Some of you might have heard of the Pan IIT Entrepreneur Mentoring Program that was held across 16 cities in India on this Republic day. It was conducted to help the would-be entrepreneurs of IITs (though many other people came in to seek guidance and mentorship) gain more clarity about the businesses they were planning to start. The mentors were super seniors of IITs who have started their own companies and have gained experience in various fields of business. I had an opportunity to volunteer and help organizers in ensuring that the session at Hyderabad went smoothly.
The first dilemma I faced was the dress that would be appropriate for the occasion. Back in Insti, people never bothered even if one turned up in ManU's jersey for an official event. But this was going to a place where one meets big people who run companies and have been in corporate world for a long time. A formal dress seemed appropriate, but I decided to wear my Insti sweat shirt, and infuse a sort of freshness into all that corporate thinking. When I first met the organizer, and asked him if the way I dressed was fine, he laughed and patted my back saying, "After all you are in a Pan IIT meet, this is more than fine". He was from IITM too, an electrical engineer who graduated long before I was born. Most of the seniors turned up in business formals (coat and tie) but nobody bothered about my sweatshirt. They would look at the emblem on the shirt and try to figure out the name. I would suggest them "Madras" and a smile would appear across their face. "Are the elephants in your campus fine? Do you still have a water problem?" Questions would come pouring in. I feel more than happy, telling them about the centralized water supply system and the elephants at GC.
The best part of this experience came from a super senior. He was sitting at a table, waiting for his "mentee" to turn up. I went to know if there was anything he needed. He was looking at the emblem and I suggested him Madras. As soon as he came to know that I am a mechanical engineer from IITM, he stood up, shook hands heartily and said “I am a mechanical engineer too, from IITM. I graduated in 1968." We had a talk about the Insti, his experiences as he came out in search of employment in young India. His affable smile and feeling of friendliness made me extremely happy. What had he to do with me, some one as old as his grandchild? For the first time I realized how strong the feelings of cordiality can be towards ones juniors. It was the power of alumni and I felt fortunate being a part of the brand IIT and a strong network.
The first hour or so has been busy, with us sorting out the lists of mentors and "mentees" and helping them to meet in their given time slots. These "mentees" were recent grads, people with some four to six year work experience. They wanted to know about various things, ranging from the "tech" part of business to the "business" part of business. Once the event started, it was easier, and we had enough time to move around and interact with people. What inspired me was the diversity of ideas that people came up with. Apart from the fully commercial ideas that would generate revenues and provide employment, there were people with sustainable ideas that would help to uplift the quality of technical education and the lives of masses.
Another thing I noted was that the sense of being classmates and friends doesn't subside easily. You may be running a big company, but you are still my classmate- that’s the feeling they had, and let me give you an example. Two seniors from the same batch turned up for the program. During a break I was talking to one of them, and the other came in to join his friend. They fell back to talking in the same old familiar language, and made fun of each other as if they were still in college. One of them was teasing the other on how he changed after going to US. I admired their friendship and stood watching. Will my classmates be at the same ease after 10 years? I thought.
Apart from being called "a kid" for being fresh out of college, I learnt a lot from seniors about their experiences with running a company. One of them told us why he chose to employ non-IITians. "We are impatient and get frustrated easily. We can't sit learning the basics for a long time, and want to get into action soon" he remarked. I reflected on how true it was in my case. Just six months out of Insti, and I was getting frustrated at not being able to change the world.
At the close of the event, there was a lecture by Dr APJ Kalam on how IITians can help the country, by creating employment opportunities. He said "IITians should not be job seekers but job creators" and stressed on the importance of us contributing towards the cause of India.