Unleash the entrepreneur in you

The thought goes back to the times when we were concerned with differentiating between the terms “engineering” and “technology”. As can be understood, engineering is a design process that brings innovative thinking and customized solutions to any area, be it construction, power distribution or machine intelligence design. And in contrast, technology is a process or tool to carry out these designs. More than twenty-five years ago, as young engineering trainees, some of us debated this dichotomy of nomenclature, a structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering versus a chemical production technology. Nonetheless, “a professional course,” as we call it, shapes and guides the student to turn his/her degree into a profession. Aside from the opportunities in the mainstream functional areas such as project management, design, research and development, or pedagogy, the fundamental commonality across all majors also helps the “engineer” adapt to market fluctuations and make smart career changes. For example, the year 2000 saw a phenomenal career shift of engineers from all disciplines to IT, an industry that was then experiencing a tectonic boom.

Until a decade ago, according to a survey, our country was missing the number of annually produced engineers compared to the intake in both the private and public sectors. Statistics show that the number of engineering colleges in India has grown from a fair 1500 colleges in 2007 to a staggering 3300 in 2015 in India, with a small state of Kerala alone shouldering over 150 engineering colleges. Has this lowered the bar or shrunken demand for the profession is a matter for the experts. However, living facts such as India currently producing more engineers than the US and China combined can feed these thoughts. Haven’t we stratified our production of engineers in India in many ways? The first group of IITs followed by a group of institutes supported by corporations, NITs, the choice of state colleges and then the rest. On one side we see a brilliant topper from IIT Mumbai, which comes with plum crore plus annual CTC walks away on campus, and on the other side an engineer from below who is still struggling for a living in the early years. A leading UK-based global recruiter suggested that engineering positions are the most difficult to fill, confirmed by 45% of recruiters worldwide. According to the 2011 Nasscom report, only 17.5% of engineering graduates were classified as employable. According to the report, Indian information technology industry spends nearly $1 billion annually to make it workable. Again, to point out the prevailing quality crisis. At one point we heard reports like Kerala has over 50% vacant quota seats, AICTE is reducing the number of engineer seats by six lakhs etc.

The scenario here triggers the need for an entrepreneurial education for our young engineers. If we follow the career path of engineers at leading institutes in India in the recent past, we can see that a good proportion of them either become self-employed or engage in short-term involvement in industry and then become entrepreneurs. The story of the premium B schools in India is no different. In addition, their curriculum introduces itself to entrepreneurship. IITs and IIMs show a growing passion for entrepreneurship, with up to 4-5% of students preferring startups to luxury brokerage offerings. At IIM Kozhikode, 15 of the batches passed last year are entrepreneurs. A recent report shows that 41 students from the new batch of different IITs are at different stages of their startup blueprints. Interesting stats there! The question is, why are such initiatives only limited to premium institutes and not to others? Why can’t we raise the bar and close the gap? Being a successful entrepreneur is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks, but at the end of the day it is certainly the most rewarding.

Let’s go through some successful examples. Sachin and Binny Bansal, two former IITians from Delhi, venture into an e-commerce startup in 2007 after initial involvement with Amazon, starting with small transactions of books and electronics. Now, in less than eight years, the company has grown into a multi-billion dollar business house Flipkart on an M&A spree that’s engulfing all little timers. The case study of Make my trip, OLX and UBERs of the world unfolds similar success stories. A 19-year-old young lad, a sophomore at Harvard, invented a networking tool in 2004 with the simple intention of connecting with his friends at college, and it became an instant hit. The site is now one of the largest in the world with over 40 million connections, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. The success stories of startups in India go on and on. This is not just limited to the IT and e-commerce industries. The service sector, logistics, etc. also experienced success through startups. Redbus, Taxi4sure is the name of countless startups conceived by brilliant young engineers who have built strong brand equity in a span of just 7-8 years. Founded in 2009, Gray Orange Robotics is the first company of its kind to offer logistics automation solutions. Robots move shelves stacked with various products and scan barcodes, once again the brainchild of two BITs Pilani youths.

“Zao Foods”, a vision by Mitali Khalra to inculcate a habit of eating nutritious foods. She invented the “Café Crostini” in South Delhi. indiblogger. in started as a free blogging platform, but the founders had bigger plans to connect the corporate world, businesses and brands to their customers as a revenue model.

Under the Mango Tree, a social enterprise promoting beekeeping by Vijaya Pastala, an MIT alumni, took 14 years to start. Swapnil kamat and his wife Ruchira went through a lot before founding their dream company, Work Better-Training and Development, a leadership training company focused on teaching corporate employees behavioral and cognitive skills. helpingdoc. com, an online venture by a team of medical professionals, conceived the idea of ​​offering medical support online. An overview shows that innovative ideas have explored all facets of life, low-cost energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, health, fashion, food, technology, service and much more. Investors are now chasing real business ideas for funding. Not only the angel investors or venture capitalists, but also the companies provide funds to invest in startups.

Ratan Tata, the ‘Tata Group’ honcho, stepped down from the day-to-day responsibilities of the corporate conglomerate and became interested in investing in 10 shortlisted startup companies. Investments typically vary between 1-5 crore and are spread across dotcoms, healthcare, clean energy, etc. The choice of all is Swasth India, a Mumbai-based affordable healthcare facility that provides medical services to low-income populations, again an IIT Mumbai alumni venture. Franchise India recently hosted a forum in Mumbai inviting business ideas. We also have pro bono advisors who provide services to nonprofit startups with social relevance and engagement. IIT Mumbai has an Entrepreneurship Cell, a non-profit, independent student association that instills the spirit of entrepreneurship in students and professionals. The Entrepreneur Cell of IIT Kharagpur recently held an Entrepreneur Awareness Campaign, a massive initiative to encourage students across the country to embrace the concept of entrepreneurship. These e-cells generate startup ideas by bringing together investors and entrepreneurs with similar interests. The Global Entrepreneur Summit, Eureka – International Business Plan Competition etc. are some of the events that drive the young aspiring engineers. IIT Chennai also operates an incubation cell C-Tides and a research park for startups. Kerala is not lagging behind in startup initiatives and promotions. We have Kerala Startups Society, a non-profit organization aiming to build a vibrant startup ecosystem. Regular meetings are organized to connect with investors, successful entrepreneurs and stakeholders. Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), formerly known as Techno-Park-Technology Business Incubator, is based at Trivandrum IT Technology Park. Led by Infosys’ Kris Gopalakrishnan, we have Startup Village, another technology incubator in Kochi.

An innovative business model is about identifying a social problem in order to work on an effective solution. The start-up drive is therefore not just a commercial drive, but a drive of social relevance. A friend of mine who traveled to the hotel from Orlando airport on a recent business trip took an airport taxi to the destination and paid about $90, but wisely took an Uber cab on the return for only $25 for the same distance. An inexpensive solution offered here. A decade ago, planning a trip across multiple cities in India involved a lot of planning and follow-up with travel agents, hotels, taxis, etc. While now everything is done in the blink of an eye with a chosen smart mobile app. Instance of life made easy and smart with startups. Understandably, startup mortality rates are high and not all businesses thrive equally. But for youth, self-examination, remodeling, and evolving into success is a learning curve.

The Indian Prime Minister’s recent business visits to the US, EU and the Middle East, particularly Silicon Valley, have generated an overwhelming response in terms of investment proposals for India. The Prime Minister’s Digital Initiative for India aims to generate innovative ideas in digital technologies, including cloud computing and mobile applications. As we all know, the new generation engineer is sharp, innovative and creative with a higher IQ than his predecessors. Now we have the brains, the money, the governance, and all it takes is some unconventional thinking to generate the “ideas.” With the nurturing ability, let the academy instill that passion in our youth.

Let the headline for the budding engineers be “Unleash the Entrepreneur in You”. Thanks very much!

(The author is a Mumbai-based business marketer)