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Have an idea, sirji

Mayukh Choudhury cut short a lucrative consulting career in Dubai to start a social venture along with two friends. It was a unique idea – Milaap would be a social lending portal to help India’s working poor access education, clean water and lighting by crowdsourcing funds. Milaap moved from an idea to business venture, thanks to IIM-Bangalore’s N S Raghavan Center for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). The Center supported Milaap by providing access to mentors and infrastructure. Today, Milaap has sourced funds to the tune of Rs 1 crore for artisans, students and small manufacturers at a nominal interest rate with defined repayment schedules.

Entrepreneurship courses on campuses have groomed students like Mayukh to think outside the corporate box. Entrepreneurship-specific curriculum has moved from classroom knowledge to experiential learning, engaging students in developing real life skills. “What we are seeing now is in contrast to entrepreneurial education some 15 years ago. The UGC course was more exam-driven and that killed any kind of entrepreneurial interest in students, ” says K Srikrishna, executive director at the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN).

Today the emphasis is on connecting with reality. “We believe entrepreneurship is more about action than bookish knowledge. We do not teach or preach entrepreneurship, but practise through immersion with the ecosystem, entrepreneurs, venture capital, markets and technology advice, ” says S Sadagopan, director, International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Bangalore.

There is a groundswell of student action in this field which indicates that it is now cool to be an entrepreneur. The fantastic valuations that many desi e-commerce and product companies are getting is a pointer to the riches innovative ideas can bring.

At IIM Bangalore, in 2010-11, 17 students dropped out of placements to start something on their own. “Some are even honing their skills by working for start-ups. The idea is to help students think about alternatives outside the corporate world, ” says Suresh Bhagavatula, assistant professor at the NSRCEL. There are seven incubatees currently at the NSRCEL straddling diverse sectors like bioinformatics, logistics and social lending besides IT and technology.

Institutes like IIMs, IIIT-B and IITs have set up incubation centres to foster entrepreneurial ventures on campuses. Kollabia, an online music networking and collaboration platform, for instance, was incubated at IIIT-B a year and half ago. The online platform is bringing music buffs together to compose music, share sound files and use various music collaboration tools to cut albums. “I opted to prototype the idea during my summer internship than gather experience in a corporate office. We even got Rs 25 lakh as seed-fund from IIIT-B for the venture;the institute has a 12 per cent stake in the venture, ” says Atul Shukla, co-founder of Kollabia.

Technology Informatics Design Endeavour (TIDE), run by the Department of Science and Technology, provides seed-funding for projects that push sustainable development through technological interventions. There’s also help pouring in from alumni network in the form of initial angel funding. Green Tree Ventures founded by alumni of IIM-B provides mentorship and funding support to business ideas blooming on campuses.

Businesses of all sizes are warming up to entrepreneurs. But some countries like the US have a headstart over India in nurturing ideas into commercially viable propositions. Start-up accelerators like Y Combinator help fledgling companies shape their business plan and refine their pitch to investors. They also provide funding of over $15, 000 (depending on the project ) to build an impressive prototype. In turn, they take a minority stake ranging from 2 to 10 per cent.

The start-up ecosystem in India is yet to gain such a scale. Venture capital funding has not kept pace with demand. “The ecosystem has not evolved both in terms of capital and scalability. Students only get glimpses of the dynamics of business building on campuses. However, entrepreneurship as a career choice is finding more takers, ” says Kanwaljit Singh, senior managing director at Helion Venture partners, an India-focused venture fund.

To accelerate the growth, National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) has 539 member academic institutes with 80, 000 student members across the country. These help enhance entrepreneurship education, provide access to mentors, incubation and funding.

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