Just starting up..
“ There are no risks attached. Whatever money is given to them, it is like a project.”
Interestingly bold and thought-provoking. A venturesome approach: ‘a project’ refers to a startup?
Freakish? Definitely not, when it comes from the leader of the Indian Startup Fever – IIT Madras . The
premier engineering institute is arguably at the forefront of pushing product innovation in India. The
recipe for this dynamic startup culture that IIT Madras offers to its budding entrepreneurs, was never
spiced up by a tastemaker. However, a proportionate mixture of spices such as; creating a thriving alumni
network, pushing faculty-industry connections, providing the necessary infrastructure to allow students
and alumni experiment with ideas, and listening to the feedback and learning on the move – has over a
period of time enhanced the taste of this sophisticated recipe. The results of this were evident when 4 of 5
final nominees for ET Startup Award “ Best on Campus ” were IIT M startups. Moreover, Ather Energy, an
IIT Madras startup, won the award.
Ather Energy to Torq. The journey of an entrepreneur: when does it start? After graduation? After a
decent work experience? In the first year of a Bachelor’s degree? Here, at IIT M, you never know:
● Barely into their first job, Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain; approached their professor at IIT
Madras, R Krishnakumar, with an idea to build a new design for lithium ion batteries. They were
assured all possible support, and returned to IIT-M as project associates. Their project
transformed into an electric vehicle, India’s first smart scooter – S340. Today, their company,
Ather Energy is backed by Hero Motocorp, Sachin Bansal, and Binny Bansal.
● Torq – a cycle sharing initiative started by 2 nd year undergraduates: Manu John, Harishankar
Pradeep and Binu George was aimed at reducing the wastage associated with each new student
buying a new cycle, and helping students who didn’t have a cycle. The outcome: 500 registered
users, 1400 rides, 30 cycles; in a week!
Two stories, one source – IIT Madras. A key factor in both stories: entrepreneurial thinking.
Entrepreneurial thinking has no boundaries; it exists beyond the limits of conventional thinking. But when
a first year undergrad is thrown at terms like entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, he is clueless
about the next step. Here the likes of Entrepreneurship Cell and Centre for Innovation (CΦ) come into
picture; which cater to a huge fleet of future entrepreneurs who are naive enough to understand the
meaning of ‘idea’.
The Pillar of the startup culture at IIT-M: E-Cell.
Countless events, inspiring talks and competitions to ensure the exponential growth of a startup culture in
IIT-M; all by a team of students with an entrepreneurial mindset. The team is equipped with all the
artillery to investigate the nooks and corners of the entrepreneurial world. Over time, the team has grown
strong enough to support, vast enough to connect and wise enough to advise entrepreneurs. Working in
collaboration with CΦ, and Nirmaan (the Pre Incubation Cell); exposure to the competitive world of
innovation has never been a matter of concern at IIT M. Hyperverge – a team of IIT-M students who
initially struggled with installing CV libraries in Ubuntu is today a successful startup – an apt example of
innovation and tech meeting hands with entrepreneurship. Many tech startups – Detect Technologies,
Aibono, Planys Technologies, DocsApp, Pi Beam – have been incubated and emerged to taste success.
A dynamic startup culture is a dream, and IIT Madras is living it. The ecosystem is getting richer and
richer with an increasing number of entrepreneurs linking to it everyday. Interactions with alumnus and
exposure to industries have raised expectations from an IIT M startup. As said by Professor Mahesh
Panchagnula, associate faculty-in-charge of IIT-M Incubation Cell, “(At) Nirmaan, presently, we have 27
teams masquerading as companies. They will look like a company. We want them to behave as a
company. When they come for funding, we treat them as a company.” The world starts where the comfort
of incubators ends. At IIT-M, an entrepreneurial culture is established. It’s time for these entrepreneurs to
spread their wings and fly over to the outer world. Pushing the startups away from the cushioning
provided by the incubators: the effort has started to produce results. Forbes India 30 (under 30 age group)
List comprises of founders of two IIT Madras incubated startups: Ather Energy and DocsApp.
Every individual is capable of thinking in an entrepreneurial way. An entrepreneur’s journey consists of
several dots. E-Cell helps an individual spot these dots.However, the task of connecting these dots
remains one’s own. An individual has dreams to describe, but an entrepreneur has a story to tell. With
the culture established, and the ideology of entrepreneurship acquiring deep roots in IIT Madras, it’s
expected that many more dreams will be converted to stories.