Can Only Engineering Students Be Startup Entrepreneurs?

Posted on November 22, 2016 in #FutureOfWork, Entrepreneurship
ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

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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