The case for student startups

The case for student startups

Sandeep Raj is a second year student pursuing an MBA at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B). He, along with his co-founder Abhay Paliwal (not a student), started – an e-commerce website to book diagnostic services. The duo uses the mentoring services and office space provided by NSRCEL (Nadathur S. Raghavan Centre for Learning) which runs incubators at IIM-B.

Back in 2009, B.T. Srihari and Chirag Anand were students in Mysore when they started Tiszta Cleaning Solutions (Tiszta), a company that offers mechanised cleaning services. Srihari was a student of electronics and communication at Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering, and Anand studied industrial production at National Institute of Engineering. Their venture was among the top 30 student ventures selected by NEN (National Entrepreneurship Network), which encourages student entrepreneurship by offering several mentoring and business related programmes at leading colleges in the country. Now, after completing their education, they are on to their second venture, Torquel Technologies, an electronics company, since their first venture is progressing well with the help of key personnel.

Raj, Srihari and Anand are amongst an increasing breed of young people whose ambitions are changing and are taking the entrepreneurship route. Their pursuits are well supported by educational institutions, mentors and investors, alike. Raj shares that balancing his work timings with course demands is not easy, but being in business helps him understand his management course better, and he uses it to analyse theory learnt in the classroom and implement them in reality. This is an attitude that several other young entrepreneurs share.

Making a Success, Bengaluru
Founder: Sandeep Raj
Qualification: B.E (Mechanical Engineering)
II year PGP IIM-Bangalore
Work experience: Ashok Leyland
Co-founder: Abhay Paliwal
Qualification: B.E (NIT K)
Work experience: Worked at a startup in Bengaluru
Core Business: Offers a one-stop-solution for diagnostic services, currently in Bengaluru. To expand to other cities soon.

Tiszta Cleaning Solutions, Mysore
Year: 2009
Co-founder: B.T. Srihari
Qualification: Electronics and communication, II Year (at the time of starting) Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering, Mysore
Co-founder: Chirag Anand,
Qualification: Industrial Production, NIE, Mysore
Core Business: Provides quality cleaning services at the doorstep. Specialises in machine cleaning services for underground and overhead tanks, floors, kitchen tiles and mobile car wash services.

The support system

Being at IIM-B gave Raj access to the facilities offered by NSRCEL, which has two modes of incubation. One is open for all aspiring entrepreneurs, especially the alumni, provided their venture plan meets certain quality standards set by the centre. Mentors are assigned based on the domain expertise required. The other facility is for IIM-B students, who are encouraged to try out venture ideas, just for the experience. They can directly apply for mentorship programs and are also given a common office space with infrastructure to run their ventures. But once they graduate and want to continue to access NSRCEL facilities, they need to come through the other incubator – as an outside venture with a clear business plan.

The business rationale

In some cases, student-run ventures are short-term projects aimed only at gaining experience. However, in Raj’s case, Planmyhealth has a clear vision, a future business plan, and the entrepreneur believes he has a scalable plan. Tiszta was started to offer effective, economical and faster cleaning services for underground and overhead tanks, flooring, kitchen tiles and mobile car wash service at the customer’s doorstep. In the initial phase, the founders’ home served as the office space.

Both Planmyhealth and Tiszta were started because the students felt the need for their services in the current market. While Raj picked healthcare since it is a burgeoning industry, the founders of Tiszta chose cleaning services because they thought India is a huge market for a service of this kind as it is a basic necessity that is needed periodically.

BS Sachidananda, manager-operations at NSRCEL, says, “Even before starting Planmyhealth, the founders did a sample survey to make sure there was a market and that the venture would be scalable.” Only when they were convinced about the market potential did Raj and Paliwal enter the fray with a portal that enables users to opt from the many diagnostics service providers on the website, choose the one that suits them best and then have them come home to collect the samples. The website also has an association with doctors, who will analyse the reports once they are ready. Thus, they have created a portal that provides healthcare just a click away. According to the founders, the venture is currently profitable.

The Tiszta team took feedback from their initial customers and from businessmen they interacted with at a personal level acting as mentors. Today, the company has 10 full-time employees and 40 part-timers. The company has built a customer base of more than 4000 households in and around five cities in two years. It also has tie-ups with different cleaning solutions companies and many servicing companies as well.

Student no-bar

Previously, New Delhi-based Indian Angel Network (IAN) used to evaluate business plans from student entrepreneurs as part of business plan competitions. But from 2011, it has started identifying two student entrepreneurs it will be backing with mentorship and seed funding. For IAN to mentor and incubate a venture, the entrepreneur needs a good business idea with the right team in place. “What they lack in operational knowledge, the interaction with the mentor will help fill that gap,” says the spokesperson of IAN.

As Sunita Singh, co-founder and senior director, NEN, points out, a student venture is mostly intent and not necessarily a well-structured business plan. NEN actively works with leading institutions such as the IIMs, IIT-Bombay and SP Jain Institute of Management and Research among others, to identify not only with students but also with professors – taking them through the entire business lifecycle so that the education imparted is based on theory and practice. The basic goal of this non-profit organisation, funded primarily by the Wadhwani Foundation, is to inspire, provide help through experience and impart relevant skills to entrepreneurs. The idea is to ignite a spark and build on it, and even if several student business ventures are short-lived, it improves the entrepreneurs’ understanding of running a business. “There are more entrepreneurs in India than what is visible,” asserts Singh. And the increasing number of applications for the NEN Top 30 competition is proof enough.

There is so much that is happening in the Indian economic system. Earlier, jobs were considered a secure option and business ventures were only for those who had the ability to take risks. But that has changed today. Organisations like NEN, incubators like NSRCEL and angel networks like IAN have understood the pulse of the youth. They have established processes, systems and pedagogy to give a logical conclusion to this aspiration by creating the opportunities, mentoring for growth and funding for scalability when required. Students are not expected to make their very first venture a success. But they are expected to learn the finer nuances that make a venture successful through practical experience of running an enterprise before entering the real world of business.

Serious business

  • Today, entrepreneurship has become a career option.
  • From angel investors and mentors to educational institutions and independent organisations, there are many who recognise the potential and encourage ventures on campuses.
  • The ventures could be short-term projects. They are opportunities for learning the business cycle, from ideation to implementation.
  • Institutions offer infrastructure for the students to experiment. Mentors, entrepreneurial skill development courses are also within easy access.
  • The ventures are an opportunity for students to also put theories of business management to practice.
  • There are instances of students taking their ventures into the real world. This requires a scalable business plan even at the time of starting. And for those keen on this, mentors are assigned so that the students can use their help across areas.

What It Takes

  • Passion and idea
  • Understanding of market potential
  • A sound business plan
  • Readiness to accept failure
  • Willingness to treat it as a learning experience

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