There is nothing better than seeing one’s start-up venture soar. But even if it falters, it is a risk most B-schoolers are willing to take nowadays. Considering that they are never short of options, it is a small price for being able to go off the beaten track after a gruelling time learning the ropes of management. Meet our start-up entrepreneurs: They don’t report to a boss, but have got their own team. They stand out because their dreams and aspirations are quite unlike the average MBA. Holidays, too, overlap with their professions, but they are all smiles about the schedule.
In every batch of premier B-schools, one or two graduates choose to push the envelope by starting their own ventures. The domains are as varied as power, sustainable plantation, education, e-commerce, spiritual travel and technology. What binds them is their zeal for innovation.
They put aside college placements to follow their passion, a move not always welcomed by their parents. For these founders, then, it is as much about proving their mettle at home as it is in the market.
There are times when they think they would be able to close a deal in a week but it would take months to close it. They have to keep their cool through it all. Here is a list of such risk-takers who have joined the entrepreneurial talent pool of India.
Alok Gautam ardently believes in existentialism and has read all of Ayn Rand’s classics. His 99.32 percentile in CAT, the much sought-after entrance test to some of India’s top management schools, belies his maverick and chequered academic past. His higher studies read B Tech in electrical engineering at IIT Kanpur (1999), graduation in English literature via distant education (1999-2002), MA in international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, 2003-05). But he did not complete his degrees at IIT and JNU. The MBA, as his CAT score indicates, was done at the IIM, Ahmedabad (2009-11). But not before he travelled extensively in the Himalayas from 2005 to 2009 and studied quantum physics, philosophy and spirituality on his own.
Needless to say, he runs an adventure tourism firm called Travelocon. He did work for a website as an internet business consultant right after his MBA but lasted only for a couple of months. “I had this idea even before I joined IIM Ahmedabad. I was a travel freak. I had a clear vision that I wanted to be associated with travel. I joined a job but I left it soon because I grew anxious to follow my passion. The travel sector was one of the fastest growing in India. But I wanted to start with a product which I was already in love with adventure tourism,” Gautam says of his six-month-old venture.
The seeds of his venture were sown during his trips to different parts of the Himalayas. He felt the need to improve the services in tourism. “We are a team of eight and we are based in Delhi. We haven’t even launched our full-fledged service yet,” he says.
Gautam plans to set up two offices in Rishikesh and Manali by 2013. In the next six months, he will get into spiritual-tourism, eco-tourism and cultural-tourism. Meanwhile, Travelocon has been conducting research on the growing awareness on adventure tourism and eco-tourism in India.
Travelocon’s clientele consists mainly of young adventure enthusiasts from the corporate world. “We are getting response from college and office goers in the age group of 20 to 30 years. Getting customers in the tourism sector has never been a problem but the challenge remains servicing them well and building trust. We will focus on great service and an innovative portal to help travelers make informed decisions,” says Gautam. He is roping in partners for upcoming projects. Gautam is living out Khalil Gibran’s saying: “Rest in reason, move in passion.”
In March, this year, even as news was rife of a new tax on angel funding for startups, the social networks were abuzz with a campaign to oppose it. Leading it was Moontara, a start-up co-founded by Akhil Gupta, who urged fellow netizens to sign if they felt that such a tax would hamper the start-up ecosystem in the country. Moontara has been faring well so far, with three patents in its kitty in less than six months since its inception in November, 2010. In less than two years, its client roster has the likes of Khivraj Bajaj, Bimal Maruti, Pratham Motors, Cloudnine Care hospitals, Lifestyle Oasis mall, BNI, Advaith Hyundai. It has got the confidence of Intel, which is its co-branding partner.
Moontara’s flagship product, Scope, is a patented technology which helps merchants/businesses customise their TV screen with in-store promotions and social network updates to engage their target group.
“We prototyped in 2010 and piloted in 2011. The year of 2012 is for finally going ahead and cracking it. The next nine months are decisive for us. We have built a sales pipeline in the past few months — now, we are excited about closing and executing more deals,” says Akhil Gupta, co-founder and CEO, Moontara Technovations.
There are four co-founders. While Gupta is the CEO, Sumit Chatterjee is the chief technology officer, Pawan Kumar Bishnoi is the chief marketing officer, Gautam Chandra N. heads the engineering team. Ashis Nayak, Gupta’s batchmate from IIM, Bangalore, has also joined recently as the chief operations officer. “It was Chatterjee, who had got all of us together even before Moontara was born,” says Gupta adding that this start-up’s credit goes to all of its co-founders as well as the core team that are involved in the collective decision making and its strategy.
Gupta, an electrical engineer from IIT, Kanpur (class of 2005), has more than four years’ experience with Samsung, having worked on enabling 3G on mobiles in the US and Korea. In 2011, he graduated from IIM, Bangalore with a PG Diploma in management. But Moontara was conceived in 2010. “During my second year at IIM, Bangalore, I was closely interacting with Sumit, Pawan and Gautam. We brainstormed on ideas ranging from a GPS-less navigations system for cars to Wi-Fi based set top boxes. It was then that we thought of making dull and boring TV sets more interesting by enabling richer content and interactivity,” says Gupta.
In 2010, a quick prototype in less than two weeks by Chatterjee brought in Moontara’s first client, Khivraj Bajaj. Soon, the company got incubated at the Malaviya Centre for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship at IT (BHU), and was a Nasscom Innovations Awards finalist. When Lifestyle Oasis Mall came on board as well in 2011, the team studied user behaviour in the mall for weeks to get insights on what type of content on the TV screens would engage the customers.
From a makeshift office in a house to a corporate address in Koramangala, Bangalore, Moontara is on its way to growth. From its first employee who joined in 2011, it already has 13 people.
B RAJA MUKESH KRISHNA
For B Raja Mukesh Krishna and his batchmate Arun Kumar, it all started with the thought of trying to do things differently. The two alumni of the 2009-11 class in IIM Ahmedabad, gave up hefty pay packages to start their own e-commerce business — Blue Eagle Business Solutions — in 2011.
B Raja Mukesh Krishna, founder, Blue Eagle Business Solutions, says, “After our MBA, we saw the way the e-commerce space was organised in India and felt we could do something different. We started our online business by taking IIM, Ahmedabad’s official merchandise online.” The portal, www.shopnnetwork.com, has now expanded to other areas.
Tying up with Blue Dart as its delivery partner and CCAvenue as its payment gateway provider, the portal moved on to selling event tickets, for example, of music concerts, dramas etc. The markets for corporate gifting and brand merchandising were next, as its supply chain became stronger. Education and training are the other two areas that the team is eyeing.
Raja admits that risk-taking is easier for him now than it would be a few years down the line. “I can absorb setbacks more easily when young. Given the Indian economy’s growth, it was the best time to forge out on our own. The IIM, Ahmedabad deal gave us a jumpstart and setting up the business took about one to two months,” he recalls.
Blue Eagle in the early days operated from Raja’s home that also doubled as the storehouse. It now has an office in Chennai. It has grown so far without any external funding, but Raja and his team are now looking to bring in investments. “Our system has to become more coordinated, so that growth in one section can rub off on the other segments too. Since we did not begin with a lot of cash, we grew the business in a stable manner,” notes Raja. As its supply chain, delivery and online payment capabilities improved, Blue Eagle branched out to tap the corporate market. “We started with online brand stores and under Hungry Gift, we have extended our services to corporate gifting and brand merchandising space. Currently, Hungry Gift is growing,” he says. His clients include NNuvent Technologies and Defiance Technologies (a Hinduja Group company), Ford Technologies, eYantra and National Institute of Technology, Trichy.
Shwetank Jain refused to part with his company P2Power Solutions. Right from the time he was an electrical engineering student at IIT, Kharagpur. It took him a while to transform his idea into a technology company. It saw him join XLRI twice. In 2007, he joined, only to leave the campus to focus on P2Power and in 2008, when he joined back for good to study business management. P2Power, of course, continued on the side.
Right from his IIT-days, the business idea had won him recognition. Jain had won Concipio 2006, a business plan competition held at IIT-Kharagpur by TIETS (Technology Incubation and Entrepreneurship Training Society). Impressed by his product, the institute had offered to incubate the project. Jain doffs his hat to his professor, Gautum Poddar, who has been Jain’s mentor since then.
Jain explains, “We offer high-quality power, which contributes in maintaining an efficient system and increases production. It saves industrial corporations from high energy-related bills. Companies that face problems of fast varying loads, harmonic generating equipment, neutral over currents and load current imbalance are of immediate focus for us. These would be industries such as printing, auto ancillaries, spinning, sugar production, UPS-intensive facilities such datacentres and large installations such as steel/cement mills.” Apparently, any large power-consuming facility will be on P2Power’s radar. Tata Steel (Bearings division), Raddisson, PepsiCo, Gamdevi Sugar and Indian Express are some of its existing clients.
Earlier, the machines for such power generation used to be assembled at a factory in Kharagpur, but now they are done at at Jain’s corporate office, where he has got an assembly unit in place. In just one-and-a-half years, his company has clocked a turnover of Rs 2.5 crore, and Jain’s target for this fiscal is Rs 10 crore.
Besides unveiling four new products in the power and electronics domain this year, Jain is shifting the office base to an 800-sq mt space (his existing office is housed in 400 sq mt.) this month-end in Noida itself. At present, Jain has a 30-people team.
P2 Power Solutions was recognised among the top 30 technologies at the DST-Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Programme in 2010. It has also been recognised with awards for facilitating clean energy. The Facebook page of Jain not only has details on his products but also encouraging write-ups on entrepreneurship, a topic close to Jain’s heart since his college days.
When most his age were busy stepping into office cubicles, 24-year-old Kumar Ankit was liaising with gram panchayats. He knew that he was not one to land a high-profile corporate job after his MBA degree at XLRI, Jamshedpur. He is now producing biodiesel, a form of renewable energy, and generating employment under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). He dreams to change the barren landscape of the Gaya district in Bihar.
Ankit is the founder and executive director of Green Leaf Energy (GLE) that grows pongamia, a plant that flourishes in wastelands and bears bio-diesel seeds. Bihar has got seven per cent of forest area, while the national average is 19 per cent. When he founded GLE in 2009, he had started with just one panchayat. By 2011, GLE touched 100 panchayats in Gaya alone. His team grew one million pongamia trees in 2011. This year, Ankit’s target is seven to eight districts of Bihar and planting 40 million trees. Diversifying into horticulture, food processing and wasteland management is next on the cards.
GLE is an integrated bio-diesel provider with operations across India. GLE was founded to develop commercially sustainable ways of mitigating energy scarcity and climate change. The Entrepreneurship Development Cell of XLRI has lent its hand to Ankit in developing his company.
While Ankit had opted out of placements, he is mulling over joint venture offers from BPCL for GLE. But it is still not time yet to stop what he is doing with his team of 50 people. Helping him out are his two friends who have left their jobs — Kunal Gangwani, GlaxoSmithKline, Bihar and Kshitij Datta Rishi at Deloitte, US — to join him.
“Working in Bihar is a tough challenge,” Ankit says. He aims to steadily supply biodiesel to Bihar’s industry and reduce its energy crisis and en masse migration out of the state for employment. He learnt more about it when working on his academic project at XLRI. Soon GLE will integrate the entire chain from production to marketing for biodiesel and horticulture.
Ankit has been invited to take part in the 7th Asia Clean Energy Forum, a segment in the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Energy for All Investor Forum 2012 at the ADB headquarters in Manila, Philippines. Of his modus operandi, Ankit says, “First, there should never be a plan ‘B’. And then only, one will focus on plan ‘A’ enough to make it successful. B-school students should start while studying, which will let them nurture the idea. Second, if you have to create an impact, you need to work with the system.”
Arun Tangri, once a management graduate, did not opt out of the placements, nor did he join the MNC that had selected him. His focus was on his start-up, MapleGraph Solutions. The company formed in 2007 works on Android-based applications on touch-screen tablet devices for businesses and consumers across the globe. Its office is hosted at the incubation centre of IIM Lucknow and the Delhi Technological University. It now has launched a hybrid version of a notebook/tablet. While a branded tablet is priced at Rs 30,000-40,000, MapleGraph’s tablet (LapTab Verve) is priced at Rs 20,000-25,000. The hardware looks like an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab and works on Windows 7 Operating System. MapleGraph has earned approximately Rs 25 lakh in the last three years from developing customised applications.
“We create business and consumer software on touch-screen devices like tablet computers. We intend to create solutions for multiple sectors such as education, hospitality and healthcare,” Arun Tangri, chief executive officer, MapleGraph. Tangri started MapleGraph with his batchmate Shobhit Kumar (a mechanical engineer from IIT Delhi) and his younger brother, Varun Tangri (a graduate of Delhi College of Engineering). Professor P B Sharma, vice-chancellor of Delhi Technological University, is a member of its advisory board. Tangri had earlier worked with Microsoft as a computer engineer for four years, right after a B Tech in computer science and engineering from IT-BHU (now IIT, BHU, Varanasi). He took admission for a PGDM course at IIM Lucknow in 2010.
But Tangri says they were in no hurry to launch the start-up. “We always wanted to work in our own company. It gives us the flexibility to work on the ideas that really excite us. But we took our own sweet time to finally give it a go. We worked on multiple ideas for about three years before finalising the direction of our company. We did this prep work while we studied at IIM Lucknow. Three of us are now promoting and developing various projects. We work with freelancers and college-interns to implement ideas. We are planning to scale up by hiring people in the next quarter,” Tangri says of his business.
With the tablet industry still in its nascent stage, Tangri is looking forward to a wide scope for innovation for mass products. MapleGraph, hence, invests on developing the right hardware to play their Android-based software. Up next is in-car infotainment solutions. Tangri concludes, “If we can come up with the products that can survive the difficult economic scenario, we can be sure of a comfortable position when the economy booms. Sticking to the basics of business and developing relationship is important for our survival. We are focused to keep our customers happy.”