Thursday, March 05, 2009

B-schools assist student-entrepreneurs

From Business Standard

Business Standard (Kolkata March 03, 2009, 0:19 IST): While venture capitalists (VCs) are reluctant to fund several entrepreneurial ideas this year, a few of the country’s B-schools are helping student entrepreneurs to go ahead with their own ventures by providing seed funds, mentorship and using the alumni network to raise funds and get in touch with useful contacts.

While many B-schools and IITs have introduced deferred-placement-policy, which enables students to take a break from placements for a maximum period of two years and even come back for it in case the venture does not kick off, students, on the other hand, have been making progress with the funds provided by respective institutes and alumni networks.

Though the final placement season is likely to continue for another month in many B-schools, several students have already put their business ideas in place.

XLRI Jamshedpur is the forerunner so far, with as many as three business plans in place.

According to Madhukar Shukla, a professor at XLRI, “XLRI recently raised close to Rs 14 lakh from its alumni network and other donations towards its XLRI Social Entrepreneurship Trust. The Singapore chapter has also generated close to SGD 5,000. This would go towards the seed fund reserved for student entrepreneurs. Right now, the students are looking to generate more funds to complete the various orders they are receiving from companies on a trial basis.”

“As many as seven students may opt out of placements this year. Each venture needs large funding. If the students are able to get it, which is a work-in-progress, they will opt out of placements. Otherwise, one person from the team will stay with the venture, while the others will perhaps take up a a job to keep the venture going... but for sure, whichever way, the ventures will continue,” Shukla said.

‘Parichay’, an initiative by XLRI students, is a venture to connect rural and tribal artisans and craftsmen to the mainstream market. According to the student body handling Parichay, a large part of India’s traditional rural and tribal art is dying because the artisans, being disconnected from the market, have not been able to contemporise their designs, and since they have no direct access to the market, they do not find their work remunerative enough to continue.

The students have roped in a few designers, who have developed product-prototypes for them, and are negotiating with NIFT, Pearle Academy and others, who have shown interest to send their students for internship.

The Parichay members have also built the ‘Learning & Design Centre’, where the rural tribal artisans are being trained to develop the product prototypes. The students are also in the initial stages of negotiation with Nabard, which has shown interest in the venture. The ‘Parichay’ team has already got close to Rs 3 lakh as seed funding from XLRI, and has also generated some funds through the prize money in various competitions.

Another initiative by the students of XLRI is ‘Swavalamban’, a venture that aims to use ‘ox-driven generator’ (a technology patented by a BIT Mesra professor of 20 years’ standing, and a known name in the renewable energy circles) to provide electricity to the villages in Jharkhand. So far, the Swavalamban team has an order from the Jharkhand Renewable Agency Development Agency (JREDA), and has also got sanction from the Jharkhand tribal minister to electrify one village as a working ‘proof of concept’. Tata Motors’ CSR department and SEEDS (an NGO) have showed interest by ordering five units each for testing in their villages, while NTPC has shown interest to acquire 200 units at a research level. Larsen & Toubro has seen the prototype, and in principle agreed to acquire some for their CSR activities.

A third project, Dream4Others, is the youngest of all ventures at XLRI. The venture aims to use online market surveys to generate funds for registered NGOs. It is being mentored by a director at A C Neilson.

Likewise, at Xavier Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship (XIME) Bangalore, at least two students are opting out of placements this year to pursue a project that converts petrol-run two wheelers into CNG-led vehicles. According to Nigel Job, one of the two students opting out of placements to pursue this venture, “This project ensures savings of close to Rs 6,000 every year on fuel prices and is eco-friendly too. Our project will convert two wheelers which are running on petrol to CNG.”

“The start up cost is close to Rs 15 lakh. We are talking to National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) and a few venture capitalists for the funds,” informed Ranju George, another student who is opting out of XIME Bangalore placements this year to pursue this venture.

At S P Jain Institute of Management & Research, first-year student Praveen Gera plans to start a venture on manufacturing auto-ancillary parts made from carbon fibre, which is expected to ensure longer life with smooth and durable texture. “Around Rs 1.3 crore is the capital required for this project. There are four of us involved in this project and we intend to opt out of placements next year to pursue this project. Our institute helps students with seed fund of up to Rs 20 lakh,” Gera said.

At IIM Calcutta, at least two first-year students are opting out of summer placements to pursue their own ventures. Pranav Kumar, a first-year student of IIM Calcutta, has decided to pursue a venture on mobile value-added-services. He, with his team of six others, has started ‘Mobme’, a social networking venture on mobile. “The entrepreneurship cell at IIMC is helping us meet several venture capitalists. We are also looking at angel funding for our venture,” said Pranav Kumar.

Likewise, Pathikrit Ghosh, another first-year student of IIMC, has decided to opt out of summer placements to start a consultancy project, offering consultancy services for sectors such as energy, sales and marketing, human resource, and others. “This is a low-capital business and would need close to Rs 2 lakh to start off,” said Ghosh. Abhishek Nagaraj, another first-year student at IIM Calcutta is planning a social networking site on videos. “It will be a Wikipedia centred on video. I already have a prototype and the start-up cost is very little and manageable,” Nagaraj said.

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