Alright – IIT Mumbai has come up with a new idea to boost entrepreneurship among its students.

Its placement cell is weighing the option of helping students, whose start-ups have not taken off, to be placed in jobs after two years of experimenting with their ideas.
As part of the scheme, students keen on their own start-ups will be assigned mentors after graduating. These experts—either people who have successfully floated their own companies or those with enough exposure to new businesses—will evaluate their ideas to see if there’s any potential.

Once the ideas are approved, students can float their own companies. After two years, if a startup fails to take off, the student-entrepreneur can participate in the regular placement process and get a job.

“If there is such a scheme, students would be forthcoming about their ideas. If the ideas have merit, they will flourish. If they fail, they will know it’s better to shut shop in the early stages. We plan to give them two years as companies also would be hesitant to hire such candidates after a long period” [link/title lifted from this article]

Here is the problem with this whole concept (same was started by IIMs, though I don’t know successful it was):

Idea/Mentors/Validation – Most of professors in engineering/b-schools fail when it comes to really evaluating a brand new idea. In the last 2 years, I have interacted with some of the best professors from well known engineering colleges and I tend to shut my mouth after listening to the regular ‘this has no future. how will you make money’ sort of statements from professors.

Ideas can never and should never be approved. Approval of an idea only works with college projects. And not with startups.

No professors can ever approve a mindless idea which involved 140 characters with a much higher degree of stupid question, i.e. ‘What are you doing?’. The kind of ideas that can be approved are the ones which have already been tried/tested elsewhere (like services etc) and those are anything but path-breaking ideas.

What should Engineering Colleges DO?

This is what I wrote earlier (“E-Cells or T-Cells in Indian Institutions?”)

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).

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).

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.

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 (or Indian companies?) 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 business) is missed out in the entire picture (and the focus shifts to organizing large events where BIG ticket VC firms will send their analysts)?

In short, it still is about technology assuming that academia-industry gap remains intact (and it will).

It’s about mindset change and not about providing cushion to ideas. Ideas need no cushion – student entrepreneurs need a much dedicated effort in productizing an idea, validating the product hypothesis, help in understanding business rather than an assurance that they can still go back to the job if they fail.

Any entrepreneur who is onto a serious journey knows that he/she CAN go back to a job when needed – but the first rule of entrepreneurship is to BURN THESE BRIDGES.

Agree/Disagree?

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