Photographs: Pagalguy.com Krishna Sheshadri, Pagalguy.com
In the volumes of B-schools placement reports, one piece of statistics gets overshadowed by the numerical platitudes and eulogies. Mentioned mostly as an afterthought, it is about students who opt-out of the placements, to follow their calling and start their own businesses. PaGaLGuY speaks to some of these souls and learn their stories.
M Vivekanandan, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta
24 years, worked with Cognizant for 2 years
Business: Developing butterfly habitats at hotels and national parks.
This mechanical engineering graduate from Pondicherry is doing something that belies his educational qualification and his work experience. He is setting up butterfly habitats across various resorts and national parks in India.
"I wanted to do something associated with nature," says Vivek. This idea of butterfly habitats came to him when he was looking up travel websites abroad. "The idea of habitat creation is well developed abroad but is non-existent in India. I wanted to be a first mover in this field," he explains. That made him start Butterfly Spotter, the butterfly habitat consultants.
His job is to liaise with various hotels, resorts and national parks and help them create butterfly habitats inside their properties. Assisting him are various entomologists. Once he and his team weave their magic, it boosts the natural beauty of the surroundings besides creating new marketing opportunities for his clients.
"Butterflies being such beautiful creatures, if photogenically captured, become an effective marketing tool for that resort or park," he says. "Butterflies have an instant connect with people, when compared to other insects," he adds. In addition to hotels he is also helping national parks to create butterfly gardens. "I am setting up a butterfly zone at the Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore with the help of park authorities," he mentions.
In addition to his interest in butterflies, it was the sustainability of the idea that drew him toward this venture. "It is almost a zero capital venture. All I need to operate is a laptop and the Internet," he says. He directly connects with the resort that is interested and outlines his plan. "If they want to go-ahead with it they sponsor my stay and food for the time I take to create the habitat."
He however admits receiving strange looks whenever he mentions what he does for a living. "I have been labelled as the 'insect catcher' or a 'gardener' by my relatives in family gatherings," he recalls. He reveals that one particular IIM rejected his idea outright at the admission interview stage. "It just strengthened my resolve to go ahead," he says. He points out instances of his seniors recognizing him and giving him surprised looks at resorts where he was working. "Once a resort patron even asked me to fetch an additional bed for him," he laughs.
Vivek is undaunted by the loan that he has taken for his MBA. "My loan repayment tenure begins in December 2011, and I am confident that I will earn enough by that time to pay my EMIs. Just in case, I have some savings in addition to substantial earnings from the stock market," he reveals. He is also relying on the IIM Calcutta brand and the network that it offers as fallback. "God forbid if this venture does not take off, I can always use the IIM Calcutta network to get a job. I can go back to my alma mater for placements in the next two years," he says. Vivek also appreciates the support of his parents. They do ask him to settle down and get married, but "I always laugh them off," he quips.
Vivek has developed butterfly habitats for Club Mahindra at Coorg, Taj Gateway at Varanasi and a resort in Uttaranchal. "I am targeting all the resorts in the Club Mahindra chain and the Taj. That itself should keep me busy for the next two years or so. I am also targeting the new gated communities developed by DLF, Unitech and the likes."
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Start-ups: These MBA grads said no to placements
Ankit Kumar, XLRI School of Business and Human Resources, Jamshedpur
23 years old, no work experience
Business: Manufacturing Bio-diesel.
A native of Gaya in Bihar, Ankit says his inspiration to become an entrepreneur was the desire to help Bihar's poor. "I was aware of the increasing procurement of alternative fuels by the government as per their reports and five year plans. I could not ignore this opportunity," he says. Once he had identified his business area, Ankit was very clear which B-schools he wanted to join. "I wanted to join XLRI, mainly for its alumni network and the influence it has on the Bihar Government. As this was a project where the government was a stakeholder, XLRI was the best place to pursue my dream," he explains. He rejected calls from the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) at Indore and Kozhikode and Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), New Delhi to join XLRI.
As soon as he joined XLRI, he co-founded a venture Green Leaf Energy with two others and the help of his professors in September 2009. His break came when he was asked to present his idea to the Government of Bihar. "I had to make a presentation to the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar and the other ministers in Bihar," he proudly says. He adopts wastelands in a state, help local farmers grow plants like pongamia which can then be used to generate bio-diesel.
"Plants like pongamia grow particularly well in arid wastelands. This increases the land utilization of wastelands while providing employment opportunities for farmers in the agricultural off-season," he describes. Ankit's project received a major boost when the Bihar government brought it under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). "Because of this, the farmers who were working for my project were paid under the NREGS," he explains. The Bihar government has set aside Rs 267 crore for bio-diesel projects. It has also set an acreage of one lakh acres in the next five years to develop bio-diesel plantations. "So far I have plantations totalling 500 acres," he says.
Even though Ankit has employed only 15 people in a full time capacity, he has contracted more than 2,000 farmers to work on his plantations. His project has so far generated 15,000 man-days of labour under NREGS and more than Rs 18 lakh have been disbursed as wages to the farmers. With an eye on expansion, Ankit has taken a loan of Rs 63 lakh from the Punjab National Bank (PNB) for his venture. He is also being funded by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). With finances secure, Ankit plans to generate one lakh kilolitres of Bio-Diesel in the next five years.
Ankit does not forget the part played by XLRI in his venture. "Without them this could not have been possible. They gave me access to the Bihar government network so that I could pitch the idea to them. They were also extremely flexible about their academic schedule. They even postponed the final exams for me, as I was busy with my venture. Add to that the teaching and the invaluable lessons," he gratefully acknowledges. He even recalls his professors coming down to Gaya to convince his sceptical father about the potential of his business.
This son of a professor and a school teacher had to battle parental opposition before starting out. "My father was dead against me becoming an entrepreneur. He even gave me an ultimatum: "Ek saal mein agar kuchh hua (If you are able to succeed in one year), then continue. Otherwise you have to take up a job," he recalls his father as saying.
His education was fully funded by his parents, which he insists did not play a part in his decision to fly solo. "I don't think an education loan would have mattered, as I would have still been doing this anyway," he says. In addition to the venture, he also has started two NGOs in Bihar. One aims to connect Biharis across the world to their roots through Facebook while the other is about training teachers.
For future entrepreneurs he advises, "Think big and have an eye on government policies. Any gap in the government policy is an opportunity." He also says that B-schools should play a bigger part by establishing a fellowship programme for aspiring entrepreneurs as the Harvard University has done. He also expects the media to be more responsible. "Media should stop glorifying placements if we want more entrepreneurs from B-schools," he concludes.
Start-ups: These MBA grads said no to placements
Amarendra Sahu, IIM Bangalore
26 years, worked for 5 years at Lucent and Cisco.
Business: Streaming web content on TV.
Amarendra's main interest in setting up his own company was his ambition of being in a decision-making position. "You will not be able to get these roles in a corporate at the beginning," explains Amarendra.
Setting up his company BrizzTV with two of his former colleagues from Cisco, they have developed and patented a product that streams web content on TV. "You can now check your Facebook account or update Twitter at the flick of the remote while watching TV. All this without the need of a separate Internet connection," says Amarendra.
Explaining the concept, he says that his product brings the Internet to one channel of the partner DTH operator. All one has to do is have a DTH connection, switch to the designated channel and surf the Internet. With more than a million subscribers being added every month to India's DTH space, the market is immense, believes Amarendra.
Amarendra and his team have tied up with a leading DTH operator in India to start services by June 2011. This idea was adjudged as the first runner-up at the Intel Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge 2010, held at University of Berkeley, California, further convincing him of its viability. Impressed by its potential, his venture was incubated by NSRCEL, IIM Bangalore's incubation centre. They provided a start-up capital of Rs 25 lakh and office space to begin with. His firm employs eight people in full time positions. "But I want to expand to about 30 by the end of this year," he says.
Amarendra is from a middle-class family and has taken a loan to fund his education. But he does not seem bothered about the liability. "I am convinced of this idea and I am going ahead with it. I am sure things will fall into place, as I am doing something that is close to my heart," he says. His parents were so opposed to him going on his own that after a while he stopped trying to convince them.
"It was traditional Indian family pressure. IIM mein gaya, life settle ho gayi. Ab shaadi karni hai (After IIM, it's obviously time to marry). They did not want me to take any risks. So I gave up on them and went ahead anyway," recalls Amarendra. He is sure though that once they see him happy, they will understand and see his point of view.
Amarendra believes that a B-schools or an MBA degree can never make an entrepreneur. But they will give him the tools to become a good one if he chooses to. "Ultimately the fire is within oneself," he says.
Start-ups: These MBA grads said no to placements
Soumen Das, IIM Lucknow
29 years, worked for 3 years in General Motors
Business: Technical training to students in the North-east India and exporting orchids
Soumen Das had to quit school when he was in class XII. Not because he couldn't afford it, but because his school in Arunachal Pradesh shut down. "It was a blessing in disguise as I would have never known there were so many opportunities outside," says Soumen. Because of forced migration, he came into contact with people who encouraged him to prepare for the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE). For an IIT graduate, he says he did not even know a book like 'Problems in Physics by IE Irodov' existed until he came out of Arunachal Pradesh. He cracked the JEE in 2002 and joined IIT Guwahati. This mechanical engineer worked with General Motors (GM) in both Detroit and Bangalore, before joining IIM Lucknow in 2009.
"I was a part-time entrepreneur when I was working with GM," reveals Soumen. He started Career-Orbit, an HR consultancy firm whose intention was to help students in North-eastern India to get placed. "It was not very successful," he admits. As a result he merged his company with that of his friends, who ran a software company. "I looked after the marketing of that company for three years. This is when I realized that I needed some theoretical knowledge to augment my practical experience," says Soumen about his intention to study MBA.
Soumen started two businesses while he was in IIM Lucknow. In the first, he facilitated exports of orchid flowers. "Orchids are beautiful flowers and few people know that of the 1,700 species of Orchids, 800 are found in India. Of this 800, approximately 400 species can be found in the north-east," he informs. According to him, orchids are in high demand in Europe and the US, both as ornamental and occasion flowers. "I was acting as a middleman, negotiating with traders in Europe and then procuring them from the north-east," he says.
His company 'Organic Fresh', however did not do that well. "Environmental changes and not enough cold storage facilities ensured that I could not go far. I also did not have the capital to invest in refrigeration," he reflects. He is however not giving up on that idea yet and says that he will restart the business as soon as he has enough capital.
Soumen intends to get that capital from his second venture, 'Learn for Life Academia (L4l)', a company he runs out of Guwahati, Assam. His company provides technical training, personality development and communication skill training to students in the various north-eastern colleges. Presently operating in Mizoram and Assam, he intends to expand to all the north-eastern states in the near future. "We go to colleges and pitch our training to the respective principals. Once they agree, we put the students through a one-week training programme in their own college campus," he says. He claims to have broken even already. He is also planning to expand to CAT coaching this year, with batches starting from June.
"With this I want to educate the youngsters in the North-east about the opportunities that exist outside the traditional engineering and medicine streams," he says when asked about his inspiration to start L4L academia. He did not have any liabilities as he paid for his education out of his savings. "I had an additional Rs 6 lakh, which became my start-up capital for this venture." He does not have any overheads as he operates from home and the on-location expenses are taken care of by the client college.
"I had parental opposition, but I did not listen to them. Sometimes you have to follow your heart," admits Soumen. As for the pressure of holy matrimony, he says, "I have an elder sister who is still single. As long as she maintains her status, I am free of that pressure," laughs Soumen.
Start-ups: These MBA grads said no to placements
Deep Patel, Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon
23-years-old, no past work experience
Business: Premium handmade chocolates.
This Ahmedabad-based MDI Gurgaon PGPM student, says the inspiration for his venture was the excellent chocolates his mother used to make. Deep decided to start a business about delivering customised chocolates to corporates and other organisations.
"I started the company as soon as I completed my course," he says. Corporates who use chocolates for customer relationship management, marriages and other such social gatherings are his market, he describes.
Deep currently employs four people and sells his chocolates under the trademark 'Hoglatto'. His mother is the production and R&D head as, "There is no one else as qualified for this position," he quips. He has priced his chocolates between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000 a kg and delivers only on order.
Deep's ultimate intention however, is to go retail. He is in the process of applying for a Rs 4 lakh loan for augmenting business logistics and planning an expansion. "Getting my own refrigeration and packaging unit and employing about 20 more people is at the top of my agenda," he says. He is also planning tie-ups with several retailers in Gujarat to sell directly to the consumer. But we will have to wait till Diwali to taste Deep's chocolates. "Right now my hands are full. Only after Diwali I can think of going retail," he says.
It was easier for him to become an entrepreneur as he did not have any financial liabilities. "I did not take an education loan, which helped me take this decision," says Deep.
Start-ups: These MBA grads said no to placements
Abhinav Jain, Gandharv Bakshi and Nitin Bahaduria, all from IIM Bangalore
Aged between 24 and 27.
Abhinav Jain: Mentor Graphics, 3 years.
Gandharva Bakshi: Tejas Networks, 4 years.
Nitin Bhadhuria: Dell R&D, 2 years.
Business: Customised decision-making software applications for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).
All three had substantial liabilities on their shoulders when they decided to go on their own. "The loan factor never even crossed our minds when we decided to take the plunge," Abhinav says. All of them have availed of the facility of the year-long moratorium that the banks give to students. "Our loan repayments are due only after a year, so we have the time to establish ourselves in the field," explains Nitin.
Abhinav and Gandharva are computer science majors from Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU) Varanasi and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai, respectively. Nitin is an electronics engineer from NIT Allahabad. "We met at IIM Bangalore," says Gandharva. But it was their common interest that brought all of them together.
"We were very interested in SMEs and we saw a big opportunity in that sector. Lots of late night discussion and sometimes even fights on the topic brought us closer together," says Abhinav. All three even chose their electives with an eye on their future company. "We took electives like Business Process Improvement and New Enterprise Finance. The company is the culmination of all these efforts," says Abhinav.
Their company -- Altium Solutions -- develops customised decision-making tools for SMEs based on the company's data. Their application collates data from various sources of the enterprise and points out areas of weakness or strength of the company. "Our application, after analysis, tells the CEO of the SME which of his products are doing well and which are not. It updates him about the inventory status and helps forecast the demand," explains Abhinav.
He says that a SME CEO cannot collate all the data when he takes a decision, which sometimes results in wrong decisions. The trio is very optimistic as SMEs contribute about 20 per cent to the Indian economy.
They admit to facing tremendous pressure while convincing their parents about this idea. "The placement holiday is a safety net. Job to mil hi jayega, with so many friends in different companies, and the IIM Bangalore brand name," says Gandharva. Parental opposition to their plans came primarily because of the hefty education loan and in the case of Abhinav, marriage.
"Loan I could manage, but the marriage question was very difficult to get out of. Somehow I managed to put it off," recalls Abhinav.
They are grateful to Prof Vasanthi Srinivasan, Professor IIM Bangalore and the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurship and Learning (NSRCEL), IIM Bangalore's incubation centre for their support. "Providing infrastructure such as office space, Internet and hostels means a lot for start-ups like ours. We could not have started out without them," admits Abhinav.