical services.

“The trigger behind setting up Styledge was that we identified the problem that independent fashion brands face and realised that we could set up a platform to provide solutions for the same,” says Leone.

Gathering information and attracting clients was a major obstacle but with time and communication, they are making it work. “Finance did not pose a big question mark for us. We used our academic skills to set up our business, but finding a place in the target market is something that we are still working towards,” she adds.

Balancing work and studies was initially difficult but now they say that they have learnt the trade. “We work on weekends and ensure all backlog is cleared,” she says.

For fashion designer Don Luiz, Styledge came as a boon when he launched his own jewellery line. “Setting up an e-commerce interface is expensive, especially for a start-up,” he says. “Styledge has helped me become a proud owner of an online store at an affordable price. And they have marketed my brand too, something I would not have been able to do for myself.”

Generation Going Green (G-3), creating notebooks from waste
Generations Going Green or G-3 is a campus company started by three final year students — Charmi Prasad, Cheitali Thakkar and Kunjan Gala, studying engineering in electronics and telecommunications from KJ Somaiya College of Engineering. They recycle waste paper and make books from it.

A few months ago, after Prasad was done studying from a bunch of photocopied sheets, she dumped them in a corner of her room. Since exams were nearing, such heaps became a common sight in her room. That’s when she experimented by weaving a notebook out of the blank sides of those pages.

Based on this idea, in October 2013, Prasad realised that recycling waste paper could be transformed into a profitable entrepreneurial activity and this led to formation of G-3. Here, the founders prepare books out of used paper that is blank on one side, and spiral bind the sheets to create sturdy, colourful notebooks.

Like any other start-up, their first hurdle was finding places where they could get the raw material. “Our first order was for 120 books and collecting those pages was very tough. Also, we had to deliver it in two days’ time. But we managed it through advertising and networking in college,” says Prasad.

“Since it is a campus company, we do not overburden ourselves with work because our aim is to focus on quality and not quantity,” she adds.

The college e-cell has played a crucial role and helped G-3 reach a wider target audience. “The entire team at the e-cell helped us collect waste paper and helped us to find customers for our books,” Prasad says.

“Students are becoming increasingly confident about opting for entrepreneurship because of assistance, in terms of guidance, mentoring, workshops and other platforms given by the college,” says Hetal Doshi, faculty in-charge of engineering at the e-cell of KJ Somaiya College of Engineering.

G-3 is now the go-to source for students on campus. “They customised my book for me, which was really nice. The concept is very different,” says Raj Gandhi, 20, an engineering student at KJ Somaiya College of Engineering, Vidyavihar.

GreenSole: Turning Tattered shoes into trendy slippers
Greensole was born because Shriyans Bhandari, 20, final-year BMS student at Jai Hind College was tired of discarding tattered footwear.

As an athlete, Bhandari ran through four pairs of shoes a year. He decided to experiment with effectively elongating the life of his torn sports shoes. He now designs slippers made from their remains.

“When we first developed the shoes, it was for personal use, but realising the potential of the recycle market and how untapped it, was we turned it into a business venture,” says Bhandari. “We were entering a new market, so identifying our target audience was a challenging task. With thorough research and customer surveys we are now turning the business into a profitable venture.”

Juggling work and classes is manageable for Bhandari since his classes are done by 11 am and he has the rest of the day to work on his venture, he says.

“The business is self-financed through my savings because it is only after we reach the target of selling 500 shoes that we can get investors on board,” he adds.

“I got help from the e-cell in refining my business model, networking with investors and keeping me updated about B-plan competitions, which are a good medium for start-ups to raise seed capital.”

Bhandari has a small but happy customer base. “The slippers are durable, waterproof and very comfortable. The concept is very unique and affordable as well. I spent Rs 250 on the slippers. Two months on, there are no signs of damage,” says Savio D’souza, 60.

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