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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Business Decision

It’s 5.30 pm at IIT Kharagpur and classes are over. But for 21-year-old Shubham Jain and a bunch of enterprising batchmates, it is just a break. In fact, that’s when the real work starts for them. While the rest of the students trudge back to their rooms after a tiring day, Shubham and his friends ' P. Venugopal and Amar Gahlot ' huddle around computers at IIT Kharagpur’s incubation centre trying to develop complex, high-end software.

The electronic engineering students are actually racing against time to keep a deadline. Called Savedge, the software helps in routing calls and is expected to hit the market within the next fortnight. The techie trio has a reputation to live up to. Several engineering colleges across the country have been using their software in their networking labs for almost a year.

IITians are finally venturing into an area very few of them would even consider some years back ' entrepreneurship.

Techies go it alone

Quite a few have spurned job offers from blue-chip companies and scholarships from foreign universities to strike out on their own. Shubham and his friends have launched a company, Sav Networks, to produce and market their software. They operate from the incubation centre but already have an office to which they will be moving after passing out next year.

IIT Kharagpur has started an engineering and entrepreneurship course to help graduates take on the challenges of business. It’s optional and so far, 80 students have enrolled. “A good number of our students want to be entrepreneurs. It is a new challenge for them to venture into the unknown and we are encouraging this,” says Prof. Raja Kumar, dean of academic affairs, IIT Kharagpur.

The course tells students how to go about establishing a company, prepare a business proposal and collect capital, along with a host of other things. Eminent people from the business world deliver lectures and interact with students to get them motivated. Says Aseem Goyal, a student who is doing the course, “I think every engineer should try and work independently at some point in their careers. When you start a company, you create jobs and have the opportunity to implement your ideas,” Aseem feels. He plans to join IIT Kharagpur’s incubation centre and work on wireless communication. The Kharagpur centre now has around five teams of entrepreneurs.

Trying novel ideas

Students at IIT Bombay and Madras are not too far behind either. At Bombay, you have several student-run companies functioning out of the incubator. And they are dealing with complex technologies like Ethernet access, solution for transportation of data, voice and video, licensing, solution for broadband access networks, etc. Then there is Powai Lab Technology Pvt. Ltd that focuses on innovation in electronics design automation (EDA) space. It aims at improving the working conditions of design engineers. There are yet others that are developing software, some of which are already in the market.

IIT Kanpur has a three-tier incubation system that starts with a nursery project initiated by members of the academic staff, students or alumni. At the second level, you have technology-based start-ups promoted by first generation entrepreneurs looking for partnership with the institute or a company with a view to trying out a novel technological idea. At the final stage, the technology/R&D units of small/medium sized enterprises (that may or may not include former students) work with IIT Kanpur.

Sav Netlabs hopes to make a substantial profit next year. They already have a Swedish collaboration in place and get students from leading engineering colleges as interns each year. “We thought we should explore new opportunities and take risks. It has paid off,” says Gahlot. And for most young entrepreneurs like him, the IITs have been the perfect launchpad.

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