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Can Only Engineering Students Be Startup Entrepreneurs?

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By Team Campus Watch:

“Law schools don’t give any attention to entrepreneurship as a career prospect. Period,” says Aakanksha Bhola, a student of the Army Institute of Law (AIL), Mohali. While the institute hosts several workshops and lectures to discuss career prospects in the legal field, how to run your legal business is mostly never discussed, she says. Yet, entrepreneurship as a career path has several takers on the AIL campus, and in the absence of any formal entrepreneurship cell, students seem to have taken matters into their own hands. They organise seminars and lectures to raise awareness about available career options and what’s more, a couple of students even launched their own venture called Lawin1, an online platform that provides legal solutions to small businesses. Even at India’s National Law Schools, there’s stiff competition among students to outdo each other and bag the best pay package. But when it comes to how to run your own gig – there is no advice, no solution, and no activity.

This approach is not just typical of law schools. Apart from the IITs, prominent engineering colleges and a few B-Schools, aspiring entrepreneurs seem to have very little support. To understand the mood around entrepreneurship, YKA’s Campus Watch team*, explored the scene at a few prominent campuses, and this is what it found.

Social Entrepreneurship And Beyond

Delhi University, considered one of the best universities for liberal arts education, surprisingly does not have a uniform code for student-preneurs. While Lady Shri Ram College (LSR) for Women seems to have an environment that nurtures wannabe entrepreneurs – especially those with an interest in social entrepreneurship, students at Ramjas and Kamla Nehru College (KNC) have a different story to tell. At LSR, Enactus is an active community on campus that encourages students to pursue social entrepreneurship as a means to promote sustainable development. There was no Entrepreneurship Cell until last year at LSR. This was solely formed through the collective efforts of a few students. “The cell was required for those who wish to build their entrepreneurship skills. It is still hard to imagine that our college didn’t foresee a need for this,” says Campus Watch (CW) writer Shivanshi Khanna. Interestingly, two very successful social entrepreneurship stories – Basta (Waste to Worth) and Asmat (Time to Rise) – have emerged from the LSR campus.

Hidden Struggles

Enactus communities are common at many DU colleges. But that alone can’t do the trick of enabling students to don the hat of a business person. CW writer at Ramjas, Bipasha Nath shared instances of student-preneurs facing problems. “Aastha Jain, Founder of Adaayein, a jewellery startup, found it very difficult to set up stalls during college events despite being a student of the college,” reports Bipasha. Tanvi Pal, an alumna of Ramjas who brought Blank Delhi Productions – a theatre house – to the public, also had difficulty in promoting the productions due to lack of infrastructure. These underlying struggles are demotivating and can kill the spirit of an enterprise if one is not strong enough.

Wake Up, It’s No Longer A Male Bastion

At KNC, students receive very little support or encouragement. “Entrepreneurship is often perceived as a man’s domain. It is exactly because of this reason that it becomes imperative for a woman’s college to have some kind of entrepreneurship support. However, KNC fails to support students seeking to explore entrepreneurship as a viable career path,” says Vidhipssa Mohan, a student.

Though the college does occasionally organise talks and panel discussions, Ishita Mishra, emphasises the need for an Entrepreneurship Cell. “The discussions no doubt inspire budding entrepreneurs. However, an e-cell would help overcome the barriers that student entrepreneurs face. It would act as a backbone for several students who have always thought of starting a business but have lacked financial or moral support.”

Thinking Incubation

One of the most reputed universities in the country, AMU, instituted an Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) in 2003, in its engineering college. Started by a group of students and teachers, like most E-cells, it hosts an annual lecture series, business summits and other activities. While finances are a constraint they make ongoing collective efforts to address the problem.

Abu Sultan, a Master’s student says, “Notwithstanding the financial incapacity, EDC and its members are working tirelessly to change the lives of students here on campus. Sometimes, they take support of the alumni. At other times the teachers support them by personally sponsoring them. They even sacrifice their own pocket money.”  The EDC also works with Teqip (a group of students in the University’s training and placement office), to overcome its financial challenges. “A general consensus among the student community is that there should be an Incubation Centre as well,” adds Abu.

All Geared Up!

Interestingly, Ashoka University, one of the newer private universities located in Sonepat, Haryana, is fully geared to nurture entrepreneurship through their full-fledged Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE). Medha Agarwal, Deputy Manager- CFE, says the cell has three components – academics, events and incubation programmes. The academic component comprises a course on entrepreneurship, offered as a minor as well as an interdisciplinary paper. As far as events go, CFE organises workshops, competitions and guest lectures throughout the academic year, and even has an annual event “Startup Weekend”. The centre has its own incubation programme, Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR), which provides start-ups with a supportive environment. “Comprising Ashoka alumni, the entrepreneurs at EIR are offered a minimum stipend, workspace, and a place to stay on campus, so that they can work comfortably without any constraints,” shares Medha. Currently, Ashoka University has also partnered with Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think-tank that offers educational programmes and business incubation.

India is said to be the world’s youngest startup nation with 72% of founders being less than 35 years of age. Thus it is important to look at the relationship between campus culture and entrepreneurship. After all, if we are to ‘Make in India’, then shouldn’t our campuses, too, nurture entrepreneurship, enhance students’ skills, create a culture of innovation and support, and provide the necessary infrastructure for students to think about starting their own work? We are not talking about just engineering or business schools. Students from diverse backgrounds – design, liberal arts, social sciences and the science streams – are keen on having their own enterprises. Our education system needs to embrace this and make it happen!

Some of the most prominent business figures started out as student entrepreneurs. If you too are a budding student entrepreneur, or you are running a great entrepreneurship activity at your campus, we want to hear from you. Write in about your aspirations, challenges and hidden struggles here

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images
Banner and Facebook Featured: Ashoka University

*Note: Campus Watch is YKA’s initiative by students for students.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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