The thought rolls back to days when we used to pore over discriminating the terminologies ‘Engineering’ and ‘Technology’. As given to understand, Engineering is a design process bringing in innovative thinking and customized solutions in any field, be it construction, power distribution or design of machine intelligence. And by contrast, Technology is a process or tool to execute these designs. Over twenty five years back, as a young engineering aspirant, some of us have debated on this dichotomy of nomenclature, a civil-mechanical-electrical engineering as against a chemical-production technology. Nevertheless, ‘a professional course’ as we call it moulds and directs the student to make a profession of his/her stream of study. Apart from the opportunities in the mainstream functional areas like Project management, Design, Research & Development, or Pedagogy, the quintessential commonality in all streams of study also helps ‘the engineer’ adapt to swings of the market and make smart shifts in career. Year 2000, for instance witnessed a phenomenal shift of career of engineers from all streams of study into IT, a sector which then exhibited a tectonic boom.
Till a decade ago, our country continued to run short of the number of engineers produced annually as against the intake in both the private and public sectors as per a survey. The statistics shows that engineering colleges sprung up in number from a fair 1500 colleges in 2007 to a mind-boggling 3300 in 2015 in India, with a small state of Kerala alone shouldering over 150 engineering colleges. Has this lowered the bar or shrunk the demand for the profession, is for experts to comment. However, living facts like, India presently churns out more engineers than US and china put together, may add food to these thoughts. Haven’t we stratified multifarious our output of engineers in India. The premier group of IITs followed by a group of corporate backed institutes, NITs, the pick of state colleges and then the rest. On one, we see a brilliant topper from IIT Mumbai walk away with a plum crore plus annual CTC on campus placements and on the other an engineer from strata lower down, still struggling for an upkeep in the initial years. A leading UK based global recruiter firm suggested that engineering roles were the hardest to fill as has been agreed upon by 45% of recruiters globally. As per Nasscom report in 2011 only 17.5% of engineering graduates were deemed employable. India’s information technology industry spends nearly $1 billion a year to make them job-ready, the report said. Again, telling upon the prevalent quality crunch. Eventually we heard reports like, over 50% merit quota seats vacant in Kerala, AICTE bringing down the number of engineering seats by six lakhs etc.
The scenario here triggers the need for an entrepreneurial upbringing of our young engineers. If we track the career path of engineers from premier institutes in India in the recent past we can see that a good share of them either venture on their own or take a short term industry exposure and then go enterprising. The story from the premium B schools in India is no different. Moreover their curriculum itself introduces entrepreneurship. IITs and IIMs have shown growing fervor for entrepreneurship with as high as 4-5% of students preferring startups to plush placement offers. At IIM Kozhikode 15 of the batch passed out the previous year are entrepreneurs. A recent report reveals that 41 students out of the new batch of various IITs are at various stages of their startup blueprints. Interesting statistics there! The question is, why are such initiatives just restricted to premium institutes and not others? Why can’t we raise the bar and bridge the gap. To be a successful entrepreneur is perhaps the toughest of all assignments, but certainly the most gratifying one at the end of the day.
Let’s go through a few successful examples. Sachin and Binny Bansal, two ex-IITians from Delhi after some initial exposure in Amazon, ventures into an e-commerce start up in 2007 beginning with small transactions of book and electronics. Now, in less than eight years the company has evolved into a billion dollar business house Flipkart, on an M&A spree gobbling over all small 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 Harvard sophomore invented a networking tool with a simple intention of getting connected to his friends in college, in 2004 which turned an instant hit. The site now is one of the biggest in the world with over 40crore connections, Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg. Endless goes the success stories of startups in India. This is not just restricted to the IT and e-commerce sector. Services sector, logistics etc also has witnessed flavors of success through startups. Redbus, Taxi4sure goes the names of innumerable startups conceived by brilliant young engineers and in a span of just 7-8 years established a, strong brand equity. Grey orange robotics established in 2009 is the first of its kind venture offering logistics automation solution. Robots move shelves stacked with various products scanning barcodes, yet again the brainchild of two BITs pilani youngsters.
“Zao Foods”, a Mitali Khalra vision to inculcate a habit of eating nutritious food. She came up with ‘cafe Crostini’ in south delhi. Indiblogger. in was started as a free blogging platform, but the founders had some bigger game plans, to connect the corporate world, companies and brands to their customers as a revenue model.
‘Under the mango tree’, a social venture promoting bee keeping, by Vijaya Pastala, an MIT alumni took 14 years to establish. Swapnil kamat and his wife Ruchira had to undergo hardships before establishing their dream venture, Work Better-Training and Development, an executive training company focusing on teaching behavioral and cognitive skills to corporate employees. Helpingdoc. com, an online venture by a team of medical professionals conceptualized the idea of providing medical support online. An overview reveals that, innovative ideas have explored all facets of life, low cost energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, health, fashion, food, technology, service, and what not. Investors are now running after genuine ideas of business to fund for. Not just the angel investors or venture capitalists but even the corporate allot funds to invest in startups.
Ratan Tata, the ‘Tata group’ honcho, stepping aside from the day-to-day responsibilities of the corporate conglomerate, took interest in investing in 10 startup ventures shortlisted. The investments typically vary between 1-5 Crore and spread across dotcoms, health care, clean energy etc. The pick of them all is ‘Swasth India’, a Mumbai based affordable healthcare setup providing medical services to low income population, again an IIT Mumbai alumni venture. Franchise India, recently hosted a forum in Mumbai inviting business ideas. We also have Pro Bono consultants providing services to startups non-profit with social relevance and commitments. IIT Mumbai has an Entrepreneurship Cell, a non-profit independent student body which instills the spirit of entrepreneurship among students and working professionals. The Entrepreneur cell of IIT Kharagpur recently held an entrepreneur awareness drive, a massive initiative to encourage students across the country to embrace the concept of entrepreneurship. These E-cells incubates startup ideas by connecting investors and entrepreneurs of similar interests. The Global entrepreneur summit, Eureka – International Business plan competition etc are some of the events which drive the young budding engineers. IIT Chennai also runs an incubation cell C-Tides and Research Park for Startups. Kerala is no behind in startup initiatives and promotions. We have Kerala Startups Society, a not-for-profit organization with the objective of building a vibrant startup ecosystem. Regular meets are organized to interact with investors, successful entrepreneurs and players. Based in the IT technology park- Trivandrum, is Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) formerly known as ‘Techno-park-Technology Business Incubator’. Under the guidance of Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys we have the startup village, another technology business incubator in kochi.
An innovative business model is all about identifying a social problem to work an effective solution. Thus the startup drive is not just a commercial drive but one of social relevance. A friend of mine recently travelling from Orlando airport to the hotel while on a business tour took an airport cab to destination paying about 90 bucks, but on return smartly took a Uber cab for as low as 25bucks for the same distance. A cost effective solution offered here. A decade ago if one planned a multi city travel in India, it involved a lot of planning and follow-ups with travel agents, hotels, cabs etc. Whereas now it all gets done in a jiffy fiddling with a chosen smart mobile App. Instance of life made easy and smart with start ups. Understandably the mortality rate of startups, are high and not all ventures flourish evenly. But for the youth it is a learning curve to introspect, re-model, and evolve to success.
The recent business visits by the Indian PM to the US, EU and middle east especially the one to the silicon valley, has generated overwhelming response in terms of investments proposals to India. The digital India drive by the Prime minister intends to generate innovative ideas in digital Technologies which include Cloud Computing and Mobile Applications. As we all know the new generation engineer is sharp, innovative and creative with a higher level of IQ than their predecessors. Now we have the brains, the bucks, the governance and all it takes is some out-of-the-box thinking to churn out the “ideas”. Let the academia with the conducive faculty instill this passion in our youths.
May the buzz line for the budding engineers be ‘trigger the entrepreneur in you’. Thank you!
(The writer is a Mumbai based corporate marketer)