What is a startup?
Startups dream of delivering a community through their vision, and they do it at a scale. They also have another draw—their eye-popping valuations, which come with an exorbitant return on investment. Startups are built on innovation, correcting shortcomings in existing products or inventing wholly new categories of goods and services. As a result, many startups are labelled “disruptors” in their respective sectors.
How does a startup work?
Regular businesses generally reproduce what has already been done. A prospective restaurant owner can franchise an established restaurant, following a pre-existing blueprint for how a company should operate. On the other hand, startups seek to design a completely new template. Startups often aim to increase their consumer bases while improving their product substantially. They do so using a process known as iteration, in which they enhance products based on feedback loops and usage statistics. This allows them to get more significant market shares, which will enable them to expand their product and clientele.
What is startup culture, and why is it important?
As the precept goes, every organisation has a culture; the only question is whether or not one determines what it is. In high-growth businesses, a small group of employees can quickly evolve into a complex structure with several teams. In most situations, a fledgling culture emerges even before adopting a formal structure and design. Since startups are commonly led by a small group of people who work closely together, their “culture” reflects the founding team’s interests and personality. In most cases, each employee at a startup contributes to the company’s overall culture. While strategy provides a road map for a company’s business goals in achieving its vision and motivating employees, culture offers a continual framework for how team members conduct business consistent with its fundamental values and purposes. From their workspace environment to their focus on innovation and relearning, startups embody a culture that relates closely with refurbishing ideas every day. The aspects of culture that can be designed are transparent and asynchronous communication, an emphasis on physical and mental well-being, clear boundaries between work and home life, and relentless experimentation with better and newer ways of working.
Why are universities the ideal startup platform?
Startup culture is distinct. It takes creativity, innovative ideas, business acumen, and a network of investors to hold a successful startup. Most accelerators look for startup teams that are highly driven and hardworking, with a diverse set of skills, expertise, and experience.
Universities host students from various disciplines, and owing to their proximity, they provide a mechanism for them to connect and brainstorm. Additionally, students have greater flexibility to undergo the loop of taking risks, making mistakes, and consequently fostering radical innovation. To boost their relevance, institutions are now more open and keen on accepting newer projects and ideas. Collaborations help a university satisfy its students’ needs more dynamically, bringing value back to the school. With tremendous access to funds, partners, and resources, the Ivy Leagues and their university-based startup incubators exemplify how massive the startup culture at the collegiate level can be. Harvard’s Facebook, Stanford’s Snapchat, The University of Chicago’s GrubHub, and The University of Pennsylvania’s Warby Parker are just a few examples of colleges with a longstanding history of creating entrepreneurs.
India’s shifting landscape has seen much of its change due to economic liberalisation. As the economy shifted from capital-intensive manufacturing to asset-light services, many educated, experienced corporate executives with little financial cushion and a track record of success took the plunge into entrepreneurship. The country is gradually establishing itself as a significant global startup powerhouse. The growth of a developing tech sector is being accelerated by an influx of entrepreneurs, incubators, foreign and local venture capitalists, and multinational organisations. One or more startups have reached the $1 billion valuation club every month since April 2021, bringing India’s total to 23 unicorns in just this year.
In India, many institutions provide top-notch mentors, full-time industry specialists, exposure to other entrepreneurs in related fields, and support for funds. They also offer laboratories to help entrepreneurs and startup employees develop self-reliant adroitness and resourcefulness.
Factors involved at the collegiate level
Getting a business off the ground takes time, regardless of what you attempt to do. It might take months, if not years, to gain traction. This is especially true when bootstrapping a business because you rely on organic development. College, fortunately, allows you to do so. Furthermore, if you’re able to handle your schoolwork, you’ll have a lot of additional time to commit to your idea. Class timetables are considerably more straightforward to work around than conventional full-time employment schedules.
Colleges can be the most helpful institutions for entrepreneurs and their ventures. Their resources might help you cut down on initial costs while simultaneously improving your work. Furthermore, universities create a forum where you can get guidance from professors, alumni, and anybody else who can assist you in getting your business off the ground. You’d be shocked how many individuals are eager to help student entrepreneurs.
Beyond the fundamentals of a business plan, good professors can pique your interest in what it takes to start a business and motivate you to get started. Their overall impact creates an environment conducive to creativity.
College students have a combined purchasing power of billions of dollars. Many firms are interested in this demographic, and college students have an edge. They have a decent understanding of what other college students prefer and have access to their opinions which helps put their ideas to the test.
Building on an idea
To establish a startup mindset, one needs to shift their emphasis away from existing solutions and focus on the prevailing challenges. The first step in creating a company that offers solutions is recognising existing problems. Furthermore, to learn better, one must consider what makes prominent startups the terrific platforms they are—What’s it like to be their customer? What sets them apart? How can this analysing be of benefit?
Startups in Manipal
Manipal happens to be the home of numerous startups. Anyone walking past Academic Block-4 wonders why it is known as the Innovation Center at least once during their time in Manipal. It is so due to the Innovation Center being home to the growing startups in residence.
The Manipal Universal Technology Business Incubator (MUTBI) is an initiative of the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) to provide services to the students, faculty, alumni, and localities to start their business venture. MUTBI has been operational since early 2010 and has received support from the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt of India.
MUTBI is responsible for:
- Providing seed funding for feasible ideas, products, and proposals
- Providing infrastructure
- Facilitating market survey, product marketing, patenting, financial and legal services
- Arranging for funding from external agencies, angel investors and venture capitalists.
MUTBI has its thrust areas in IT, Healthcare, Medical Devices, Agriculture, Renewable Energy, Energy Conversion Systems and Nanotechnology. The MUTBI so far in this conversation is the most influential agent when it comes to the birth of the execution of a startup in Manipal. During the last several years, 22 startups have graduated from MUTBI.
The student entrepreneurship cell—the E-Cell of MIT is one of the new and coming sources of help and guidance to these local startups. It has supported over ten student startups and provided internships to over 50 students despite COVID-19. These numbers are projected to grow even higher since they were last recorded, i.e., December 2021.
Many startups go through a significant struggle at an elementary level with insufficient early-stage mentorship and guidance. Their objective is to tackle the status quo by providing effective mentorship to students with raw ideas using support from experienced members from entrepreneurial backgrounds.
Fracktal Works Pvt. Ltd.
Fracktal Works is a 3D printer manufacturing and product development firm that provides product design and CAD services.
Fracktal Works was founded by Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni Vijay Varada and Asil Rohit. The company delivers low-volume manufacturing capabilities to its customers, leveraging its digital manufacturing back-end.
The company was established in 2013 under the incubation of MUTBI and funded by the prize money of Provenance (the then Business Plan Competition). Currently, the clientele of Fracktal Works includes industry giants like Toshiba, L&T, Cisco Systems, L’Oréal Paris India Limited and many other medium scale and large scale companies. The startup received funding of Rs. 100 lakh.
Blackfrog Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
They were founded by engineering graduates Mayur U. Shetty, an alumnus of MIT Manipal and Donson D’Souza, an alumnus of MITE, Moodbidri.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 50% of vaccines (25% for liquid vaccines) go to waste before they are administered. One of the most significant contributors to this issue is the disruption in cold chain supply. That is, temperature-sensitive vaccines must be stored at 2-8 degrees celsius to remain efficacious. However, as things stand, there is no accountability when the vials leave the primary or sub-health centres where they are refrigerated.
The team has developed SANJIVANI—a portable, battery-powered refrigeration device that maintains any pre-set temperature for up to 12 hours for the last-mile transport of vaccines. Further device capabilities include continuous temperature monitoring, location tracking, state of charge indication, and communication with headquarters via live tracking and vital statistics. Importantly, the level of portability and ease of charging that it gains from being battery-powered sets the company’s device apart from its competition. The device is meant for use in a typical day-long immunisation campaign where healthcare workers take vaccines to the field and bring back the left-overs at the end of the day for reuse or disposal. It received funding from the BIRAC-BIG scheme of Dept of Biotechnology, Govt. of India.
Kumudha Health Tech Pvt Ltd.
Founded by Dr. Sampath Kumar, Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering and Dr. Hareesha K. S., Professor, Dept. of Computer Applications, Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal.
Kumudha Health Tech Private Limited is a Manipal-based company working towards excellence in the medical device space, and believes in pursuing business through innovation and technology. The startup is funded by BIRAC, Dept. of Biotechnology, Government of India. Kumudha developed a 3D diagnostic and treatment planning tool for spinal deformities, SPINAK. It is an online tool that takes two x-rays of the spine as input and produces a 3D spine model. Kumudha specialises in rapid prototyping and offers high-quality 3D printing of human body parts.
Hurdles that Exist
Arunabh Kumar once said, “Startups are like guitars. Every college student wants one.” We can confirm that whether or not one can get their hands set on a six-string, one definitely has the potential to shoot their shot and be the next successful startup story. Even though it has been countlessly drilled into the universe that an idea is all you need, ignoring the risks and following through will only add to the obstacles.
Clarity among co-founders
Amidst steaming cups of coffee and shared boxes of cup noodles, sometimes friends just assume that having an idea is enough and that things will fall into place. This is the first on the list solely due to the relativity factor that comes with it. But things do fall into place, that is true, in the initial days. When the business begins to grow, various complications arise: Who owns the idea? Who made the idea executable or marketable? Is the ownership stake justified compared to the contribution?
The Facebook controversy is the most prominent example of this, and hence why it is imperative to have clarity among the co-founders from day one. Growth becomes a lesser priority in this aspect than having a strong founding team. A Founder’s Agreement is the best way to achieve this as it outlines the rights, duties, and responsibilities among the co-founders.
Viability of the idea
In elementary words, do not start your business just for the sake of starting up. Many failed startups can be attributed to the sole idea of unviable startup ideas. Really, though? Why are people even thinking about trying to pitch all-natural butterscotch coconut protein cookies?
Exaggeration aside, ideas do not yield results. Prototypes do, and working on a prototype rather than simply the idea will allow you to improve your business and your services. Failing and working on a prototype will allow you to choose to remove coconuts and keep just the butterscotch in your protein cookies.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the market, and there is no point in developing a product that has no market. Your idea may be unique and different to you, but how far is it marketable?
Hence, you must research the market you wish to target appropriately.
Sorting the Seed Fund
One of the unspoken truths of this universe is that everything material has a price. Ideas are free and abundant, but the resources to put those ideas out into the real world are limited and hence have a price tag on them. So how will your venture be funded? How will the initial expenses be funded? Who would pay for the online servers? What would be the terms of repayment or contribution by each member?
About a hundred more questions can pop up for a startup that they’d have to address before moving ahead with their venture.
In most cases, the ventures are generally funded by the founders and their most valuable funding source, the 2 Fs—Friends and Families. Often families tend to be sceptical as well, maybe more so because they do not wish to see their loved ones fail or simply because perhaps even they do not believe in all-natural butterscotch coconut protein cookies.
In the initial stages, a financial crunch will show up no matter what and has to be sorted out by the founders themselves. You can infuse your savings or borrow from your parents, but it is vital to keep track and budget your expenses. The best thing to do is to prepare a budget. Through this, you can track how much of your resources are drained and to what effect.
Luckily enough, nowadays, numerous seed funds and college bodies are coming up and helping advance funds for startups at relatively flexible terms and conditions. But even with their support, one has to be mindful of their investments and focus on making intelligent decisions with their money because even a minor loss can feel like a huge downfall to a startup.
Lack of experience in leadership
A startup led by an inexperienced leader is like a ship captained by someone who has never stepped into the water. You know what to do, but you do not know what to expect when at sea. A good leader is essential to a startup, or if not a leader, then a person with a strong sense of management as building something from scratch takes a lot of coordination and planning without which a venture is destined to doom.
Supposing a startup has no other choice than to have an inexperienced leader, the members can take up entrepreneurship courses and learn from experienced professionals and mentors before stepping out. While this pre-investment may seem inconsequential, it is highly recommended to benefit the venture in the long term by preparing them with solutions like what to do and what not to do if the ship gets stranded.
Today, companies aspire to shape a balance between flexibility and efficiency on the one hand while looking for involvement and collaboration on the other. This reflects startup culture and the return of a risk-taking economy.
There will be a crucial focus in the post-COVID era on finding the correct mix and balance between diverse work environments. Perhaps the solution would be to allow individual contributors to work remotely on a range of jobs while balancing that with a healthy office atmosphere. Every recession produces a blooming crop of new startups. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the dictum of better ideation. Greater unemployment, the internet’s magnifying effect, and new financial funding are together spurring a startup explosion not seen in decades—pushing the world to see a newfound way of carrying out business.
Sources: Forbes, Hindustan Times
Written by Suhani Kabra and Aditya Kapur for MTTN
Edited by Shranya Shrivastava for MTTN
Featured Image by Robert E. Kennedy Library at Cal Poly