Compared to the time I started my business, Vishwak Solutions twenty years back in 1997, today budding entrepreneurs have a thriving ecosystem and access to plenty of experienced founders willing to spare their time to mentor. This is not restricted to Silicon Valley but is true around the world. In India metros, organisations on the likes of TiE, Nasscom & others have a structured program for encouraging startups. They conduct regular workshops, hackathons and support other associations and universities. As a TiE Chennai Charter Member, I got to be involved in one such program in February – Startup Weekend at College of Engineering (CEG), Anna University. Yesterday it was for the second year of the annual event called E-Summit.
E-Summit is organised by E-Cell (Entrepreneurship cell at IIT Madras) to provide a forum for students to learn about Entrepreneurship, exchange their ideas and even get seed funding from investors. Teams with ideas for a startup submit their entries. They are shortlisted, about 2-3 of them are assigned for mentoring. They are grouped as two independent verticals catering to startups in the following phases – “Young start-ups”, usually student startups from educational institutes looking for mentoring, funding or incubation and “Operational start-ups” which are those that have started operations, even if at a basic level, and are looking for funding.
In March I was assigned 2 teams for online mentoring. The first idea was around providing fashion recommendations and the second was on real-time voice translation.
Yesterday was the Day 2 of the three-day event, where I met with 3 other startups for offline mentoring. The 3 ideas that were presented to me were – E-Commerce Bookshop, Radar detection of faults in Infrastructure, and, Events Networking. I told to them (not the same to everyone) to: focus on doing a field trial at the earliest and for that raise the money from friends/family and use your alumni network; rather than offering plain e-commerce products/services pivot on being able to offer suggestions/recommendations, consumers are looking for experiences and willing to pay for it; in events management there are already tools to do community building but users haven’t taken to them in any big way, so talk to users/event organisers to figure out a solution for user behaviour issues.
I don’t know how it felt for the teams, but for me, it was a rejuvenating experience. The energy of the young founders is infectious and it is gratifying that you are able to make them think outside their familiar zone.