Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Startups Score Over Top Brands in Internships

Students from a bevy of prestigious colleges in India and overseas are lining up in increasing numbers to intern at startup firms this summer. They are using internships as a springboard for future career moves by gaining a foothold in a thriving entrepreneurial sector when a dull economic environment is leading to paucity in the job market.

Where once internships at top brands were the preferred choice to make resumes look impressive at the time of placements, students are now realising that time spent at a startup can prove to be more worthwhile to long-term career prospects. "During placement season, companies appreciate the fact that a student has interned at a startup because it reflects risk appetite in the individual," says Atanu Ghosh, who teaches strategy and leadership at IIT-Bombay's School of Management.

While there is no conclusive data on how many students from top schools choose to intern with startups, colleges confirm that there has been a definite increase. At the Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Bangalore, the number of students interning at startups has almost doubled in the last couple of years, says Sapna Agarwal, who heads career advancement services at the institute. At IIT-Bombay, the number has risen by up to 30 per cent in the last three years, according to estimates by college officials. Founders at startup firms are confirming that they are deluged by a flood of eager aspirants seeking summer internships.

"We need only one intern at a time but I get around 30 good applications from most IITs, IIMs and National Institutes of Technology (NITs)," says Gagan Goyal, co-founder and CEO of ThinkLABS, a six-year-old venture that provides robotic educational kits and solutions to schools and colleges. Goyal and his peers are quickly learning to put this sudden largesse to good use.

More Exposure
ThinkLABS, which had been stuck for nine months on a project to create a robotic kit for the retail market, put an intern from the Pune University College of Engineering on the job and found the project ready in one month. Students are finding that it pays to intern at startups. "In large, structured organisations, these students will have only narrow exposure in the particular section they are assigned to. In a startup, they are exposed to all areas of a company's operations and are paid reasonably well," says Krishna Tanuku, Executive Director of the Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship Development at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. Typically interns are paid between Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 25,000 a month at startup companies.

Students who get to work on critical projects are also using these internships to test out entrepreneurial waters. "I hope to start my own venture after my MBA and that was one of the reasons for choosing to intern at ThinkLABS," says Ruchi Jain, a Harvard Business School student. She spent her summer interning at ThinkLABS and worked to develop a business model for their consumer plan. Goyal, who so far has explored only the business sales segment, will soon roll out Jain's proposal.

Tanuku is of the opinion that more such students seeking to become entrepreneurs will opt for internships at startup firms. Suhas Pawar, a trained doctor who is in his second year at IIM-Lucknow, opted to intern at Jeevanti Healthcare, which plans to set up hospitals in smaller towns and cities. Jeevanti's co-founder and CEO, Arun Diaz, entrusted Pawar with the task of recommending new specialisations that their hospital in Ambernath could offer. "We prefer giving specific projects that have an impact on the company and also the intern," says Diaz.

Pawar, after spending time in the field, suggested setting up an antenatal programme, where healthcare professionals would visit the homes of expectant mothers. The suggestion is currently being implemented by the company. "I had a holistic view of running of a company. For the project, I had to study the operational, financial and marketing aspects, something I would not have been able to do in a large organisation," says Pawar.

For product startups too, interns are coming handy. CSN Murthy, co-founder and CEO of cloud telephony startup Ozonetel, says at a startup the team is concentrating on the product that is bringing in the revenues. "But we need people to work on our wishlist projects that can be taken to market later. Interns work on such projects and take it to prototype stage," adds Murthy, who has two interns working for him. Janardhan Reddy, an IIT-Madras student, is doing a remote internship at Ozonetel and is building plugins that will run on top of Ozontel's KooKoo platform.

Even students from tier-II colleges are taking to this trend. Mallika C, a student of RV College in Bangalore, is building a software application for Ozonetel. "Here I am working on a live project and I can see exactly how an idea gets converted into a product. I will not get this exposure in a large organisation," says Mallika.

Murthy points out that students who want product experience have to depend on startups as India's large technology companies are focused on IT services. Students are also interning at startups despite there being no guarantees of a permanent job at that venture.

Source: The Economic Times, August 7, 2012
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