Though a lot of work still needs to be done, student entrepreneurship in India is showing signs of maturing. The good news is that the ecosystem will evolve considerably in the next few years.
They are full of drive and passion. They have set their sights high. They are confident; many are even cocky. They want to build something. They are resourceful. They want to start early – “Why wait till I’m 40, when I can do it at 22?” In their early twenties, they are already founders of companies.
Most importantly, they want to make a difference.
They are the student entrepreneurs of today. They are an important part of India’s socio-economic story. And, they are steadily increasing in number.
- While business plan competitions have always existed in B Schools, there is today a new seriousness and focus with which these competitions are being approached by the participating students. While earlier these competitions were simply meant to broaden the mental horizons of the average student of management, today, they form a vital first step in the journey of many an aspiring student entrepreneur.
- The number of entries to the NEN Tata Star Dot competition (an all-India platform meant exclusively for student entrepreneurs) has been increasing year on year.
- Newspapers like Mint and The Economic Times devote many column spaces to student start-ups.
So, what prompts these youngsters to forgo the financial security that comes with a job, and take the plunge so early in life? I think the answers lie in a combination of the following key factors:
- More and more youngsters are looking at becoming their own bosses and not working for someone else. These assertive youngsters want to set their life-agenda themselves.
- Information technology has had a big role to play in empowering aspiring young entrepreneurs and emboldening them to take the plunge. In a single sweep, IT and its most influential offspring, the internet, have brought down the cost of doing business, brought scattered resources within the reach of an entrepreneur and fundamentally changed the contours of the term ‘market’.
- Creativity has become more democratized. More and more youngsters from widely different backgrounds are coming up with ideas and innovations that they believe will seed and sustain enterprises. And, they are bold enough to test these ideas out in the market.
- Youngsters of today are confident that even if their venture does not succeed, they can get a job without too great a struggle. With time on their side and many years to go before they get married and are saddled with financial commitments, this is the right age in which to start chasing their dreams.
Most importantly, youth is the time when one’s energy, imagination and inclination to take risks are at their highest levels. The mind is at its fertile best. It ranges freely and fearlessly, egging one on to take the plunge.
Interestingly, this trend (of youngsters striking out on their own) is not limited to the IITs and IIMs. It goes way beyond these premier institutes. In several small, unknown colleges in the big cities and small towns of India, youngsters are eager to set up their own ventures the minute they pass out of college. Moreover, we are seeing several youngsters getting into interesting domains like renewable energy, education, ethnic handicrafts, legal services, etc.
Mentors and investors are also willing to support young entrepreneurs.
I think this trend will gather momentum in the coming years.
However, in many ways, the student entrepreneurship movement is still nascent in India.
For instance, while many more youngsters are taking the plunge, most of them are not fully aware of the various practical issues, opportunities, challenges and pitfalls that can be expected in growing a venture. Also, they do not know how to scientifically validate a business idea, flesh it out and take it to market. In addition, several myths and half-truths are floating around about entrepreneurship – which confuses them even further.
And so, while we should celebrate student entrepreneurs for their guts, determination and passion, we must also understand that they need encouragement, support and guidance in setting up and running an enterprise. In other words, they need a stronger ecosystem.
College managements have a big role to play in ensuring that more high-quality enterprises are born within campuses. As of now however, most colleges are far from being strong sources of support to student entrepreneurs. While many colleges have set up E-Cells (Entrepreneurship Cells), these have, by and large, not yet become strong incubation centers that provide holistic support to an entrepreneur and helps him/her commercialise the venture. Many of them merely pay lip service to entrepreneurship.
The good news is that a few forward-thinking colleges are showing the way by setting up reasonably strong entrepreneurial ecosystems and connecting budding entrepreneurs to resources in the market. The Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) set up by the Department of Science and Technology of the GOI have helped in this effort to some extent. Other colleges have to follow suit.
One hopes that more robust, sustainable student start-ups emerge soon across different business domains in India. That could really ignite India’s economic growth!