Published: 23rd February 2018
Here's why Startup Village is the go-to-place for your entrepreneurial dreams to flourish
Started in 2012 in Kochi, this business incubator is hoping to change the face of technology in India by promoting indigenous products and providing the necessary support for its creation
Are you a student who's frustrated with the mundane process of rote learning, writing exams, filling up job applications and basically just following society's 'rules'? Are you someone who wants to create your own products, manoeuvre your path and create your own rules? Then, Startup Village Collective might be just the right place for you. Started in 2012 in Kochi, this business incubator is hoping to change the face of technology in India by promoting indigenous products and providing the necessary support for its creation. Excerpts from a conversation with Sanjay Vijayakumar, Chairman and Founder of Startup Village:
What was the intention behind establishing Startup Village?
When I was a kid, I realised what society is doing to students. It is basically just telling them one message — follow rules. As a country, there's a system of rules. If you follow the rules, you're fine, but if you don't, there's a penalty for it. In a company, there's a set of rules; if you follow it, you get paid, if you don't, you get fired. Every organisation in the real world is set up with rules. Mirroring that, the education system is trying to tell youngsters that their job is to follow the rules, that there is information in the form of textbooks, and you need to show that you have understood it by way of assessment and if you do, you will be allowed to participate in organisations. I found it really weird because as human beings, aren't we all supposed to have our own freedom of expression? Unfortunately, the system was such that it was rewarding only doctors and engineers. But in 2005, when the internet struck, I was able to move out from the traditional classroom. Information about everything was available on the internet. I stumbled upon Silicon Valley and I found that almost everything I was using was invented in the Silicon Valley. Luckily for me, there were so many essays that were written by people building these companies and sharing information on how they think. And I thought to myself, instead of finding a job for myself, maybe I could independently understand how the world works and build something on my own. I was just 21. In college I started a company; I raised half a million dollars. I figured that if enough people got the kind of exposure that I got at a young age and the support of people to create such a system, then a lot more people could do it. That was the genesis of Startup Village. The reason we wanted to do it was because we were all told as kids that if we studied hard we would get good jobs. The stress on students is very high. A million students write exams and only a few become successful. We are unnecessarily burdening our children. This didn't make any sense to me. In engineering colleges, you're learning the literature and theory of engineering, but you are not engineering anything. Today, I confidently say this because I am on the advisory boards of institutions and industries. There is no correlation between what institutions are teaching and what industries want. Somebody needed to bridge the gap. We need to teach them actual engineering. That's how Startup Village began. In course of time, the demand was too much and we decided to have a digital platform, SV.CO (Startup Village Collective), which is India's first digital incubator for students. Our aim is to bridge the gap between institutions and industries.
Behind scenes: SV.CO's student developers at Google Launchpad, San Franscisco
How many start-ups have you established through this?
In a space that was designed for 48 companies, we ended up receiving more than 7,000 applications in three years, and we supported close to 500 of them, and cumulatively, around ₹40 crore was raised by these companies. The project was officially declared completed and then we started the digital incubator, which is still ongoing.
Tell us about your collaboration with companies like Facebook.
We partner with companies like Facebook through which we launched the Facebook School of Innovation. Or with partners like Freshworks, where we set up the Internet Product School. What happens at both the schools is that students are taught what happens in the industries directly by the people in the companies themselves. With Facebook, students are taught how to make virtual reality products. Now, Big Data has become big and AI has already taken off. But virtual reality is going to take another few years to take off. It's still in the research phase and we want our students to have access to all the information. So, when the industry is taking off, our students are already aware of everything. Our students work in teams and they are taught how to build a product and how to think about the design and user experience.
First steps: Startup Village, Kochi before the incubator became an online learning platform
Can traditional school syllabi be revised to do this?
At the speed at which new technology is being created, there is no time to write about it. By the time you create a syllabus and conduct exams, the industry is miles ahead. So, the traditional method of teaching won't work. We are not able to solve the problems of our society because our engineers can't really engineer. If they did, we would have had great town planners, great architects and the myriad of our country's problems could be solved. Also, the nature of industries today has become such that change needs to be a collaborative approach. You can't force change on students, universities or institutions. Instead, you can state the problem and think of a collaborative approach. That's what we're trying to change through SV.CO. We're a collective. Building the bridge between industries and institutions cannot happen through one organisation. It has to be a cumulative effort of many organisations. Our goal is to align all these organisations to this philosophy. This includes state governments, universities and a few cities.
Will this help solve the unemployment crisis?
Absolutely. Effectively, humanity progresses through technology. We've always progressed because someone created some new technology. In the current era, software technology is growing the fastest. Our goal is to set up three schools — a product school, a start-up school and a developer's school. In the developer's school, we teach young students how to develop something. Once you learn to use the tool, you need to learn how to build something. We need software engineers who can create products for India. Once that's done, it's a completely new game of hiring people, talking to investors, branding and marketing. By creating these three schools, we aim to either make students highly employable because they learn the latest industry skills or we turn them into entrepreneurs who can start their own companies. Startup Village offers a job guarantee with an average pay of `6-18 lakh.
The process: Once selected, students will be guided, right from picking an idea to building a prototype and its launch to handling early customers
What is the process of training?
Our model is not the traditional exam-based approach. We focus on building. Students will have to build a cryptocurrency website that shows prices from different countries. There's no single correct answer to this challenge. There can be infinite ways to design the website and decide what content to put in. Once the students are selected, they have a personal interview just to make sure they built it themselves. We have a new learning pedagogy called actual learning, where you have a target to achieve. The target is to build a product for the users. There are three milestones, one — you identify the product you want to build, two — you build a prototype, three — you launch it to the users. We have created 200 micro steps within these steps. Students who are doing it for the first time will find it easier. When they complete all the targets, they have actually launched a product. It takes an average of six months, but students are allowed to learn at their own pace.
Do you also teach students how to market their products?
For our companies to have international presence, we need engineers who can build world-class products. We need universities that can teach that. Our focus has moved away from marketing to building because only if you build great products can you market them.