In January 2022, 19-year-old Kamal Samtani and 20-year-old Aabha Shah, both second-year students pursuing the BBA (Hons) programme at the Amrut Mody School of Management, were thrilled to be selected to the VentureStudio Fellowship. They had been through a rigorous month-long screening process where they needed to explain why they were a good fit for the Fellowship to VentureStudio's CEO Tanvi Rangwala and a University faculty member. For Aabha and Kamal, the experience was highly rewarding.
By the end of the Programme, they had developed their startup venture, Poolit!, an online carpooling platform for intercity commuting, to a minimum viable product (MVP) stage for initial market testing. "We received positive feedback from the clients we served and suggestions for changes that would improve our service. While we polish the rough edges, our mobile application is under development." The young entrepreneurs will launch it in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Anand, Nadiad, and Surat for intercity and intracity commute, with plans underway to expand to other cities of Gujarat and other two-tier cities in nearby states. "We are already thinking in terms of future expansion plans. After a run of a couple of years, we will onboard more electric vehicles and might also consider two-wheelers on a ride-sharing basis," elaborates Aabha.
VentureStudio, a startup incubation centre at Ahmedabad University, was established in 2011 in collaboration with Stanford University Design School. As one of the State's oldest incubation centres - VentureStudio carries a wealth of experience in providing 360° support to startups ranging from pre-seed grants or funding, personalised mentoring through a network of domain experts, access to cutting-edge facilities for product development, market access, team-building assistance, and support for follow-on angel and VC financing.
The VentureStudio Fellowship is a unique programme specially designed by Ahmedabad University to offer the benefits of a startup accelerator to support student entrepreneurs. A semester-long programme, the Fellowship takes students through the most critical aspects of starting an innovation-driven venture. Students learn to form a team, discover customers, develop business models, build MVPs, and achieve product market fit. Moreover, students also understand the financial and legal aspects of starting up and raising capital for their ventures. On the demonstration day to wrap up the Fellowship, each startup has to pitch their ideas to real-life investors and VCs for feedback on their pitch deck and the overall business idea.
CEO Tanvi Rangwala says, "Though the Fellowship has a classroom element where students learn about tools and frameworks, most of the work and learning happens in the field. Successful and failed entrepreneurs are invited weekly to share their journey and engage in candid conversations with the Fellows. The primary objective of the VentureStudio Fellowship is to give students hands-on, multidisciplinary experience on starting up to increase their chance of success."
With their venture EasyFi, Aikya Shetty and Ved Bhandari are building a reward-based and gamified system to incentivise people in the age group 18-25 years to build efficient financial habits by financial planning, tracking, saving, and investing. The students come from two different Schools but got together at the VentureStudio Fellowship. Aikya is a BA (Hons) student at the School of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Economics, while Ved is pursuing BBA (Hons) at the Amrut Mody School of Management. Aikya says, "In the first few weeks, we had multiple ideas, but after market research and surveys, we finalised on EasyFi. Through the Fellowship, we got hands-on experience in building a startup to an MVP level from scratch. Interacting with our target audience, external mentors, and experts from various domains like product development, marketing, sales, and the investing community." Aikya and Ved have successfully tested their business model at an MVP stage with their target audience and are working on final product development.
Encountering roadblocks and learning to find their way around them in an ecosystem wired to the real world was a novel experience for the students. Poolit! 's Aabha recounts an incident where she and her partner could not resolve an issue hampering their venture. "When we began manually testing our product, we didn't get the response we expected. It wasn't very reassuring. That's when one of our VentureStudio mentors, Jigar Jiwani, suggested that we print out badges and visiting cards for Poolit! and distribute it to our target market. This would highlight our USP that we provide services without expecting any profit and are better and more affordable than the competition. That became our hook leading to a positive response from the market!"
Aikya of EasyFi says that being in this ecosystem and receiving suggestions, feedback, and life lessons from experienced people was the entrepreneurs' biggest takeaway. "We understood the importance of working on a startup with an open mind and being ready to adapt the business model to consumer behaviour during the MVP stages. Change is the only constant," she says.
For Kamal and Aabha, the safety net provided by VentureStudio was also reassuring. "As students, this was the perfect place to test our ventures, with a minimal risk factor. Also, working with a group of students from different Programmes and Schools at Ahmedabad University, identifying people with whom our thought processes align, was not easy but was essential in our initiation into the corporate structure. Then on, working in teams and dealing with different opinions, conflicts, ideas or visions was a challenge in itself. And most interestingly, our interaction sessions were not limited to entrepreneurs who have made millions but also included those who have experienced major problems in the entrepreneurial journey, which made them pivot or quit their start-ups. If not for VentureStudio, we wouldn't have come this far in our entrepreneurial journey."