Bangalore: His batchmates will be busy wooing and being wooed by recruiters this placement season, but 26-year-old Mainak Chakraborty, who will graduate in 2010 from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), has chosen to sit out the season. Chakraborty wants to start a company that will set up recharge centres for electric vehicles. And he is hoping to incubate the company at the institute’s NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL).
Across Indian campuses, incubation centres such as NSRCEL are breeding entrepreneurs.
From start-up outfit Kollabia, an online platform for music composers, launched by a group of second-year students at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B), to an algorithmic trading platform incubated at the iAccelerator programme at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), to Just Books Clc, an online book-lending company incubated at NSRCEL, the idea of entrepreneurship as a regular career choice is fast gaining ground at campuses countrywide. Chakraborty, for instance, is starting his company in association with two first-year management students.
Thinking different: (from left) IIM-B students Shekhar Gurav, Amarendra Sahu and Mainak Chakraborty. Most college incubators also encourage outsiders to seek on-campus support. Hemant Mishra / Mint
“Having an incubator on campus definitely provides a fillip to students with entrepreneurial ideas,” says S. Rajagopalan, professor, IIIT-B. “On an average, about 25 students from our graduating batch of 126 have chosen entrepreneurship as a career.”
Tier-II institutes are following suit, but it’s early days yet. From a graduating batch of 200 MBA students from MATS Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bangalore, typically about five-six students turn entrepreneurs. “We would be happy to incubate 100 students, but we find that there are not enough proposals coming in from students, most of whom prefer to join brand name companies in the early part of their careers,” says G. Lakshman, professor, marketing, at the institute.
Earlier this year, IIIT-B registered its on-campus incubation facility as a not-for-profit company, now called the IIIT-B Innovation Centre. It will provide monetary help in the form of grants and seed capital to start-ups, that in some cases are incubated for as long as three years.
“Also, IIIT-B and IIM-A will jointly collaborate to run the iAccelerator programme, where winning ideas in the wireless and Internet space are provided a small seed capital of Rs5 lakh and are mentored for four months on campus,” says Rajagopalan, adding that the first batch of start-ups to be incubated at IIIT-B will commence in December.
Similarly, the on-campus incubation facility at MATS Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship has provided support to 20 start-ups till date. These have been in areas of financial services, hospitality, manufacturing, education services, among others.
Gaurav Jain, a second-year management student at the institute, is taking the help of his college faculty and seniors to set up an aluminium foil manufacturing facility in Bangalore. “As part of the incubation process, I am getting a lot of inputs on the financial feasibility plan for the project,” he says.
Apart from influencing students to choose entrepreneurship as a career, these campus incubators are also filling a vital gap in the start-up ecosystem. “There are not many people or institutions who provide angel funding for start-up ideas of less than Rs1 crore,” says Deepan Chakravarthy, co-founder of HashCube Technologies, a start-up that creates games for social networking platforms; it was incubated this year in the iAccelerator programme at IIM-A.
It’s not just students who are reaping the benefits of on-campus incubators; most college incubators also encourage outsiders to seek on-campus support, as in the case of Chakravarthy who graduated in 2006 from Anna University, Tamil Nadu, and chalked up a couple of years’ work experience before pitching his idea for the on-campus incubation programme.
“We had a user base of 200,000 when we were chosen for the iAccelerator programme; in six months we have been able to establish a one-million-user base,” says Chakravarthy. The mentoring, seed funding and extensive network that the programme provided is responsible for the near 30% growth chalked up by the 18-month-old start-up, he says.
There is good reason for on-campus incubators to invite outside talent. Faculty members at these institutes get a chance to further their research agenda at start-up technology outfits by aligning their research goals with the business development plans of the start-ups.
“When we accept start-ups for the business incubation programme, we ensure that (the) ideas are such that the faculty is also interested in them,” says Suryanarayanan A., chief operating officer, NSRCEL, IIM-B.
The incubator set up in 2001 offers an 18-month incubation programme and hosts around eight start-ups.
“We are also now virtually incubating about two new start-ups,” says Suryanarayanan, adding that students leverage the opportunity of interning at these campus start-ups, thus making for a symbiotic network of entrepreneurs, students and faculty members.
For students who may be weighing their chances of turning into successful entrepreneurs, the opportunity of interning at a start-up on campus helps test waters. IIM-B’s Chakraborty interned at an on-campus start-up in his first year, before deciding to launch his own venture.
“There have been instances of student projects coming out of academic institutes, which have gone on to become great businesses, particularly in the US. The time may be right for us to see some innovative and good, perhaps even great, companies come out of campus incubation centres in India,” says Anjana Vivek, founder, VentureBean Consulting, and a guest instructor at IIM-B.
Now, as the idea of entrepreneurship gathers momentum, on-campus incubators are mushrooming across campuses. However, to fulfil their potential, industry watchers say they must offer the right mix of mentorship, intellectual inputs and seed money at a very early stage in the entrepreneurial life cycle.
“There are nearly 54 campus incubators across the country, and apart from the well-established ones, such as the ones at (the) IIM-A campus, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, the other incubators will have to establish a steady deal flow, building companies from idea to young start-ups,” says Laura Parkin, executive director, National Entrepreneurship Network and Wadhwani Foundation.