In a lecture hall in the labyrinthine administrative block of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, R. Satyanarayan, co-founder of Career Launcher, invokes management guru C.K. Prahalad to make a point about entrepreneurship. At the first mention, the name does not seem to impress Satyanarayan’s listeners, in the age group of 14-16. Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are clearly more popular among the audience. However, as Satyanarayan guides his young listeners through Prahalad’s slides on innovation, the import of the master strategist grows on them.
The 45 students who have turned up at the IIT campus at 9am on a Sunday in late October make up the first TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE) class in India. Among them is Anshika Goel, a class XI student of commerce at Delhi Public School (DPS), RK Puram, New Delhi. Goel dreams of owning a nightclub, not in the starry-eyed manner typical of teenagers, but with the focused aim of a young adult: “I decided a couple of years back that I’m going to be an entrepreneur.”
Anshika Goel (in blue T-shirt) and her teammates at a group discussion during the TYE class.
The prospect of a cushy job doesn’t excite her, she says. “My extended family is full of doctors and engineers. But my uncle, who runs FIITJEE, is my role model,” says Goel, the daughter of a merchant navy officer and a homemaker. And she is quite aware of the realities of a business venture. “Capital will be the biggest problem,” she says, but she is already thinking about it. The TYE course will help her test her concepts.
The TYE initiative—a combination of classroom sessions and mentoring culminating in a $10,000 (around Rs4.43 lakh) business plan contest—was launched in 2005 in Boston by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a network of entrepreneurs and professionals across 12 countries. The annual programme focuses on helping high school students discover the rewards and challenges of entrepreneurship, says Geetha Ramamurthy of TiE Boston. “The enthusiasm TYE generated among kids and parents in the US prompted us to bring the course to India,” adds Geetika Dayal, executive director, TiE Delhi-NCR. Currently, only the Delhi chapter is offering the course—for a fee of Rs.3,000—but there are plans to roll it out in other Indian centres too.
Classes are held once a week, on weekends. The course content, developed by TiE Boston in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), includes modules on the basics of entrepreneurship, opportunity-recognition, marketing, finance, business law and business models. Some of the later classes will be taken by entrepreneurs such as Arvind Singhal of Technopak, Ajay Lavakare of Risk Management Solutions Inc., Uma Arora of Idam Learning and Deep Kalra of Makemytrip.com. At the end of two months, the participants will be divided into teams and placed under a mentor to develop business plans for the contest to be held in April-May in Delhi.
What got Shrey Aggarwal, a class X student of St Columba’s, New Delhi, excited was the prospect of participating in a live project. “You can’t learn about entrepreneurship in just a classroom environment. High schoolers like us don’t get such opportunities (to put into practice what we learn in a classroom),” he says. His future plans are pretty fluid at the moment. “I’m undecided on which stream to join in class XI. But because I come from a family of entrepreneurs, the idea interests me,” he adds. His father Saghan Aggarwal, CEO of Travelmasti.com, points out that Shrey hasn’t shown much interest in the family business. “But since he was so excited about this course we readily agreed. It’s going to be a good exposure and will help him figure things out.”
Unlike a school course, TYE is designed to be interactive, build a student’s confidence and encourage leadership and problem-solving skills. Vinod Sood, managing director of software solutions firm Hughes Systique Corporation, whose son Srijan, Shrey’s classmate, has enrolled for the course, says TYE could be a pointer in the right direction for youngsters with an entrepreneurial bent of mind. “As a Nasscom mentor, I come across some great ideas. But I see young entrepreneurs making silly mistakes that could be avoided with a bit of common sense. I’ve felt that if they only had some kind of a foundation in entrepreneurship, they’d do so much better.”
Aside from the course content, what has attracted many of the participants is the opportunity to interact with the entrepreneurs and a chance for the contest winners to fly to MIT for the global competition, with prize money of $25,000. Not to mention the chance to pick up some life skills.
Payal Lal, a class XI commerce student at Amity School, Noida, is looking to brush up her public-speaking skills. “I’ve been a member of a public-speaking club, and my friends and I thought this would be a good opportunity for us. I’ve not much of idea about the course yet, but we will be working in teams and coming up with our own business plans. Being a commerce student, that will give me a chance to apply what we learn in school in real life.”
For the parents, one area of concern is the timing of the course. Running from October to April, it coincides with the most crucial time in the academic calender, specially for students preparing for their board examinations. Sood says his wife was worried about Srijan getting distracted from his studies. “We had a long debate but in the end we decided to let him join. A couple of percentage of marks more or less doesn’t really matter,” he adds. Shrey adds that with the new continuous evaluation system introduced by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the pressure on class X students has lightened significantly, giving them an opportunity to explore options. “Besides, the TYE class is once a week. It’s easily manageable,” he says.
Payal’s father Ankur Lal, CEO, Infozech Software, agrees. The children are used to balancing a lot of extra-curricular activities and the takeaways from the course would outweigh the time spent away from books. “This is an exercise in personality development and will teach her very critical life skills that are going to stand her in good stead throughout her career,” he says.