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An entrepreneur who helps students with internships

Last updated on: July 20, 2012 13:28 IST

An entrepreneur who helps students with internships

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

In our series showcasing start-ups and the entrepreneurial spirit of young Indians, we profile an interesting venture that connects students with companies for internship.

This time, it is Twenty19 started by 29-year-old Karthikeyan Vijayakumar, an alumnus of BITS, Pilani.

Becoming an entrepreneur was a foregone conclusion for Karthikeyan. Community service and running marathons too became his forte.

Karthikeyan shares his experience of starting Twenty19, Deepam, an NGO that works for underprivileged children and his passion for marathons.

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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Image: Karthikeyan Vijayakumar.


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Inspiration from his father, an entrepreneur

My father is a first generation entrepreneur. As a child, I have seen him build his dream project of electrical contracting from scratch. He was also an agriculturist. 

At that age itself, I felt that he had made a positive difference in the lives of those who worked for him. This was a big inspiration for me.

He also made sure that I was groomed to be an entrepreneur when I grow up. I still remember how he talked to us about transforming an idea into reality and the benefits of entrepreneurship when we went for long drives during our school vacations.

It will be a surprise if you grew up in Coimbatore, a city that is full of entrepreneurs and not become one. So, somehow I felt at that age that if I didn't become an entrepreneur, I would be a failure in life.

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Image: Twenty19.com College Workshop.

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An entrepreneur who helps students with internships

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How BITS, Pilani helped him become an entrepreneur

When in school, some of my seniors used to give inspiring talks in the Assembly. Hearing them talk very highly of BITS, Pilani, I had decided in school itself that I would study technology there. It was my dream, rather.

Studying at BITS, Pilani was a great experience. It helped me get to know a wide variety of people and they turned out to be a big support to me when I started my career as an entrepreneur. Many of my seniors were ready to mentor me.

In 2004, I graduated and worked in a business consulting firm for a short period to experience the business world before I was on my own.

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Image: Twenty19.com student workshop.

Tags: BITS , Pilani

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First step as an entrepreneur

In 2007, I started Exedos, a business consulting firm along with a friend of mine with Rs 60,000 and two laptops. We helped many Fortune 500 companies launch in India by evaluating the market for them. We didn't have an office; we worked from our one room apartment.

We got our first client two months after we launched by sheer luck. A semiconductor firm from the US had contacted a friend of ours and he referred us for a job in the company.

We told the company officials about our venture and they were ready to have us as their consultants. We evaluated the market for them and they were quite impressed with our work. With their reference, we got the opportunity to work with many Fortune 500 companies and that included Google in the next 5-6 months.

In the first month itself, we started making profits. Within a year, there were a 100 people working on various projects for us, across India. We worked with multiple partners. We were generating revenues to the tune of $150,000 within a year.

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Image: Twenty19.com.

Tags: India , Exedos , US

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Starting Deepam, an NGO

One day in 2008, I was running with a mentor friend of mine and when we ran past a government school, our discussion turned to the children of the school. We felt if the kids of those schools also got similar opportunities as we had, they could also achieve many things.

We felt that children from the underprivileged background are lacking in the two key skills that are required in the field of IT- knowledge of computers and English. We also felt that if children of today have these two skills, they could go anywhere in the world.

We then decided to volunteer our time during the weekends to help these children equip themselves with these two skills.

That was how we started Deepam. It is a volunteering community effort. Many of our friends also joined the effort. Within a year, we taught over a 100 students. It was an enriching experience for us to see the kids coming back week after week to learn from us.

We are into our 5th year now and around 550 people from all walks of life - retired ones to students - are part of Deepam. But only 40 people are regularly active. 

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Image: Deepam class.

Tags: , NGO , IT

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Idea to start another venture

Though our company was making profits, I felt that it was not making any significant difference to the lives of people. But our NGO was making a difference in the lives of people.

So we wanted to make the same impact with our for‑profit company. And to make such a difference, we had to be a product company and not a service company.

It so happened that I got a chance to talk to college students on entrepreneurship. Some of them started working as interns for us and we found that being a small company, they made a difference to our company.

Many of the small and medium companies we were working with also needed interns but didn't have the access to them. On the other side, there are students who are looking for internship. Though initially, we connected the students to the companies known to us, soon we found that there is a huge potential in the space.

First, we went and talked to many students about the idea of internship and found that they were extremely interested but had no idea how to contact companies.

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Image: A class conducted by Deepam.

Tags: NGO

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Starting Twenty19

By the end of 2009, we decided to launch an online portal connecting students in need of internship with companies that needed interns.

We chose to name the portal Twenty19 because the students in search of internship are those in their late teens and early twenties. We also thought students would identify with such a name. With the money we saved from the previous venture, around Rs 4 lakh, we started this.

We work exclusively with college students. Students register online with a list of their interests, preferences and the industry they want to work.

We have a tool - Quiz Challenge tool ‑ which the students fill in and it is from this that companies identify the relevant students and it helps them save 80 per cent of their time.

Companies post their requirement for interns on our site. Once the students register, they get timely alerts on the availability in the industry.

Though it is free registration for students, but companies pay us for the Quiz Challenge tool they use.

In the first six months, we had 300 companies registering on our portal and more than 5000 students using the platform. 

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Image: Twenty19 portal.

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Around 70 per cent of the internships get transferred as a job offer. Many of the companies look at internship to gauge whether the student fits in to their requirements.

When we started in 2010, only 10 per cent of the companies paid a stipend. But, noticing the quality of students and work done by them, today, 90 per cent of companies pay them a stipend and the average stipend per month is Rs 5,000.

After almost two years, 3000 companies and 1.5 lakh students across India use Twenty19 Around 40 per cent each from south and the north India, 15 per cent from the western region and 5 per cent from the eastern region. The companies are mainly from the metros.

A large majority of opportunities are in the technology sector. But we also have media companies, NGOs, content writing, ad companies, services, and even some in the core sector using our portal.

If you look at the number of registrations, we have grown by 180 per cent. Our revenue has gone up by 150 per cent.

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Image: Twenty19 College Workshop.

Tags: India

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Opportunity

There are two kinds of students; one with skills who need internship and another who need skills. Less than 40 per cent of the college gradates have the relevant skill sets. The opportunity lies in how we can help them get the skills that would make them employable.

We are going to help them by connecting them to our training partners. We have around 90 training partners now. 

By 2015, we want to reach out to at least 1 million students and 15,000 companies.

Running marathons

Right from my school days, I have been a sports person. But when in school, I had an accident and after that, I had to start my life from scratch. That made me focus on running.

In 2006, I ran my first marathon. The first marathon gave me the confidence that I could do anything. I have completed 3 full marathons of 42 km and over 25 half marathons.

There is a lot of correlation between running a marathon and running a business. Both are about picking the right path, persevering through and staying focussed for a longer period till the finish.


Image: Karthikeyan Vijayakumar.

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