The Institute’s Eleven

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Forbes India has just published its sixth edition of ‘30 Under 30 list’. The 2019 list features young achievers who are on the top of their game in their chosen fields. Of that list of 30, close to 40 per cent of the winners come from a single institution – IIT Kharagpur – and 50 per cent of them are Economics majors from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Institute.

The Institute’s 11 are all successful entrepreneurs. Keshav Prawasi (2011/BTech/CS), Nitin Babel (2013/MSc/HS) and Shishir Modi (2012/DD/EE) together run Niki.ai, an artificial intelligence company headquartered in Bangalore that was co-founded by another IIT Kharagpur alumnus, Sachin Jaiswal. Niki is an AI-powered chatbot which works as an intelligent personal assistant, providing a one-stop solution for customers. The clincher for niki.ai is its launch of Hindi voice-command recently.

Kamath Vasanth (2013/MSc/HS), Anugrah Shrivastava (2012/MSc/HS) and Rohan Gupta (2013/DD/CS) are founders of ‘smallcase’, a platform that offers investors the option of creating, or investing in, theme-based portfolios of stocks or exchange-traded funds.

Pushkar Singh (2013/DD/ME), Sudarshan Ravi (2013/MSc/HS) and Ankit Parasher (2012/BTech/EC) run LetsTransport, a Bangalore-based intra-city logistics company that they founded in 2015. Apart from providing round-the-clock service and real-time tracking, its Uber-like app allows customers direct access to drivers.

Pranav Goel (2012/MSc/HS) and Uttam Digga (2012/MSc/HS), both MSc students of Economics of the 2012 Batch, are founders of Resfeber Labs & Porter that provides mini truck services for intra-city pickups and deliveries in India and also provides a platform for logistics support solutions that help clients with relocation, construction supplies, perishable supplies, event management supplies, and e-commerce supplies.

IIT Kharagpur Alumni’s complete dominance of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list has been quite a surprise to the winners themselves. With the sombre level-headedness that follows soon after the elation of success passes, Pushkar Singh of LetsTransport desists from the expected backslapping. He calls it a “proud moment”, but also points out that the fact that so many on the list are from IIT Kharagpur may perhaps be just a coincidence. However, he does not forget to give credit where it is due. He says, “We are all into entrepreneurship and this is also in large part because of the training we received in IIT Kharagpur, its extra-curricular activities and the network we developed in college”.

To be among the like-minded, to be able to tap into a network that would reach deep into its well of experience to come up with the answers is undoubtedly a privilege. Forbes’ account of the inception of ‘smallcase’ in fact talks about how Vasant Kamath, restless after quitting research firm Tracxn in 2015, got things going when he contacted his friend from IIT Kharagpur, Anugrah Shrivastava, who was then creating thematic products for institutional investors at Nomura.

The birth of the other companies would have followed a similar sequence of events – people with similar or diverse skill sets, comfortable in each other’s company, well-acquainted with each other’s strengths given their prior associations, coming together once again to give a shape to an idea or what has been a long-held dream. Not too long ago, another success story from IIT Kharagpur had unfurled in a similar way. While recalling the inception of Capillary Technologies, Aneesh Reddy, co-founder and CEO of India’s largest provider of end-to-end customer engagement solutions for retailers, had said in an interview how he and his co-founders, Krishna Mehra and Ajay Modani, friends since college at IIT Kharagpur and always passionate about starting up a company, had finally taken the plunge two years after college, quitting their jobs that had taken them on different paths.

Ravi Sudarshan, also of LetsTransport, too harks back to his college days, “its diverse mind set and the various programmes to encourage entrepreneurship”. He says, “The college network too was important given that a lot of the seniors were already into Venture Capital start-ups and having advice on how a start-up worked and how to go about things helped us a lot.” Rohan Gupta of ‘smallcase’ also points out that the network serves as a ready reckoner when any entrepreneur decides to take the plunge.

Although upbeat at breaking into the Forbes list, Ravi, like his friend Pushkar, is willing to distance himself from the euphoria and consider things from the wide angle. “We have been lucky,” he says. The timing, according to him, has been right for all of them. As Ravi points out, “When we passed out, Flipkart had been making its presence felt. There was growing investor confidence. The market was booming. Even in college, we were keenly watching what was happening in the corporate world.”

What Sudarshan hints at is what Forbes puts into words. While celebrating the audacity and enterprise of the achievers, Forbes notes that “Entrepreneurs are seeing the impact of India’s growing internet boom and smartphone connectivity in sustainable B2B models.” It goes without saying that the revolution in the virtual world has tremendously helped IIT Kharagpur’s entrepreneurs on the Forbes list to live their dreams. Be it in retail, finance, logistics, or any of their chosen fields, the internet and smartphone connectivity has been a boon. They have given wings to dreams that sometimes began in college.

As Ravi points out, yes, the timing has been right for many of them. But one still needed to be both brave, if not brash, and smart enough to judge the timing and then grab the opportunities that it elicited with both hands. IIT Kharagpur’s Eleven have done precisely that. Congratulations to them!

 

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