Next Gen Entrepreneurs: No Back Benchers

They’re ready. They’re willing to experiment, and even fail. India’s newest entrepreneurs are realistic and practical – a takeaway from their experience in entrepreneurship programs in campus.

When Nag and Darshan barged into the NEN Office with 40 hot dogs, the NEN team was surprised. Not so much with their idea of starting a hot dog stand ‘Hungry Hogs’ – but because, last heard, these 2009 pass-outs of Sir M Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology, Bangalore, were in talks with the Department of Defence Research and Development (DRDO) to provide ready-to-fit surveillance accessories for their aerial vehicles. And weren’t these the same guys who were planning to produce customized car parts earlier?

“Oh, we are still figuring out the government regulations around aerial surveillance accessories. And as for auto parts, we realized that our assumption was wrong – we didn’t know so many people were already doing similar things. So while we wait to get those business plans right, we thought of starting hot dog kiosks to raise some quick cash, which we can use for our future startups,” they explain.

Like Nag and Darshan, another bunch of recent graduates from SRM University, Chennai, are creating their action plan. NEN E Cell members Rajiv Ranjan, Anirban Chowdhary, Dipti Ranjan Biswal, and Anindya Mukherjee were founders of the Robotics Club in campus, and upon graduating, they carried forward their passion. Their new company, Yogiki, runs robotics workshops for students. They operate out of the SRM incubator, free of cost. They have a zero marketing budget – they strategically use the NEN network to get in touch with other institutes. Till now, they have got responses from five NEN member institutes, including a promising lead from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, where they hope to run aero-modeling workshops for 200 teams during their tech fest early next year. “We are ambitious, but we are starting small and simple. We make the best of whatever resources we have,” says Ranjan, who is still in his final year of engineering.

Who needs the frills?

Nag, Darshan, Ranjan and others, India’s next generation entrepreneurs, are no back benchers. Angel investors? Not for now. Venture capital? Willing to wait. Recession in the market? So what! Right now, like Nag points out, all he needs is an interesting business idea, and dad as an investor. His funda: “We have just started to learn the ropes of running a business. Why invest so much when we know that we might fail?”

Stories like Hungry Hogs and Yogiki are coming in from all across the country. This readiness to experiment and more importantly, to fail, can be tied to the fact that over 70,000 students engage in Entrepreneurship programs within NEN today. Seven years ago, the number was less than 200. That’s a jump of 35,000 per cent!

The result? By experiencing entrepreneurship while in campus, through their E Clubs and campus companies, these new and future entrepreneurs have learnt some key lessons: that it’s better to cash in on what is available rather than wait for everything to fall in place; that it’s better to let go of an approach that is not working; that you should take your learning, your time and your energy, and apply them to a new strategy.

For example, four NEN E Cell members of Indore-based Sanghvi Institute of Science and Management, recently started Sunrise Academy, a tutorial startup with an investment of Rs 20,000 from their own pockets. They have only four customers, but they don’t mind – as long as they have something new to learn. “We don’t know how it will work out, but we will give it our best shot. If it doesn’t, we will do something new,” says Unnat Agarwal, one of the co-founders.

Another Bangalore-based institute, Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College runs a ‘E Store’ that sells a wide variety of stuff that the students produce themselves, from stationery to hair oil to chocolates. In the process, E Cell member Komal Kalra discovered that there were more benefits in selling chocolates than eating them, and this is how she founded ‘Byte of Relish’ that offers homemade chocolates at affordable prices. Today, her company brings in Rs 15,000 per month, and her college is her biggest client. “It was an E Cell workshop on chocolate making that triggered the whole idea,” shares Komal.

According to Laura Parkin, Executive Director, NEN, Entrepreneurship Cells give students a hands-on experience in entrepreneurship through various activities like raising sponsorship, organizing events and networking, and exposes them to essential frameworks of entrepreneurship. “You can’t learn how to sell from a text book. You can’t hear a lecture on cash flow, and understand the true meaning of making or losing money. And there’s nothing like actually failing, to realize that it doesn’t kill you.  The growing number of entrepreneurship programs and activities on campuses give young people a chance to be entrepreneurs within a safe environment.  They come out changed: confident, bursting with ideas, and with a solid grounding in skills and knowledge. I am not surprised to see them immediately apply their talents to launch their own ventures. I’m not surprised – but I am excited.”