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India’s Startups Are Serious Business, And This Is How They Can Change Student Careers

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By Rahul Jain:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” -Lao Tzu

Every company, from an industry giant to an SME had to start at some point in time. No company has popped just into existence and made it big. You have to prove yourself on the field before you make it large. Today, the winds of perception among Indians regarding startups is changing. Many years ago, India was all about the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and opening up a business was the norm rather than the exception. But soon people began to look for security, and jobs became fashionable as the economy strengthened.

Starting Up, Screenshot Pitchers
Image source: YouTube

As we saw a transition from having our own business to ‘padh aur engineering kar’, we are back to the phase of again taking pride in starting our own thing. And if anyone doubts that, take a look at what the Prime Minister himself had to say about starting up and what his opposition party’s prominent leader also iterated. It is rare for them to be at a consensus on any issue and their view on startups is one of them. Thus, views are changing.

While everyone thinks of the Unicorns (the billion dollar Startup club) when it comes to start-up culture, few realize the importance of upcoming start-ups, and very few of them did when it was vital. Yes, Flipkart, Uber etc. are big, and they do represent hope for people who want to go big, but their Unicorn stature is the exception, not the norm. Start-ups are important for reasons other than what the Unicorns portray. And the new startup culture that is arising in India is more about students finding their own ground and building their skills.

The role of National Entrepreneurial Network (NEN) and The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) has been indispensable in this case. Targeting the intellectual capital of the nation with an entrepreneurial spirit, these initiatives allowed the engineering giants and B-schools of India to form e-cells and incubation centres for helping people who want to test themselves by starting up on their own, while allowing them to become members of reputed organizations and attend global events. While institutes in India are still judged on the basis of their average package, e-cells allow students to groom themselves for the future market, be it in terms of starting their own venture or understanding how startups work by helping them establish themselves.It takes nothing to start a business, but it takes everything to build it.

IMT Ghaziabad, a premier B-School with a prominent E-Cell has had its fair share of success stories where student-driven ventures have gained recognition for their unique value proposition. For instance, 132Connect, a venture that enhances mapping education content with an industrial context for maximizing relevance, reached the finale of the Ericsson Innovation Awards 2015. Another venture, Sandwedges has seen quick growth despite being a bootstrapped venture and has created some waves in the local market.

IIT Bombay’s E-Cell has also seen success, with their competitions promoting multiple start-ups and the students at the institute itself getting excellent support from the cell. E-infinitus is one of the many offerings to come from the institute. In order to encourage entrepreneurship, the Institute, among a number of others allows students to drop a year after graduating to pursue their startup idea and come back and sit for placements if they feel that they need to change their stance.

If one thinks that only the big cities are capable of having startups, then IIM Indore would be at loggerheads with them, as they called Design Ghar, a startup based in Jaipur for summer placements. The startup is presently under the wing of Startup Oasis, the first incubation center supported by IIM-AHD and the government of Rajasthan. Even the most prominent institutes of India respect the entrepreneurial culture developing in India, and this is one of the many signs of faith in the change.

One of the major arguments against startup culture is that it is just a way for the youth to get some drive out of themselves and they won’t last and will eventually come back to reality and look for jobs to support themselves. But, people like Rajeev Karwal, an IMT G 1982-1984 alumnus famous for establishing LG Corp in India are proving people wrong. He too started his own venture, Milagrow Humantech in 2007.

Despite the lingering preference people have for jobs, there is no denying that startups are growing as a culture, and if the changes are any sign, it’s for the better. Security, after all, was just a myth. As has been said by Entrepreneur and Apple founder, Steve Jobs, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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