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Starting an E-Cell is like starting a company, with all the initial hiccups. See how four NEN E-Leaders, campus entrepreneurs in their everyday lives, tackle the challenges

Most entrepreneurial journeys face beginner’s block. Even India’s most celebrated entrepreneurial success, Infosys Technologies, had starting trouble, as many of us know.

Three decades ago when Infosys was formed by N R Narayana Murthy and his team of seven, they had just $250 of launch capital, had to wait a year for a telephone line to be installed and had to make 15 visits to the Department of Electronics to receive permission simply to own a computer.

It was the team’s hours of toil, hands-on effort and attention to the smallest details—including polite thank you notes—that helped them overcome these challenges.

The National Entrepreneurship Network brings similar challenges to the more than 3500 NEN E-Leaders every day. NEN E-Leaders found, manage and build the entrepreneurship clubs, or E-Cells, at NEN member institutes.

Over the past six years, the NEN E-Leaders have helped grow the number of student members in campus entrepreneurship clubs from about 200 to more than 70,000, within NEN alone. By organizing year-long campaigns and activities, these E-Leaders and their E-Cells have infused an entrepreneurial energy never witnessed in campuses before.

Their task is not easy. Setting up an E-Cell is tough work, almost like starting a company—unglamorous, detail-oriented, day-to-day grind—but it is this passion, commitment, and perseverance of the NEN E Leaders that can make an E-Cell flourish.

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Jishnu Debnath, E-Leader, Symbiosis Institute of Computer Science and Research, Pune
SICSR formed its SICSR-NEN E-Cell in January 2007, and first-year student Jishnu, though not aware or interested in entrepreneurship, signed up in June 2007. Till December 2007, the only event held by the E-Cell was a seminar on Dabbawallas. Jishnu wanted the SICSR-NEN E-Cell to do more. Some of his classmates wanted to start their own businesses but didn’t know how; the workshops seemed interesting and exercises looked like a lot of fun. So from January 2008 onwards, Jishnu took on the role of NEN E -Leader.

“We started with a Rs 50 exercise where students were given a seed fund, and the challenge was to generate profits. It was a hit. We followed it up with a film festival, entrepreneurship talks and seminars on entrepreneurship. It was a lot of hard work, but we were motivated and it was fun,” recalls Jishnu.

When Jishnu graduated in November 2008, the SICSR-NEN E-Cell was the busiest club in campus with its membership increasing from 25 students to almost 150 in a year, and it was organizing video conferences with other institutes to bring them into the NEN community. Jishnu’s own popularity soared along with that of the E-Cell. “Students started imagining me as something of an expert—someone who could guide them, connect them to the right people, and give lot of advice. Though I am out of college now, I still get phone calls from students everyday,” he shares.

Saket, NEN E-Leader, Singhad College of Engineering, Pune

altSaket, a mechanical engineering student of Singhad College of Engineering in Pune was asked to become the first official student member of the SCE-NEN E-Cell in late-2006, because he was the only regular attendee. He took on the role with gusto, built a team of three and launched class-to-class campaigns to attract students to SCE-NEN E-Cell.

Initially, during NEN Entrepreneurship Week 2007 (a week-long nationwide movement organized by NEN and NEN member institutes to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship), he had to struggle to get halls filled. However, in NEN E-Week 2008, the scene was dramatically different. “The entire campus went wild. Volunteers were ready to help at the drop of an SMS. A regular event would attract 40-50 people; participation in big ones used to run into hundreds. We had to create more roles in the SCE-NEN E-Cell to accommodate all the interested students. NEN E-Week 2009 was even bigger,” Saket recalls.

Saket’s journey was not easy, but it was his conviction that egged him on. “I have seen students look lost at the end of engineering, as there is no one to guide them. But when an entrepreneur comes our way to lead by example, and makes us believe in ourselves and in our ideas, it is inspiring. There were days we kept pushing alone and did enormous amount of work by ourselves, but it was this thought that made it all feel worthwhile,” Saket says.

Saket hopes to start his own venture in the little-known field of mechatronics someday.

Anup Agrawal, NEN E-Leader, ICFAI Business School, Hyderabad
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When Anup Agrawal suggested forming an E-Cell on campus, soon after he joined the MBA course in ICFAI Business School in 2007, everyone brushed the idea away. The college admin didn’t seem keen. With a back-to-back academic calendar and dreams of high paying job placements, his batchmates did not support it either. However, Anup believed in the value that a hands-on experience in an E-Cell would bring.

For a year, Anup struggled on, holding long meetings with the administrators and students. After seven months of convincing, a professor of entrepreneurship in IBS relented and agreed to help him in forming the E-Cell. Anup also managed to identify a small group of interested students. The E-Cell was finally formed in July 2008, with only nine members.

The E Cell’s first event—an entrepreneurship talk—was attended by less than 50 students. Anup had expected atleast 1,000 students to attend. The poor turnout only strengthened his resolve to get the numbers in.

With active guidance from NEN, Anup and his team gave the E-Cell a brand identity, and named it Macon (which means ‘to build’ in French; and an introspective ‘Who am I’ in Hindi). The E-Cell members promoted the Macon logo in every classroom, sent SMSes to students, organized recruitment drives and held one-on-one discussions with students. Anup and his team’s effort led to Macon becoming the most active of the 25 clubs in campus, and when Anup handed over the baton to his juniors in 2009, the E -Cell had received 200 applications for membership.

“It was very difficult, but today I have a sense of fulfillment of leaving something valuable behind,” says Anup, who is currently working on a business plan of his own.

More articles on www.nenonline.org. Content provided by NEN

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