After pouring over textbooks for hours and trying to compete with some of the brilliant minds in the country for a couple of years, it isn’t uncommon for a student of IIT to move to a foreign country on a job or work in a prestigious IT firm in India. But a good many take the plunge into the uncertain world of business and crawl their way up due to sheer grit and determination. Here are a group of IITians who began start-ups that are now flourishing businesses.
Minkle (www.minkle.in), mentored by The Morpheus (a group that funds start-ups), develops mobile applications, a relatively uncharted area in India.
Pinaki Panda (28), an alumnus of IIT-Madras and IIM-Kozhikode quit his job at Marico in 2009 to start Minkle along with Ashish Sharma and Kartik Talwar, his batchmates from IIT-M and IIM-K respectively.
“For the first eight months, we kept working on various ideas. Something would always go wrong — either the regulatory framework did not suit us or the entry barriers were too low or too high...it was very difficult,” says Panda, who dons the role of the chief strategist. “Finally, the idea of making mobile applications suited us very well from all angles — low capital investment with a huge potential.”
Sharma, or Pocha as he is better known, has two patents to his credit and is the architect of the Minkle server. “A product release is always a great moment,” he says. “Unlike service-based start-ups that give intermittent rewards, monetary or otherwise, a product-release is the climax of months of blind toil.
Announcing the product to consumers and receiving great feedback from them is good.”
“Though it is difficult to bring innovative ideas in something as mundane as booking flights, we’ve added a few touches here and there that, we hope, will make the flight booking experience more worthwhile,” says Panda about Minkle Fly, their first product built in association with www.cleartrip.com. It has been received quite well by their target audience.
Talwar, the chief deal maker at Minkle, handles business development and communications. “We have some more apps lined up in the payment and m-commerce space. We’re also evaluating some exciting ideas loosely based on combining social networking and m-VAS for Indian consumers.”
Minkle lays equal emphasis on presentation, playfulness, security and content, thereby incorporating a visually-rich and fun experience into their applications, to take on the likes of Snaptu, eBuddy and Opera Mini.
The Minkle team also makes mobile applications for the non-iphone and non-android smart-phones. Minkle applications will convert the mobile phone into an e-commerce powerhouse, giving the consumer access to flight/bus/movie tickets, books and laptops.
One man’s e-waste is another’s fortune
A BTech in electrical engineering from IIT-Delhi and MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, Nitin Gupta (32) founded Attero Recycling in 2007 with his younger brother Rohan to provide an eco-friendly solution to the global electronic waste problem. The first company in India for e-waste recycling, Attero means ‘waste’ in Latin.
“The idea germinated around two years ago when we had a major problem in disposing off our old laptop,” says Nitin Gupta. “We figured out that it was not only an environmental issue but a viable business
option also. Very few people have an opportunity to do something socially relevant and also make money. We believe this is our calling. Hence, Attero was born.”
After years of R&D, the first unit went live in January. Attero established research relationships with foreign partners and also with IIT-Roorkee and has the capacity to process more than 3,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. “A representative will come to your doorstep to collect laptops, cell phones and other e-waste (even single pieces) if you call the helpline number,” explains Gupta. “The company already boasts of a clientele that includes GE, LG, KPMG, Nokia Siemens, Visa and The Leela.” The duo never rest on their laurels and have come up with innovative ideas like an instant pollution metre that can be installed at various places in a city to monitor the pollution levels in real time.
A true sportsman
Saumil Majmudar (39) has been fairly successful in turning his passion for sports into a viable business. He graduated from IIT-Bombay and IIM-Bangalore and worked with Wipro for three years before becoming an entrepreneur.
SportzVillage (www.sportzvillage.com) was started in 2003 with a team of like-minded people from similar backgrounds. “Sports is a huge industry abroad and it is only a matter of time before it comes to India in a big way. We wanted to be ready when that happened,” says Majumdar, with a twinkle in his eye.
The team had a major challenge in convincing schools to give importance to physical education and sports, which is usually neglected by students in favour of the ‘core’ subjects. “We were clear that the life skills we had picked up and the reason for success in our lives were due to all the sports we played while growing up. Children these days do not play as much as they need to,” he bemoans. They reached out to schools through articles and seminars emphasising the importance of sports in developing a balanced personality, efforts that slowly bore fruit.
SportzVillage straddles the entire gamut of sports-related activities like sports marketing, events, school sports, sports infrastructure services, new media in sports and sports ticketing. EduSports (www.edusports.in), a subsidiary company, is India’s first and only private initiative that provides integrated sports management services to schools, thus helping millions of children across the country get holistic education.
Majmudar opines that one should be persistent and work relentlessly with a business network. “There are many people willing to help, and all it takes is to ask them,” he says.
Bitten by the tourism bug What happens when three enterprising travel enthusiasts join forces? Tourism gets simplified. Sanjay Goel, Vikas Rana and Karan Nahata got together and set up www.mustseeindia.com, a free trip-planning and travel-sharing application that makes it easy to travel across India, be it through research, planning, coordination or sharing pictures.
“Being frequent travellers, we knew how hard it is to plan a holiday in India and we set out to ease the pain and make holidays more enjoyable,” says Goel (30), an alumnus of IIT-Delhi. “Starting with reliable tourism information, we’ve moved towards full-fledged holiday planning that includes booking services such as flights, hotels, buses, trains and cabs.”
The website was launched in July 2008 with an initial capital of `5 lakh. The pressure to deliver was huge due to funds crunch and home loans to pay off. Despite their hardships, the MSI team stuck on. They broke-even in late 2009, and have been growing steadily ever since.
“We expected to start making money only in about one-and-a-half years time. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see revenue kicking in within eight months of launch,” says Rana, a batch-mate of Goel at IIT. The site draws a million visitors every month, 80 per cent of them from India.
A lot of research goes into developing the content, which draws on the group’s travel experiences and the Internet. “Our USP is to not just providing data but relevant information to the user. Several online travel start-ups with flashy user interfaces fail because statistics show that cool planning tools cannot replace reliable and useful information,” says Goel.