Meet the new 'biz' kids
A drive to learn and prepare a sound base for their future is driving college students to push boundaries and set up independent ventures even while pursuing their studies
Twenty year-old Vallari Gore, a third-year student of mechanical engineering, is a repository of information when we meet her at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Powai campus on a blistering Wednesday afternoon. She shows us a blue-and-yellow car that looks suspiciously like a bigger version of the cleaning carts used to move around in malls.
It’s really an all-terrain vehicle with an internal combustion engine that won several awards at the Baja SAE (Student Automotive Engineers) India 2012, a premier engineering design competition where students from across the country participate. The IIT students won the Peers Choice Award, bagged the second place in the acceleration award and also won the Best CAE award for the lightest and most sustainable vehicle for their creation at the competition which was held in Indore in mid-February this year.
The success of the dirty-looking model (‘We haven’t used it for a while,” says Sonu Majhi, 21, a third-year student of mechanical engineering, apologetically) is what led to a team of 40 students developing the country’s first eco-friendly and sustainable development Formula racing car. In the works since September 2011, it will participate in Formula Student UK 2012 (FSUK) in the electric powertrain category, one of the most prestigious collegiate events in engineering design, to be held in July this year at the Silverstone F1 race circuit in the United Kingdom. This will be the first time any Indian college will be participating in it with an electric vehicle. Who said geeks were boring?
Gore explains, “We finished assembling the entire Baja vehicle by October and began conducting test drives on the college campus. We were happy with the product, but wanted to try out something different. That’s when we decided to come up with an electric vehicle, since none of the Indian institutes have ever developed something like this before.” Urmil Shah, 21, a fourth-year student of mechanical engineering and the team captain, who is overseeing the project, adds that the students thought of setting up a sustainable development vehicle, as that is the future of the automobile industry. “
There is no emission at the source and the vehicle leaves behind zero carbon footprint. Such electric vehicles are the future of the automobile industry. Also, IIT Bombay Racing as an organisation aims to eventually spread awareness about electric vehicles at the student level through such initiatives. We are looking at tying up with Mahindra REWA to make this car available in Indian markets.”
It’s a big deal — apart from having to undergo several safety checks at the FSUK, participants have to present business proposals and cost reports highlighting the need, marketability and profitability of their product to a panel of judges comprising chief design engineers from world-class companies such as Airbus, Mercedes Benz and Audi. As a result, participants have to lay a lot of emphasis on cost effectiveness, project planning and structured execution. It’s big money, too. Though the students have got financial support from the Research and Development department of IIT, they have raised Rs 14 lakh through sponsorships.
What is it that drives them to spend as many as eight to 10 hours in the lab working on the car? Deshraj Jat, a 21 year-old third-year student of mechanical engineering laughs, “An interest in cars coupled with a desire to design and create a vehicle, right from scratch, is our main driving force. IIT has been very supportive and it has been a great practical experience for us. Whatever we have learnt in theory, we have been able to apply in reality.
It has also helped us to develop our hands-on skills, team-building skills and collaborate with sponsors.” Professor Chitta Amarnath, the faculty advisor who has been the guiding force of these automobile enthusiasts, believes such projects will help the students in the long run. “These ventures give students the freedom to create what they want and instills tremendous confidence in them. They also helps them to make optimum use of resources in a scientific and analytical way. In the future, when they start working with companies, they will need minimal guidance from their seniors.” They are not the only ones. Across city colleges, students are moving beyond textbooks to put theory into practice and venture into innovative entrepreneurial projects, backed by their professors.
Like Khitish Kakar. The first thing that strikes you when you enter his hostel dorm at the K J Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR), Vidyavihar, is the lovebirds in a cage next to his bed. Until you see the piles of books, neatly arranged on two bedside tables, that is.
Before you wonder if he is goofing with Jeffrey Archer and Steig Larsson’s stories instead of studying for his post-graduate diploma in management, know that the books belong to Let’s Talk Books (.in), an online circulating library the 27 year-old started with his friend Saroj Nayak, a student of Welingkar Institute of Management, last September.
Today, the library — that has over 500 books across genres, including fiction and even management texts — caters to college students as well as avid book lovers. “When I came to college, I had brought along around 80-100 books. I started renting out books to my friends for a nominal sum. Soon, Saroj and I decided to turn it into a full-fledged business. We publicised it by putting up posters in college, updating our Facebook page and sending mailers. While I am in charge of building the repository, Saroj manages the publicity,” he says, softly.
While students within the campus can rent the books at Rs 2 a day, outsiders can avail of a subscription model. Kakar explains, “Outsiders have to pay Rs 50 for a book for one month, while for two books they have to shell out Rs 90 for a duration of 60 days. If they want three books for three months, then they have to pay Rs 120. In the first two months, we catered only to people within the campus. But gradually since November, business has picked up and I have made 15-20 deliveries in various parts of Mumbai. Overall, we have made over 350 deliveries till date.”
He has customised his venture by including books based on popular demand. All the books are first-hand copies that he has bought from various e-commerce sites. By the end of this year, he is planning to include 1,000 books in his inventory and also register the company. The Jaipur resident admits that it has taken time for the venture to pick up but admits, “Right now I’m focusing on the investment but by next year I want to expand my subscription base and recover my capital.”
He is also happy that the college authorities have been supportive and are also eager to provide him with facilities. “The faculty members not only avail of my service but have also suggested that I start a book club and also include books from the college library in my collection.”
Kakar is open to the idea of expanding this venture after he attains his diploma but prod him further and he says, “It’s a little too early to comment but this has been an enriching experience for me. I have been able to implement all the aspects that I learnt in class — how to negotiate with customers, listen to their advice and deal with suppliers — in practical life.”
T makes them click
Twenty five-year old Alankar Apte and 23 year-old Dhwala Savla, former engineering students, had learnt from personal experience that ordering T-shirts for college festivals was a cumbersome process. When the duo joined the post-graduate diploma in management at SIMSR and made a presentation at a seminar about starting an apparel line that would serve this purpose, they knew they had a winner at hand.
Five months ago, they decided to start Make My T, which would cater exclusively to college students during their festivals. Today, they have sold as many as 800 T-shirts and have catered to 100 colleges. Apte says, “We know that budgeting and designing T-shirts can be quite cumbersome during college festivals. After we floated this idea at our college seminar, we decided to set up this business. Since we had contacts in engineering colleges, we started by getting the festival schedule from them.”
Apte and Savla encourage their clients to come up with designs. Then they visit the apparel market, tie up with suppliers and give them the order. Though the duo has not publicised their venture on any social networking site yet, it has still got a good response thanks to word-of-mouth publicity. “In the next three months, we want to set up our own portal and launch a retail line. We have learnt how to adhere to timelines, build a supplier network and manage them as well as customers,” feels Apte.
Dr Radha Iyer, assistant professor of the entrepreneurship cell of SIMSR, who has guided Kakar and Apte, is optimistic about their ventures. “While in 2009, there was a food catering service started by students on the campus for hostel inmates, last year there have been four diverse cases of entrepreneurship in SIMSR alone. These exercises enable kids to understand a business model and realise what their customers want. I see more students taking to such ventures in the future.”