Sunday, October 28, 2012

Startup Weekend : From Participant to Organizer

The last one year has been a very exciting year for me in terms of learning and growing. In September 2011 I signed up as a participant for Startup Weekend the first time it was conducted in Hyderabad and since then I have volunteered at Startup Weekend events in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi and have become an organizer at Startup Weekend Hyderabad and we are about to conduct the third event in the city which is going to be part of the Global Startup Battle.

What is it about Startup Weekend?  It all starts off with the event itself - the event is in a format that facilitates one to learn in multiple levels. One learns from the speakers, getting inspired by them from what they have achieved and then from the mentors who guide and advice the participants until their ideas start to make good business sense and finally the participants who come from very diverse backgrounds with whom relationships form that carry on well past the event.

The event itself is very unstructured with a greater focus on execution than on theory. Its all about taking an idea that starts off just as a thought and converting it into something real that can be shown to end customer at the end of 54 hours. The beauty of the event is that one can try out their plans and thoughts with no fear of failure. You get the practice and the confidence to be able to pitch your idea in less than a minute in a manner that is able to grab the attention of the audience. There is a great focus on idea validation, execution and presentation.

As a volunteer and an organizer I want to give this experience to as many participants as I can since this is a wonderful way to learn and explore about entrepreneurship in a risk free manner. In order to become an entrepreneur there are a few fundamental activities such as how to validate the idea, build the business model, ability to market convincingly and clearly, working with a team and presenting the idea in a compelling manner to investors and customers. All of these activities can be done on the weekend.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Engineering education in Andhra Pradesh

Way back in 1993 when I wrote EAMCET, the common entrance test for engineering one was considered brilliant if they managed to get a seat. In that year there were less than 9000 engineering seats and it was easier to get a seat in Karnataka than it was to get one in AP, but the colleges in AP were much more popular and better and everyone wanted a seat here.

Fast forward to 2012, there are 340000 engineering seats and the funny part is that not more than 220000 write the entrance exams for these seats thus making the entrance exam just a farce as anyone who wants to get a seat will get one irrespective of the marks they get in the exam.

Let us look how the increase of seats has been through the years

Year  No. of colleges No. of seats Vacant Seats
1994 – 1995 32 9335 0
1995 – 1996 37 10155 0
1996 – 1997 37 10455 0
1997 – 1998 57 14155 0
1998 – 1999 89 19773 0
1999 – 2000 102 25064 0
2000 – 2001 107 30896 0
2001 – 2002 174 46090 0
2002 – 2003 217 62710 0
2003 – 2004 225 65960 0
2004 – 2005 238 82225 0
2005 – 2006 262 92600 0
2006 – 2007 282 98793 0
2007 – 2008 337 118993 0
2008 – 2009 530 174742 17577
2009 – 2010 656 226000 48795
2010 – 2011 705 252000 74972
2011 - 2012  721 340000 120000
2012 - 2013  721
340000 (approx) 200000 (approx)

Every year since 2008-09 there has been a steady increase of surplus seats but that did not stop more colleges from being opened and more seats being added to existing engineering colleges. Why did this happen? As part of the AP Governments fee reimbursement scheme any family that had an income of less than Rs. 100000 per year as stated by the local government authority was eligible to have the complete fees waived for the engineering course. Given this situation, joining an engineering course had an incentive and in society it was considered prestigious to be holding an engineering degree. Given this increased demand for engineering seats the number steadily grew until there was a glut in the number of seats.

This growth has come at a price - even students who did not have a liking or aptitude for the sciences were doing engineering and at the same time due to the increased number of colleges so suddenly there was a dearth of quality faculty to be able to cater to the demands of the increased number of colleges. This caused the quality of the education to drop drastically, thus making not more than 10% of the engineering students who pass out each year employable.

This is a very dangerous situation. What happens to 90% of these students (approx 200000 students who joined in 2009-10) who have spent 4 years of their lives studying for a degree that is not able to get them a job. Yes, some of them can be re-skilled and trained but for a majority of them they go many years (I have seen students who have spent 3 years) just searching for an appropriate job. This can lead to frustration and anger which is not good for the future of our country.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Programmers are getting younger and younger

I came across this TED talk today by Thomas Suarez, a 12-year-old app developer that develops apps for the ipod, ipad and iphone.

In Startup Weekend Delhi I met with Evan Luthra who describes himself as a Student, President, CEO, Founder, Director, Keynote Speaker, Blogger & More. Evan is just 17 years old and he has his own company that designs and sells apps.

We are seeing more and more students starting to challenge the status quo. They are challenging the tried and tested way of the 10+2+4 or the 10+2+3+3 education system. There is a lot of encouragement that they get to pursue their passions. There is so much information out there to help them learn quickly.

I was born and brought up in a small town in the coastal area of Andhra Pradesh and had my first taste of computers when I was 14 years old, courtesy my school. The school, bought 2 computers to teach Computer Science as part of the ICSE syllabus that had just introduced the subject as an optional subject for the very first time. We got 30 min of time each on the computer to program small BASIC programs once a week. We did not have a teacher to teach us programming but luckily for us our Chemistry teacher took an interest in programming went to Chennai learned programming to come back and teach us. We did not have the internet to learn.

What we had was the hardware but we did not have the software, the knowledge and the ability to connect with the rest of the world so easily and effortlessly as it is now. The age we live in now makes this all so possible that it is such an exciting era to be in as a student where the world is your oyster.

But the problem is how much of India is like this during this exciting era - I just read this article on the WSJ that says 81% of U.S. engineering grads are immediately "employable," vs. 25% of India's, 10% of China's. We need to encourage more Evan Luthra's in India to buck this trend.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Small victories > Big encouragement

As an entrepreneur one always goes through ups and downs and there are times you second guess yourself and wonder if you are really doing the right thing. There are little things that happen that boost your confidence and give you big time encouragement to forge ahead.

These are small triumphs that give you this new energy to forge ahead. What I find important is to be able to break down things so that one can achieve these small victories that provide validation for what one is doing that gives you the motivation to keep going.

A task not broken down keeps going on for a long time and looks so intimidating that it becomes very hard to keep one motivated right through the entire task.

You do what you are

In the 2001 movie Along came a spider, there is an interesting quote by Morgan Freeman where he says "You do what you are" and the...