A taste of what it is like to ‘Start Off as CEO’: Five youngsters tell their story

3rd May 2016
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This article is sponsored by Lenovo

Lenovo’s ‘Start Off as CEO’ contest helps aspiring entrepreneurs take the first step on their entrepreneurial journey

(L to R) Vishal Patel, Adarsh Srivastava , Abhishek Bagde, Sagar Ravindra Thoke, Shubham Upadhyay
(L to R) Vishal Patel, Adarsh Srivastava , Abhishek Bagde, Sagar Ravindra Thoke, Shubham Upadhyay

When Shubham Upadhyay, an Arts student at the Ewing Christian College in Allahabad, read about a 10-year-old boy who designed an app and became an entrepreneur, he wondered ‘Why can’t I?’ And a few days later, he came across a pamphlet at his college asking youngsters to share a business plan for the Lenovo ‘Start Off as CEO’ contest.

Shubham is one of five bright youngsters from India’s small towns, not one of whom would have dreamt that 2016 would be the year their dreams of becoming a CEO would take concrete shape. At an age when most youngsters think about asking their parents for more pocket money or coax their parents to buy them the newest iPhone, these youngsters bubbling with entrepreneurial spirit want to prove their mettle.

The ‘Lenovo Start Off as CEO contest’ not only gave these youngsters from India’s non-metros a platform to showcase their next big idea, it provided the much-needed mentorship and technology to take their ideas forward.

Leading the Marketing function of Lenovo India across all its segments is Bhaskar Choudhuri, Director-Marketing, Lenovo India. Talking about the intent of the campaign and how it has a direct connect with Lenovo’s philosophy in India, he says, “The Lenovo Start Off as CEO contest was designed to give an impetus to youth who are passionate and uninhibited about what they do. We believe IT enablement can open up a window of opportunities especially for the youth in smaller towns. Echoing this thought, we wanted to help them transform their aspirations into businesses by giving them a platform like the ‘Start Off as CEO’ contest. Additionally, through the contest, we are encouraging awareness and adoption of technology to create a more digitally enabled India.”.

The contest held in December 2015 and early January 2016 saw participation from thousands of youngsters from places like Kolhapur, Nashik, Pune, Nagpur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Gorakhpur, and Jaipur.

Collaborating with the Entrepreneurship Cell at IIT Mumbai, Lenovo provided the participants an opportunity to participate in a day-long workshop and also present their business ideas at the National Entrepreneurship Challenge at IIT Mumbai. Choudhuri added, “Lenovo will provide these aspiring entrepreneurs access to training and mentoring to make their ideas a viable business model.”

Discovering the entrepreneurial spirit

The excitement among the winners is palpable. Shubham whose idea to develop an application that helps students develop their soft skills is among the Top 5 says, “Winning the Lenovo contest was ground-breaking. I got the opportunity to move out of my comfort zone and hone my skills. The day-long workshop boosted my self-confidence too.”

Adarsh Srivastava, who attends the same college as Shubham, is also among the five winners. His idea was to connect people with similar skill sets. Talking about the practical usage of his app he says, “For instance, if we connect people from the cottage industry, they can collaborate to enhance their products or skills and even get their products online.” For Adarsh too, this was his first foray into the entrepreneurial space.

A platform to live a cherished dream

Much like Shubham and Adarsh, Abhishek Bagde, a student at the Priyadarshini Institute of Engineering and Technology in Nagpur, wanted to utilise his core strength – a strong understanding of computer science –to design what he calls a ‘blind pad’ – an add-on device that will help the visually challenged use laptops and mobile phones.  He is thrilled about winning the contest, and says, “It is for the first time I have been recognised at a such a prestigious platform. Now, I know I can achieve my dream.”

Taking care of another need in an increasingly cosmopolitan India is Sagar Ravindra Thoke. He had moved to Coimbatore to learn more about the coal industry and start his own venture. But during his stay, he couldn’t find a reasonably-priced meal that catered to his palate, and when he did savour the local cuisine, he fell sick. This incident was a turning point for Sagar. He says, “A lot of students and working professionals are based out of towns and cities where they don’t get their regional cuisine. At the same time, they cannot adapt to the local cuisine, which often affects their health. I realised that a solution to this micro problem could transform into an opportunity. While it solves a critical issue, it also makes a good business proposition.”

A few months later, it was this idea he presented at the Lenovo contest – an app-based tiffin service that provides standardised meals catering to authentic regional cuisines at reasonable rates. The contest gave him the push he needed to usher his dream forward. This student from Late G. N. Sapkal College of Engineering, Nashik, Sagar says, “I got an opportunity to listen to some of India’s leading entrepreneurs live in action and network with some of the mind minds at IIT Bombay.”

Hundreds of miles away, it was a similar experience for Vishal Patel, a student of MIT School of Telecom Management in Pune. Born into a business family, he says, “It was a natural progression for me. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.” While keeping a close watch on some of the new developments, he observed that e-waste was becoming a huge problem, ending up in landfills and causing pollution. He also saw that players in the e-waste disposal and collection sector in India were largely unorganised.

So Vishal began preparing a business plan on starting an e-waste recycling plant and was looking for a platform to showcase his idea. At his college fest, he saw a stall hosted by Lenovo and came to know about the ‘Start Off as CEO contest.’ He applied, won and headed to Mumbai to be part of the day-long workshop, and subsequently presented his idea at the National Entrepreneurship Challenge. He says, “I learnt how to grab the audience’s attention and present my ideas convincingly. I also learnt to communicate concisely. All of which is important if I have to realise my dream of becoming an entrepreneur.” Post the contest, he has taken his dream one step closer to making it happen. He is in talks with relevant manufacturers and is also studying the Startup India initiative closely to see how to leverage the opportunity.

Nourishing the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, today

If there’s one message that resonates in the stories of these spirited youngsters, it is this – they are armed with the right attitude; all they need is a combination of a good platform and the technology to kick-start their entrepreneurial journey. Congratulating the winners, Bhaskar Choudhuri, Director Marketing, Lenovo India, said “We are happy that this contest has succeeded in reaching out to the youth in smaller cities and given them the impetus to pursue their interests. We look forward to seeing these promising entrepreneurs, as they achieve their dreams.”

This is part of a series featuring winners from the Start off as CEO contest organized by Lenovo in collaboration with the e-cell of IIT Bombay. 

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