Neeraj Trivedi is an unlikely role model for the thousands of young teenagers who're preparing to take their Indian Institute of Management exams.
Search for "fresh management graduates + entrepreneurs" on Google and an Indian website for start-ups is likely to pop up as the first result.
The site, www.startups.in, profiles the likes of Trivedi, true, but it's unlikely to set the hearts of a few hundreds who've set their sights on corporate jobs, beating for him. Trivedi, an alumni of IIM-Lucknow, works for the non-government organisation Pratham.
Yet, Trivedi is no longer the exception among IIM graduates. Every year, as over 1,800 students pass out of the hallowed walls of India's premier management institutes, at least a few are choosing to stay away from the big bucks placement offers that their peers take for granted.
A few of those, as is evident from www.startups.in, are turning entrepreneurs, some like Trivedi are turning to NGOs because "desh ke liye kuch karna hain (I have to do something for the country)", as he says.
When Trivedi passed out of his alma mater in 2007, his deliberate career choice - he says he is probably earning just 30 per cent of what his fellow-grads make - couldn't have left his family unhappier. "Sitamarhi [a small district on the Bihar-Nepal border]," he admits, "may not be the most exciting location, but at least it provides me with inner satisfaction."
Like him, Deepak Dhamija, a graduate from IIM-Calcutta, opted to stay away from summer placements to work for Basics, an organisation in Vidarbha engaged in providing micro-finance to farmers. In B-school parlance, they now call this phenomenon OOPS (out of placement season).
Once, a placement dropout might have been considered maverick, but today their number is swelling as Ankur Gattani and Aditya Kumar, both from IIM-Calcutta, Hemant Bansal from IIM-Lucknow, Ankit Mathur, Satvik Upadhyaya and Nirmal Kumar from IIM-Ahmedabad, Dhruv Bhushan and Anubhav Jain from IIM-Indore set their own course to go chasing their dreams.
What's egging these youngsters on? What's causing the burst of entrepreneurial spurt in the campuses of these red-bricked management schools as they've turned to alternate options within the social sector, on online portals, in manufacturing units, or in consulting arms?
Why have these youngsters spurned tempting offers from the corporate world (and earned parental disapproval) to either start their own ventures, or listen to the drumbeats of their hearts?
Inspired by the likes of Trivedi and Dhamija, Aditya Kumar, a first-year-student at IIM-Calcutta, will intern this summer at an NGO called Solace in Assam's Kamrup district. His motivation? "In Assam and other North-eastern states, insurgency, terrorism and violence are major problems, as a result of which other burning issues are neglected."
The consequence has been a lack of development in the region. "Solace is an initiative to look at neglected aspects such as rural distress, lack of education and child labour," Kumar explains.
While a few are committed to ironing out social disparities, several more are testing the unchartered waters of start-ups and entrepreneurship. "It makes more sense to start my own venture and apply the B-school management techniques I've learnt in my own company rather than follow someone else's orders," says Hemant Bansal. Bansal is planning a manufacturing unit in the national capital region that will employ 50-100 workers to begin with.
If entrepreneurship was once a dirty word that conjured up images of personal greed, for IIM-Ahmedabad's Nirmal Kumar it represents a personal opportunity. He could have been one among those young bright graduates to bag stunning offers from major corporate houses.
Instead, he chose to start his own outdoor advertising company. The idea struck when he observed the thousands of passengers who were forced to spend time at railway stations where such hoardings had the best chance of catching their attention.
"There is a lack of innovation in the outdoor media and most people are losing out on customers' attention because they are not willing to move away from traditional media," he explains. "By setting up innovative advertisement boards and devices, an advertiser can get the best reinforcement for his product."
It wasn't innovation but numbers that inspired Ankit Mathur and Satvik Upadhyaya of IIM-Ahmedabad, Neha Juneja of the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi, and a fourth partner to launch an online portal, www.aisapaisa.com, to provide simple access to credible and relevant information to retail investors on futures trading.
Elsewhere, Dhruv Bhushan and Anubhav Jain of IIM-Indore have already launched their online venture - a book building website called www.ourownbook.com. It's quite incredible, actually. The site provides its readers with a storyline that needs to be developed. Once the plot is complete, the story will be considered for print.
The site has already had 50,000 hits and 200 members have registered. Says Bhushan, "From completing a story, we plan to move into writing short stories, biographies and even films." So far, Bhushan and Jain have funded the venture through their own savings, but a massive expansion plan will require a fresh flow of funds.
Ankur Gattani, the only student from IIM-Calcutta's 2006-08 batch to opt out of the final placements, has initiated a portal called www.lifeinlines.com, and is the founder and CEO of Onelife Knowledge Services.
Currently in the test-run phase, the portal is being managed by Apex Division, an offshore software outsourcing company specialising in web design and development.
Is the money easy to find? Hardly. Even the confident Nirmal Kumar did not have it easy when it came to launching his outdoor advertising idea at Ahmedabad. Finance was his biggest constraint, and his humble background meant there was nothing to fall back on should he fail to find the initial capital.
Fortunately for him, an angel investor provided the push with Rs 20 lakh. "The response has been phenomenal and the venture will now be taken forward to four more stations in Gujarat, for which I am in talks with the Western Railways. I am also looking for a similar tie-up with the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation," he says.
For the promoters of aisapaisa.com, money was never a concern. They knew the venture did not require a huge amount of capital since the information would be sourced and analysed by them. Pooling in the money earned from their summer internships and collecting some from their families, the four decided on a unique model.
"We do not want to confuse the visitor on our website so we will not be accepting advertisements, and are confident of earning revenues through the services we provide," says Juneja. The venture has already procured a tie-up with a news channel and the National Stock Exchange for information.
"Other than live news that trickles in from the news channel, we will also provide market forecasts, market data, analysis of the day's stock movements and other self-analysed data on a minute-to minute basis every day," she says.
Upadhyaya insists that opting out of the placements wasn't a big deal considering they now have a chance to do what they love doing - trade on futures and help other retail investors do the same. The entrepreneurs are looking to emulate the Facebook social networking model of functioning where equity is offered at the right time. On the anvil are new modules to help the retail investor and a website in Hindi.
At the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Sanjana Rao and Pradeep Machieni have collected investments worth $150,000 for their nanotechnology company and are looking at raising another $10 million over the next couple of years.
On the other hand, thanks to a booming family business, Hemant Bansal of IIM-Lucknow does not feel threatened by a lack of funds. "I am looking for a private/equity investor while I plan to put in 20-30 per cent of the money. Even if I don't, I am sure I can manage the initial investment," he hazards.
These stories aren't entirely new to India's premium management institutes. In previous years too, students have displayed their appetite for taking business risks. Last year, Sreeram Vaidya-nathan decided to set up an entertainment lounge in Bangalore called Brewhaha. And even as he battles attrition, the quintessential manager is already planning six more Brewhahas across Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.
Four IIM-A students last year started their own online venture, tenaday.co.in, to provide coaching for the CAT examination, which is the gateway to the IIMs and other, similar institutions.
"Management lessons help you take risks and build confidence levels," says another student at IIM-Kozhikode whose breakaway career includes making a directorial debut and launching his own film company.
Brave words, especially when ma and pa back home fail to understand the compulsions that egg these placement dropouts on. The result is a lonely life, especially when one's peers seem to rise effortlessly up the corporate ladder. "Sometimes I am filled with doubts," confesses Nirmal Kumar.
"But when I think about the future, I'm sure no other job will match my professional growth." Perhaps he should paint these words like a slogan on his outdoor hoardings - for he's hoping that when it comes to summer internships for the next batch of students, they'll turn to him rather than the multinationals to catch some of his contagious entrepreneurial spirit.
Reporting by Archana Mohan, Pradipta Mukherjee & Kalpana Pathak