E-Cells or T-Cells in Indian Institutions?

A lot of engineering colleges in India have E-cells, i.e. Entrepreneurship Cells that are supposed to promote entrepreneurship. And most of them do (promote entrepreneurship), with the help of supporting organizations (like NEN etc).

While E-cells increase the awareness of entrepreneurship, there are a few basic flaws that I have observed in this entire model.

Lack of Entrepreneurial Professors/Leaders in Colleges.
Except for few colleges, most of the E-cells are run by professors who have no clue on what it takes to stand in the naked sun. While I have immense respect for those involved in such activities, lack of role models fails to excite students to really take such activities/courses seriously.

Very few E-Cells are run by professors who earlier had their own venture, or were even part of a technology company.

So most of the wisdom that’s shared is theoretical in nature and lack real insights.

– The Wrong Signal

Business Plan + Funding = Entrepreneurship = Funding + Business Plan

This is it. It’s all about funding and business plan (and not so much about product development/marketing/selling).

In the last 1 month, of all the entrepreneurship related emails I have received from students, 70% of them were about funding.

Most of the E-cell activities revolve around writing a business plan and eventually, all of such discussions end up with talks of whether a VC will fund me or not (that’s the final outcome).

Not that students are different from other entrepreneurs (everybody wants funding!), but a lot of them look at funding as the first level of validation. And to top it all, an excuse to not startup a business (and instead stay happy with writing theoretical/well researched business plans).

So while writing a business plan gives one a false sense of starting up, there is no real value that comes out of such practices (unless you want to start a consulting around writing business plans).

And I have been sharing this at various college events where I am invited to speak. That is, students should least care about business plan on day1.

Go back in history and you will find student startups like Google, Facebook, Yahoo NOT having any business plan from day 1. In fact, none of these were supposed to be businesses. They were just HACKS. None of these founders ever wrote a business plan on day 1 – they just focused on one thing:

Enabling Technology To Solve A Small Problem.

As they went about solving the problem (to start off, a personal itch), they realized that they are building something valuable and can be converted into a BIG business.

It’s awesome that a lot of student entrepreneurs now think of building a business now (Larry Page++), but the attempt now is to skip the technology part.

The T-Cell [T for Technology]

I am not talking about DST sponsored activities that look at broader industry level discussions, but there is a need for a system which drives students to learn new technology, explore (im)possible options.
There is a need of a system which drives students to play with APIs of say, WordPress, CMS Platforms and excite them to build something valuable.
A need for a system that promotes experimentation, without mandating any business plan, or any pressure to come up with excel sheet valuation.

Let students learn how to market their products (be it a WordPress plugins/hacks etc etc) and importantly, let them go through failures (of hacks/experiments), the yo-yo cycle of entrepreneurship.

After all, how many E-Cells actually get into the depth of product development? Why is the real meat (of product) missed out in the entire picture (and the focus shifts to organizing large events where BIG ticket VC firms will send their analysts)?

Note to Students
You have a great leverage on your side, i.e. age+ freedom. Use it.

This is the time when they can really experiment without any serious fear of failure. A lot of successful technology startup founders in India have done “dirty hacking” in their college life.

– Founder of a famous Internet startup created a search engine to index porn available on the college network (with nicely done taxonomy).

– Founder of a kickass telecom company was sued for launching something that challenged a well known company’s codec.

[more on such real stories later, but I hope you get the drift]

With E-cells, the focus is to push students to “build a  business”, but in reality it should be about “Explore Something Interesting”.

My dear students : Just go out and do something interesting. Hack into your college network. Create some really vague product and sell it.

The time is on your side!

What’s your take?

PS: If you are a college interested in an experiment like this, do feel free to connect.

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