Where those entrepreneurs are bornAug 4th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Education, Specials
It was the year 2004. The year Balaji Lakshmanan passed out of Velammal Engineering College and joined an IT major. Today, he has started a small robotics firm of his own.
“Back then, I had no clue about entrepreneurship,” says Mr. Lakshmanan, talking about a time when the e-word was practically unknown in most of the city’s colleges. Today, the scene has changed. “I am really happy that undergra duates are talking about entrepreneurship,” he says, adding that when he gave a talk recently at Saveetha Engineering College on robotics and entrepreneurship, there was a good response from the students.
Akshay, a student of SMK Fomra Institute of Technology, would concur with Mr. Lakshmanan’s views. During his vacation, he was not relaxing at the beach, but was working at a start-up.
Akshay and his small group of friends are part of the entrepreneurship cell or e-cell in his college. From organising talks on how to start a firm, to debating ideas for companies, these students spend their lunch time arguing over the venture capital scenario.
E-cells in Chennai’s colleges are an initiative of National Entrepreneurship Network (NeN), a non-profit organisation founded by the Wadhwani Foundation, to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs. Run by students themselves, e-cells organise and participate in activities that promote entrepreneurship. The change in the attitude in colleges towards entrepreneurship is reflected in the number of e-cells in colleges set up by NeN — from a few hundred students engaged with the Network in 2003, today there are 400 e-cells with 70,000 student members in Chennai, says Laura Parkin, executive director, NeN.
“In the beginning, we were the ones doing all the convincing,” she says, talking about her experience when NeN was just entering the college scene in Chennai. Now there has been a “tremendous change” among students, faculty and the institutions, she adds. “The world has come to realise how important entrepreneurial skills are, regardless of what you do in your career.”
Being able to know that ideas are good, sense opportunities, pull resources together, build a team and solve a problem creatively are all part of being an entrepreneur, she says. A vast majority of the campuses are building awareness on entrepreneurship and interest among students, says Ms. Parkin.
Inviting entrepreneurs to speak and having interesting games and workshops are some of the activities in colleges, she says.
Instead of starting a firm immediately after college, it is better to find an industry, work in the market and build a network, says Ms. Parkin.
“With a combination of a bit of experience and exposure, they can step out when the time is right.”
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