The spate of #startup failures we’re seeing in India today has a lot to do with faulty business models in an immature ecosystem. “In the last 3 to 4 years, somewhere I lost my path,” Stayzilla CEO and founder Yogendra Vasupal told Tech in Asia, admitting he started chasing vanity metrics instead of focusing on the fundamentals of cash flow. Tech in Asia broke the sad story of the shutdown of seven-year-old Stayzilla, India’s largest homestay network, yesterday.
This adolescent ecosystem, currently in a correction phase after a funding extravaganza that led many astray, sorely needs good hands-on mentorship. Now, a new fellowship initiative aims to do just that.
Blume Ventures, an early stage VC firm based in Mumbai, is starting a fellowship program for third year grad students in partnership with Venturesity, a Bangalore-based startup specialized in the hackathon mode of discovering good tech talent.
We recognize that a lot of high quality talent does not have access to the startup ecosystem.
Venturesity is holding a hackathon to select 15 students from engineering colleges for the first batch of the Blume fellowship program, Venturesity CEO and co-founder Subhendu Panigrahi tells Tech in Asia. The chosen students will be attached to tech teams for software development in 15 Blume portfolio startups. Applications have just opened for it.
“We recognize that a lot of high quality talent does not have access to the startup ecosystem,” says Blume Ventures principal Avantika Vohra, who is anchoring the program. “This would also ensure we stay closely engaged with the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs.”
Tech students from India’s premier engineering colleges are choosing to stay back in India instead of making a beeline for the US like they did in the past. Indians run many of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Adobe. But many of today’s college grads want to be entrepreneurs or work with startups, where they can experiment and learn, instead of becoming cogs in the wheel of corporate jobs.
But it can take a few years after college to figure out the startup scene. What is it like to set your own agenda and align it with the needs of a fast-growing startup? How should you go about starting a company of your own? When should you take venture capital?
It is a new and experimental endeavor which we will look to iterate and improve.
Most of the top engineering colleges now have entrepreneurial cells to give students a window to the startup world. But their activities are too few and rarely hands-on. Fresh entrepreneurs have to jump in at the deep end and start thrashing about to learn the nuances of the startup world. They have little real world startup exposure in their college days. That’s the gap the Blume fellowship aims to close.
The three-month program, planned for the coming summer holiday season, will later be expanded, based on the experience of the first batch. “It is a new and experimental endeavor which we will look to iterate and improve next year,” says Avantika. “The core idea of the fellowship is not just to benefit Blume and our portfolio companies, but also support entrepreneurship in the ecosystem as a whole.”
Each one of the students will be working with a different startup, but they will also get together and exchange notes in training meetups with Blume partners and startup mentors. It thus goes way beyond the scope of internships.
Short-term interns often find themselves at a loose end in companies because top execs have little incentive to invest their time in mentoring the newbies who will move on after their stint. The difference in the fellowship is that the Blume portfolio startups are committed to supporting the program, Subhendu points out.
“Students will get the opportunity to be a part of Blume networking events where portfolio founders, other VCs, and advisors come together. The managing partners will also have a dedicated Q&A with these students at each event,” adds Avantika. “All fellows would be featured on the Blume Ventures website in a dedicated section for Blume Fellows, and they may use this to augment their resumes if they like.”
The Blume portfolio startups, too, get to choose from a highly curated set of students from the cream of engineering talent in the country. Research in the US shows a high correlation between a student’s choice of career after graduation and the support they received for their graduate studies. So the startups supporting the fellowship can expect to get a leg-up in attracting top talent, either directly or by word of mouth from the shared experiences of Blume fellows. This is important in an increasingly competitive environment for tech talent.
A couple of VCs in Silicon Valley run fellowship programs of a similar kind – FirstMark and KPCB (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers). But it’s a first for India.
BITS Pilani was the first premier engineering college in India to build a structured practice school program, where students are placed in partner corporations twice – a two-month stint during the summer holiday after the third year, followed by a full semester in the last year of the engineering course. This gives an exposure to real world work as well as mentorship from industry practitioners. The difference in the Blume fellowship, of course, is that the “practice school” will be with startups, not corporates or other large organizations.
This is fitting in the new age of entrepreneurship, and probably more useful too, because students get so little exposure to the world of startups in their college courses. The success of the Blume fellowship may also spur other VCs and accelerators to start similar programs.