It has never been so exciting as now for start-ups in India, Sanjay Vijayakumar, chairman of Start-up Village in Kochi tells G. Krishnakumar

Sanjay Vijayakumar was writing his university examinations when he, along with his friends, launched a start-up in 2006. Six years down the line, their venture, MobME Wireless, was rated as one of India’s top emerging IT companies by NASSCOM. With a team of over 100, the company has offices in Mumbai and Delhi and presence in 17 cities across the country. Crisp business acumen and a never-say-die attitude have propelled Sanjay to rewrite the rules of the game. The Young Turk is also the chairman of the ambitious Start-up Village in Kochi nurturing entrepreneurship among youngsters. In a candid chat with The Hindu-EducationPlus, Sanjay shares his thoughts on emerging opportunities for start-ups, besides the need to develop and support young entrepreneurs.

How do you assess the Indian start-up ecosystem?

Times have never been better and so exciting as now to do a start-up in India. For the first time in 500 years, our younger generation is on the same starting line as those in the rest of the world and MobME is leading that charge as an outlier and scripting an impossible story not just for itself but for an entire generation of youth. When the world saw the birth of Silicon Valley and the Internet revolution of the 1990s, our country was just going through liberalisation. When the world saw the social networking revolution in the mid-2000s, when Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, iPhone and so on entering the scene, the younger generation in our country was just getting hold of a basic mobile phone. It is now after nearly 500 long winters that for the first time with the smartphone revolution, our younger generation has a serious chance of getting a shot at the title and in this race, we are now on the same starting line as the kid in the Valley.

What are the social benefits of allowing the younger generation to pursue a start-up culture?

Entrepreneurship is a culture and there are many advantages in having an entrepreneurial culture among the youth. As entrepreneurship is about self-learning, it creates a great new school of learning from peers and mentors who are experienced professionals. The employment, knowledge and wealth created in society are huge reasons to allow the most passionate and determined minds to pursue entrepreneurship. The social demographic stage that our society is in today also calls for a greater push for promoting entrepreneurship. Over the past decades, the brightest minds here left the State for better opportunities elsewhere, leading to the loss of the biggest asset we had — our human capital or our people. Kerala has hit the lowest population growth rate in our country and what is means is that the death and the birth rates are almost equal now, and at par with developed nations. The current population is getting older and the early migrants to West Asia are coming back with old age. If the young also leave Kerala, apart from the brain drain that will shackle our progress, we will become a land of the old. By creating an entrepreneurship culture, we create global MNCs which are based in Kerala and may do business across the globe but will have their roots and create the most employment and wealth creation in our society. To put this in a financial context, the total amount of money that the Department of Science and Technology of the Union government has invested in Technopark TBI is Rs. 3.2 crore. MobME alone has over the past six years paid more than Rs. 7 crore back to the government in the form of taxes, apart from the 100-plus jobs it has created. We didn’t leave Kerala but stood back here to create a company from scratch that is now valued at more than Rs. 100 crore.

What are the advantages of launching a start-up when youngsters are pursuing their graduation? Is the social and economic scene in Kerala supportive of such initiatives?

To understand this matter in depth, I would strongly suggest this essay by Paul Graham, founder of Silicon Valley’s most famous incubator — Ycombinator — derived out of a talk at MIT: The logic Paul gives is very simple. There is no biological difference when you are 18 and 22, and it is only the university which says you are now a graduate. The brain is the same almost, which means you have the same level of intelligence to learn useful things. Compare this with our social context arising out of the mindset of parents in Kerala who want their children to do engineering education. Young students, who are creative and innovative, irrespective of their passions, are driven to a mad frenzy with coaching classes and entrance exam tuitions. We are taught that the student who gets the highest marks is the most brilliant student and the one who fails is categorised as stupid. This goes into such a high level that after 13 years of education, the students start to fear “failure.” As a net result, they become averse to failure and consequently become risk-averse to such an extent that no one wants even to try anything that has a chance of failing. When our students step out of the four walls of the classroom, from the academic world to the real world, they bring this fear of failure along with them. The funny thing about the real world is that there is possibly little correlation between successes in life to marks in school or college, while, at the same time, in real life, a lot of things we do are bound to fail. Our school education system is more tweaked to a memory-testing contest usually and most students by 18 do not have a clue on what they want to do in lives.

We follow the crowd and get into engineering education and the funny thing is that no one has a clue on which branch they really are interested in. Once you get into a particular stream, there is no option to change it as well. I feel that is amazingly unfair to the youth as they get stuck with a choice they were forced to make, when they didn’t have a full realisation of what they are getting into. Having said this, I feel that the newly announced student entrepreneurship policy of the State government is a great effort in creating that 20 per cent free time for students in which they can now work on things that are interesting to them at an incubator like Start-up Village.