Dr Sundar Raj Vijayanagar, CTO and Group Head of IT, SREI, on the importance of providing guidance to budding entrepreneurs and startups in the country. By Satyaki Sarkar
Dr Sundar Raj Vijayanagar has spent a considerable amount of time in the IT industry as well as in Academics. Teaching students is one of his many passions, and he believes that for any venture that one undertakes, proper research that can be applied to real life, is essential for the success of the venture. Because of that, he’s keen to impart his learning and experience to his students, so that they can benefit from it. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Sundar firmly believes that technology and talent go hand in hand in ensuring success. So he works hard to mentor budding entrepreneurs to help them become the leaders of tomorrow.
Catch them young
“I’ve always tried to do my part to provide guidance and mentorship to the young entering the industry,” says Sundar. “However, in March 2016, I suggested that SREI set up an incubation centre for our organisation in Bangalore, and create a technology fund where we can invest in some of the most promising technology startups. So for the past nine months, I’ve been working with several incubators in India, and visited a number of business schools where students were ideating and starting their own venture. It has been a most rewarding experience.”
“Along the way I’ve faced two major challenges. One is not all of the students are very keen on starting something of their own. Most students wish to find a regular campus recruitment job and then move on, due to lack certainty, risks, and other hardships involved. The second, I feel, is one of the biggest challenges that currently plagues India. When a student decides to start something of his own, major resistance comes from parents and society. People judge a person by looking at the kind of job he/she is doing, the pay package earned and the position occupied. These aren’t things that can be judged or measured, if one wishes to become an entrepreneur. So motivating students to take up an entrepreneurial venture is a huge challenge. Furthermore, when it comes to ventures, another big problem is that we don’t know how to deal with, or accept failure. Schools and colleges don’t train anyone in that. It’s something you must learn on your own and overcome.”
Help create an environment for entrepreneurs
“One of the major reasons that every successful leader should try to provide mentorship and guidance is that today we are in the best of the times, where a lot of impetus is coming from the government, central and state, to create an environment for promoting entrepreneurship. Everybody is aware that tomorrow’s jobs are not going to be created by the government or the large multinationals, but by these small entrepreneurs. Lots of innovation comes from entrepreneurial routes nowadays, rather than large entities that have got very high inertia and abundance of bureaucracy. Innovation in this age is primarily possible from startups. Looking at all these things, it is extremely important to encourage young innovative minds to embark on an entrepreneurial path, which would not only create more jobs, but ultimately also in the growth and betterment of the country. The vast amount of undiscovered talent and passion that is bubbling in the youth needs to be encouraged.
“A mix of willpower, conviction, and help from experienced veterans is essential to the success of a venture. The road is not easy, and there will be several moments of hardship and doubt, but one must persevere and keep goals set firmly, while continuing to work towards them. That is what makes a great venture successful, and leads to the birth of a leader.”
Giving entrepreneurs a boost
“As part of my teaching, I conduct one-day workshops for management students, once every quarter, to help hone their skills and develop their entrepreneurial ideas. Along with helping them build a high-quality business model, I try to enhance their problem solving, decisions making, negotiating and influencing skills, and project management skills, all of which are essential to becoming a great entrepreneur. If possible, I encourage certain ventures through my own investment as well. Annually, I try to set aside a fund of around Rs 5 lakh to invest in four to five promising entrepreneurial ventures. In the next 10 years, I wish to have invested in 50 such startups, ranging from investing Rs 1 to 2 lakh in each. So, in addition to providing guidance and mentorship through my workshops and presentations, I wish to also help them financially, with my own investment, as, at the end of the day, you need to have the means to pursue the venture.”
Ventures that impressed
“While conducted a workshop at the Entrepreneurial Development Institute of India in Ahmedabad, there were two or three ventures that were quite interesting for me. One of them dealt with implementing augmented and virtual reality technology, which really stood out. Another was called TileBazzar, a marketplace that was a one-stop building destination for architects. I was highly impressed by the venture and ended up committing my own investment to it as. The third is a startup in Bangalore called Giftxoxo, which has invited me to mentor their employees, who have a number of highly impressive breakthrough ideas from time to time.”
It’s a two-way street
“We can do a lot of good work in talent retention through individual goal setting and identifying the passion of individual employees. If they can receive support and help in achieving their personal goals and aspirations, then employees would become a lot more aligned towards collective corporate goals. Additionally, while interacting with the young minds of today, I’ve found that more often than not it’s me who learns more from them. That is what is one of the biggest motivations for me to continue doing the work that I do”.