How BITS-Pilani alumni is nurturing a trove of budding entrepreneurs

1st Aug 2016
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The sprawling campuses of prestigious BITS-Pilani are not just producing an army of technocrats but also providing an ecosystem for fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit of the "crazy few" who are taking the less travelled career path of startups.

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BITS-Pilani Director Ashoke Kumar Sarkar told PTI,

Besides regular teaching programmes that equip students with technical know-how, we also have a summer programme in the first year itself whereby students get hands-on experience about startups. As part of this, they get exposed to the finest entrepreneurs from all over India and the US. We are getting a tremendous response from students and we have to keep a screening process to restrict the entry due to logistical constraints

The Pilani campus in Jhunjhunu district, spread over 320 acres, already has a Technology Business Incubator (TBI), which was set up almost a decade ago. It has also set up a Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership to give a specific boost and emphasis to entrepreneurship development. Besides its main campus in Pilani's Vidya Vihar, the famed institution has centres in Goa, Hyderabad and Dubai.

Through our best alumni network in India and abroad, especially in the US, where they number over 5000, our young students are satisfying their entrepreneurial curiosity and whetting their startup appetite. These courses teach them ways to develop a business model and we get huge response every year. Though we don't allow more than 30 (students) as such, but we are forced to take around 40, Sarkar said.

Speaking about the entrepreneurial spirit of BITS Pilani, Vice-Chancellor Souvik Bhattacharyyaa said,

The TBI at K K Birla Goa campus in 2015-16 had four startups incubating physically and two as virtual incubates.

The current graduating batch of students, both from undergraduate and dual degree programmes, have a host of entrepreneurs of startups, some of which have even received big funding from venture capitalists.

Twenty-three-year-old Vaibhav Singh, who graduated with a dual degree in BPharm and MSc (Chemistry), has a startup 'Visit', where patients can choose from a pool of doctors and psychologists online.

We realised there was a lot of taboo among people in India when in came to seeing a psychologist or a counsellor, and that is where we saw a business opportunity and we are already getting a lot of traction. Our immediate target audience is urban tech-savvy people but we eventually wish to penetrate the rural base too, Singh, who hails from Patna, said.

The venture has received funding from MapMyIndia.

The college also organises an annual startup challenge, fully organised by students, Sarkar said, adding, 'last year 1,200 startups participated in it .'

Twenty-three-year-old Shashank, who passed out of undergraduate programme from Pilani campus and is part of the Bangalore-based startup 'TapChief', says,

I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. But, yes, crazy people like us would not be many, but our campus is abuzz since the BITS is promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.

Sarkar, when asked about BITS-Pilani's position in the startup ecosystem vis-a-vis IITs and other top institutes said,

IIT-Bombay students say is doing very well. So, is IIT-Roorkee. We are also doing well as of now, but we hope to be among the best in few years, as far as promoting entrepreneurship in campus is concerned.

Vice-Chancellor Bhattacharyyaa said BITS-Pilani has made innovation its byword and it is even evident in its functioning.

We use CISCO TelePresence software, which gives us a seamless immersive experience in video interactions across the campuses. It is also used for beaming lectures to different campuses. It's like we are almost in front of each other. I am able to monitor all campuses including Dubai one through this, he said.

Noted entrepreneur Vijay Chandru, a distinguished alumnus of BITS-Pilani, in his Convocation 2016 address recently, said,

There is a massive wave of entrepreneurial energy coursing through the nation's arteries. If we could connect this enthusiasm with the excellence in basic and applied research at our higher educational institutions, the possibility of a new growth engine that has more enduring value to society seems within reach.

A graduate of 1975 batch of the over 50-year-old institution, Chandru, currently Chairman and Managing Director of Strand Life Sciences, is also part of the alumni network that has contributed handsomely to its growth.

Shashank says,

Having the alumni base is a big support for us to experiment with new ideas. redBus was started by our seniors, and their lives inspire us. And the alumni sort of provide an extended campus for us to delve into entrepreneurial space with courage.

Also read9 college startups that went on to become big companies


 

Sarkar says,

At BITS-Pilani, we encourage students to take up entrepreneurship, but we realise that in India parents spend a lot on their children for higher education. So, we want both the students and parents to feel secure. Hence, we have a scheme at BITS, whereby, after two years of graduating, if a venture doesn't work or go as planned, then that student can come back and sit for placement. So, you see, that works as a cushion too.

Vice-Chancellor Bhattacharyyaa said,

Talks are also on to make a seamless entry for BITS students to use laboratories and research facilities at CSIR-CEERI, (CSIR-Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute) next door. That will promote research and innovation among students.
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