EntreChat: Col Anil Kumar Pokhriyal, CEO, MEPSC and Shivani Singh Kapoor, Founder of ThinkStartup

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“Youth Ideathon” should become a powerful changemaker!

A deep dive into ‘how to catch them young’, instill the spirit of innovation and an entrepreneurship mindset in the young – was what led to the birth of the unique “Youth Ideathon”.  Catch Ruby Sinha, Founder sheatwork in conversation with Col Anil Kumar Pokhriyal, CEO, MEPSC and Shivani Singh Kapoor, Founder of ThinkStartup.

Ruby: What prompted you both to conceptualize and implement “Youth Ideathon”?

Col Pokhriyal: As you know management entreprenuership and professional skills come in a horizontal sector skill which comes under the Skill India Mission and, we’re under the Ministry of Skill Development  & Entrepreneurship under the Government of India. We are implementing one of the largest skilling machines in the world, and being closely associated with the industry and academia, MEPSC has been part of many forums which work on innovation and entrepreneurship at various levels; also the advent of the National Education Policy 2020 showed a focus on vocational education and its derivatives from Class VII onwards. We discussed and came up with this idea –which actually Shivani initiated. We had been trying to get around school and college students and “Catch them Young”, and we try to get the spirit of entrepreneurial mindset and critical thinking ability and to harness those cognitive skills among young minds.

So, we conceptualised and started working on building the brand; and soon after that, we had a webinar for school and college students, and the whole idea was to work out a product that could act as a symposium of ideas, which could harness the spirit of innovation and nurture it to build on entrepreneurship. We then onboarded CBSC, IIMs, IITs and opportunities are coming up every day. We are reaching out to the youth of the country, from Class VI to Class XII to collect ideas that are workable and can be converted into ventures (and we want to collect 1 lakh ideas as we go along).

Ruby: Could you talk about the Youth Ideathon and also your personal journeys into entrepreneurship?

Shivani: It was an initiative based on my personal journey, and I’ve been fortunate to come from a family that was able to access the best of education and the opportunities that go with it. But, even then, I realised in my 30s that there is a huge gap in our education system. A lot of learning goes waste – we learn through subjects, assignments, which is the aim of the education system. When I started my journey as an entrepreneur, I realised that as humans, we have so much more potential. At the school level we are not harnessing that potential. In some ways, education opens up our minds but it is also limiting us. We are not able to connect what we are learning to what we can achieve. So, we think Startup was a genesis – had it happened while I was at school, I could have indeed, achieved more. There’s so much talent, so much potential and we are not harnessing that. We started at a grassroots level and work with students across the country – in Tier 1 & 2 cities, and vilages; it’s two years now, and we tried to understand the problem. A lot of market education is required.

We both had a mental connect and we focussed on – could we energise the system to get school leaders, educationists, industry leaders, policymakers on board? Could we drive innovation and entrepreneurship at the school level?

Ruby: How is the Ideathon happening? How are you and MEPSC collaborating to make this a success?

Shivani: With MEPSC’s reach into government policymaking and our reach into the startup world – it has been a good tie-up to support this movement. To get it working we have a 6-week period and we have a portal called www.youthideathon.in. Here there’s a lot of access to resources and through the month we have webinars for teachers, schools, students; and the idea is to have schools and students participating. Students had not been exposed to this before, so there’s an opening up of the child’s mind to think – “I am not part of a large eco-system but I am capable of changing things”. We find we have to do a bit of education and mentoring, and once students realise that they have the potential, we see very good ideas coming from them! This portal is open till October 24.

We’re enabling teachers and educational leaders to mentor students as well as ‘youth idea ambassadors’. Beyond that, we will be picking 500 most promising ideas and will conduct video interviews, which is really to see the passion! The Top 100 we will take into a mentored incubation process, the idea being to energise the system.

Ruby: How is MEPSC working towards the goal of mass skilling and entrepreneurship in the country?

Col Pokhriyal: MEPSC has been relentlessly working towards contributing to the growth story of India through the Skill India Mission. Keeping in line with that objective, we have created national occupational standards essentially to inculcate the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. We are trying to partner with multiple organisations and forums, where we are creating a mass movement to empower the youth, to become ‘solopreneurs’ with massive outreach through its qualifications, with minimum investment in the eco-system. Since we are partnered with various entrepreneurship forums, we have been actively creating platforms for the youth of the country to share their entrepreneurial journeys (especially the youth in a rural background). The movement tries to push various Government of India schemes like Start-Up India, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India, Skill India – so that we have a very powerful system that can sustain the massive investment.

We’re trying to guide and mentor the youth, especially women, to come out with powerful ideas, which can go towards entrepreneurship. The idea and effort of MEPSC is to look for huge opportunities which can be created, when the ideas become sustainable. This is the transformable change we are trying to bring about – a change in the mindset of parents, teachers, students and society at large – that entrepreneurship is the way forward.

Ruby: What has been the response now from students (especially the female students) and teachers?

Shivani: With the teachers we are receiving immense response, and I think they have realised that the system needs a shake-up! We have been oversubscribed too, as per the number of participants we can take.

Talking about the representation of girls in big cities, we find a good mix (60:40 in terms of girls who are interested). However, when you move away from cities, it is heart-breaking, as it is 80:20. I think conditioning is happening at many levels – at home, society. Another heart-breaking part was when we had an Entrepreneurship Hackathon in the rural areas, the ideas that came up were – women’s safety, access to education showing that there are issues girls in smaller towns are facing. We have to attack this at multiple levels, which is why “Youth Ideathon” should become a powerful changemaker!

Ruby: Do you feel educational institutions are the foundation pillars to building a successful start-up ecosystem?

Col Pokhriyal: I am a firm believer of that. There are many examples. In recent times, in Delhi and many cities there was the Swachh Bharat Mission carried out by the government where teachers taught health and hygiene was the focus; then there were many other initiatives like  Say ‘No’ to Plastics, Pollution or Crackers, Plant MoreTrees etc. Teachers are the role models and parents also have a role; but I feel teachers have a bigger role, for whatever comes from the teachers’ mouth is taken as a gospel truth!!

So, I am 100% convinced that teachers and schools have a very important role to play for the betterment of society and the country at large.

Ruby: Who are your partners who have come forward to join the “Youth Ideathon”?

Shivani:  We had conceptualised the idea very fast, and on August 27 was the first webinar. Since then, the kind of partners that have come forward has been amazing. Of course, CBSC was a huge boost for us, at our innovation centres. Then we have incubation partners – IIT Roorkee, IIMs, and corporates like Bajaj Finance, Macmillan and many more. 

We feel extremely energised with the nature of the scale of partnerships, and more are joining even now. We really see this movement picking up steam!

Ruby: Do you feel women make better entrepreneurs with their multitasking abilities, from your experience?

Shivani: I stay away from stereotyping. I feel every human is a great entrepreneur.  I think life is a start-up. It’s not about men and women; women make good entrepreneurs, so do men. Through my own journey, I feel it is hugely ‘empowering’ – to be able to define your life on your terms.

And I am passionate about women entrepreneurs, I do support them and I am involved in a bit of angel investing. My mission statement is – everyone has the potential and it’s inherent in all of us.

Ruby:  Your advice to students, aspiring to become entrepreneurs.

Col Pokhriyal: Don’t stop yourself, dream BIG. If you can identify a problem and build a solution, you can go a long way. With the advent of technology, it has become easy and is not a challenge as in the past. Come out of your comfort zone and the sky is the limit!!!

Shivani: Have a growth mindset. Don’t limit yourself with “I can’t do it”. With the right kind of effort, anything can be achieved.

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