These young engineering professionals chose entrepreneurship over big firms and fat pay

On the anvil were predictability, comfort and security. On hand are 99 per cent risk, boundless excitement, battles with failure, and pride and contentment. A bunch of young engineers opted for the latter and are the happier for it. Engineering may be the most sought-after profession for students in the State, its virtues being good money, placements abroad or in big cities, and an insulated life. But a few have instead chosen the adventure of entrepreneurship.

Rooted where they belong, these engineers, aged 30 and below, are learning to struggle and succeed their way. Their enterprises have got attention and some have managed to win recognition.

De Earth, an architecture firm in Kozhikode begun by five graduates from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, in 2004, has evolved in the past eight years. Its founders met success, struggled and then discovered their soul. Begun in 2008, Kochi-based Unirans Technosystems Private Limited deals with LED lighting and is the second attempt at entrepreneurship by Suraj Moothedath and Raseel M. with a new partner, Mohan G. NCK Engineering and Contracting Services Pvt. Ltd. in Kozhikode, registered in 2011, offers a range of engineering services and is spearheaded by four friends, three from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam.

A firm of their own was a dream they all shared. Says Vivek P.P., Chief Executive Officer, de Earth, “While we were in our fourth year, we started thinking of something together. We got a few projects while we were still in college through our professors.” Funded with Rs 50,000 from each partner, de Earth began as de 3.2 with three architects and two civil engineers. Initially, Vivek, Nishan M., Jaise M. Jose, Arun C.B. and Shabin K.M. juggled all jobs and played all roles. “We would be out at six in the morning with a bag to the sites and return by midnight. But we enjoyed every bit of it,” remembers Vivek.

Childhood dream

Abdul Nawaf, Managing Director, NCK, had known Ramsheed V.P., Adil P.K. and Ranjith K.B. since school and they shared a dream of starting something together. After engineering at TKM, while Nawaf went to work at Jaguar, U.K., Ranjith, Ramsheed and Adil started their careers at different firms. When Nawaf returned and got married, he bounced the idea of an enterprise off his father-in-law, who gave him the confidence to venture out. Hailing from a business family was a big plus, says Nawaf. With the initial investment from Nawaf, the friends set out. “Our first office was my father-in-law’s Innova,” remembers Nawaf. The partners specialise in mechanical and electrical engineering, and NCK offers a range of services, including electrical, air-conditioning, security systems and plumbing.

Suraj and Raseel had no choice but to get it right with Unirans. “We had a passion for entrepreneurship from the beginning and I remember tinkering with a lot of do-it-yourself activities,” says Suraj, a graduate from Cochin University of Science and Technology. Raseel has a degree in applied electronics and instrumentation. Both knew what it was to start and fail when their first company dealing with product and industrial design stuttered. “We began with an investment of Rs five lakhs from family and friends. Some were reluctant considering our past experience, but Unirans was a success straightaway,” says Suraj. A major boost came from Mohan, the auditor for their first firm, who joined them in Unirans and took care of finance and management.

Both at de Earth and NCK, the professionals recount the help they received from seniors in the field who passed on projects. De Earth grew quickly from individual projects to multi-storeyed buildings to villas and even launched a builder arm. Then recession hit. “For about eight months, we went without salary,” says Vivek. The churning period saw intense brainstorming and the emergence of cardinal rules for the firm. Some went for higher studies. Then they re-branded and decided design purity would remain supreme. “We researched and decided to work around earth-based, nature-friendly concepts, promoting green and sustainable projects,” says Vivek. While three of them have ventured into other brands, Vivek and Nishan continue to manage the mother brand.

At NCK, after the testing period of three to four months, things have steadied. Nawaf admits to being “haunted by the good time at Jaguar.” Projects rolled in slowly, beginning with the JDT LP School, and now 55 people work for the firm, including 11 engineers from TKM. “When I hire, I don’t look at the academic record, but commitment. Work requires them to stay on site for long hours, I observe their attitude and the zest to learn,” says Nawaf. In a small firm the merits are hands-on training and taking a process to its logical conclusion, he says. Though 70 per cent of their work is in the Malabar, projects are coming in from Kochi and they have expansion plans.

“When we started,” says Suraj, “there were very few companies in the field and we had to educate clients on LED lighting. But not now.” From incurring a loss of 8 lakhs on their first firm, Suraj and Raseel are “scaling up” at Unirans with a staff of 21 and clients all over South India.

At de Earth, Vivek says the recent recruit is the topper from their alma mater hired with the best package in Kerala. “Clients are picking up on our concept,” says Vivek as projects extend from Kerala to Coorg to Hyderabad and Bhopal. “We are still not profit-making, though,” he says.

The lessons for these entrepreneurs have been many and practical. The first phase of de Earth was hands-on MBA, jokes Vivek. “Tough times will come, but we have to persist,” says Suraj. Nawaf adds, “We don’t fear failure for we began from zero.”

This article has been corrected for a factual error