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Paid to dream – My journey as a fellow of StartUp Mission

To build a strong technology innovation culture in the state, Kerala Startup Mission offered fellowship to young technology leaders of the state. I was one among the 11 people who got selected as a fellow. This is the story of my journey as a Technology innovation fellow.

Kerala Startup mission

Government of Kerala, like the many unique initiatives it had in IT/ Technology sector came out with a Startup policy back in 2014. It was the first ever startup policy made by a government in the country. T-TBI was selected as the implementation agency of this policy.  T-TBI or Technopark technology business incubator started way back in 2006 and was the country’s first DST recognised incubator outside an educational institution. Come 2015 and T-TBI upgraded itself as Kerala Startup mission. It then started its journey to become one of the best startup hubs in india. KSM being the state nodal agency of startups and innovation , has a commendable presence all over Kerala coordinating and facilitating various events.. The KSM HQ is situated in Technopark, Trivandrum and have regional incubation centres in Kochi and Kozhikode. In Kochi, KSM is building Kerala Technology Innovation Zone – A Three lakh square feet State of the art infrastructure for startups. The ever energetic Mr Jayshankar Prasad heads KSM as its CEO.  A total of 20 other people make up the entire KSM team .

Fellowship

Startup mission selected 11 young innovators, people who were just out of college. All of them were contributing to the technology growth of the state in some way or the other. I was part of the first batch of this prestigious fellowship programme.  Before joining the fellowship i was running my own startup. I was involved in many tech community initiatives in the state. The most important one among these was Maker Party Kochi, the world’ largest webmaker party.

In the initial batch, All 11 of us were working with different startups or developer communities. We were volunteers from mozilla, microsoft, GDG, ICFOSS, FOSS etc  all brought together under one roof. Fellows were geographically distributed areas according to their choice. We were allowed to continue what we are already doing. Along with the initiatives we have, we started to coordinate KSM events and programmes also.

We were asked to represent KSM in different conferences and programmes. I used to talk about the kind of works KSM was doing and how an entrepreneur can make use of these to his best. We used to visit colleges, often to help them in setting up their innovation lab or incubation cells. These visits really helped me in shaping the thoughts about need for skill based training in colleges.

KSM takes 15 fellows every 6 months. This is to have a overlap of 6 months between batches. Pear learning can be done in this overlapping period. The second batch of 15 fellows too were selected recently. Out of fifteen positions 5 girls made it into the program. From the second batch onwards KSM have a consultant for the fellowship programme. Mr Sijo started mentoring the fellows in taking up a specific project as part of their fellowship programme.

How it started

I am part of this tribe called as Rethink community – A Kochi based technology startup group lead by Sijo Kuruvillav himself. While we were having the first large meetup at startup village Mr Jayshankar Prasad was  also present. Sijo asked him whether KSM can support two young innovators who were so involved in the tech community initiatives. He asserted that if the financials are not taken care of innovators and inventors, they might be forced to go for a different job. That will be a huge loss for the state.

Jay went back to trivandrum with this thoughts in his mind. He amused the tribe with his plans. He announced this fellowship programme, first of its kind in the nation. KSM started this one year fellowship program for 25 people and with a stipend of 25K per month.

The two young people- the reason for this fellowship -proved that the decision taken by Jay was never wrong. One of them Arvind sanjeev, Runs a non profit maker platform called DIY hacking. This organisation also is in charge of implementing the ‘Raspberry Pi’ programme – A flagship programme of KSM where Raspberry Pi Kits are given to school kids for free. The other person  now runs a leading incubator in Bangalore.

Working with government

For me government was accumulation of power and money. Power to do what they wanted to do and a hell lot of money to play with. I was wrong.At least to some extend, At least in kerala. My mentor Sijo used to say ‘government is not difficult, but it is different’. I was always curious about what government actually is. So when an opportunity came, I jumped in. Well, KSM was not a pure government department, it’s a mission, more like a SPV ( special purpose vehicle ). Obviously since they are part of government they were communicating with typical departments too.

If you don’t like a rule, follow the rule, be on the top and change the rule – Adolf Hitler’. It was much simple now with the fellowships.

In my observations policy makers are really lacking in idea of ground realities. I found my primary objectives of this fellowship was to meet different stakeholders of startup policy and learn from them. Their realities, ambitions and issues. Then give my feedbacks to the policy makers how we can improve on these possibilities. If you are polite enough, if you don’t forget the fact that they have experience more than your age, Then they will listen, they will accept it and help you work on that.

In my experience as a fellow and the recent programmes I was part of in governance space

Activities

We were not having a specific single project in our batch. Every fellow were capable enough to identify and work on their area of interest. I was more curious about college students. I was always thinking about how to trigger innovation within the campus.

I was curious about young innovators.The fact that Students from  schools are making awesome robots while students from Engineering colleges go onto buy final year project from project centers. I amm from CUSAT, one of the prestigious colleges in the state. While we are asking students to go for a well paying startup job instead of a MNC, many from nearby colleges were trying hard to get a 5K per month salary job. All these experiences point to the need of skill based training. We believe starting up from college can really help students to sharpen their technical and leadership skills as well.

My passion lies in building platforms, using which more people can level up their skills and make more social goods. All my works and projects are focused on same theme.  

Major focus areas in fellowship

Developing an innovation centre model for colleges and universities in kerala.

TinkerHub was the model we experimented in CUSAT and it was a huge success. We have made an open model for colleges that  wants to make an innovation community in the college. In my interactions with other states like Andhra and Telangana, they showed interest in this model.

Faculty Development Programme At Sitttr, Kalamassery was intended to discuss the role of educational institutes in startup ecosystem. We organised couple of Maker Events to promote maker culture and to give an exposure to latest technologies that were shaping the world. Maker Weekend at CUSAT and WayMaker at GEC Wayanad were examples for the same.

Skill development of students towards technology entrepreneurship

Technology exposure is the key to technology innovation and then to entrepreneurship. I was part of different programmes on this front. Some of them are Net neutrality conference and Maker Community Gatherings hosted at CITTIC, CUSAT.

We were having programmes meant for school kids also. It includes ‘School Maker Faires’, ‘Startup @ School’ and ASAP vacation training at aluva. As part of IEDC I have visited and coordinated programmes in various colleges in the state as well. Maker event at ToCH, Techno Entrepreneurial Summit TES Kerala are the best examples

Startup community development

“Startup communities” are popping up everywhere, from cities all over the United States like Boulder, Boston, New York, Seattle, and Omaha to countries like Iceland. These entrepreneurial ecosystems are driving innovation, new business creation, and job growth. Startup Communities documents the strategy, dynamics, tactics, and long-term perspective required for building communities of entrepreneurs who can feed off of each other’s talent, creativity, and support – Brad Feld

I was working with most of Startup communities in the state. I was volunteering with Head Start and villgro. I was part of most programmes hosted by Nasscom and Kitchen. All these gave an opportunity to meet new startups. Most of the time the conversation lead to government support to incubation in KSM.

IEDCs

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Cells ( IEDC ) is the initiative of KSM in colleges . IEDCs acts as a local innovation hub or incubation centre. KSM is having more than 147 IEDCs in various parts of kerala. The one thing I love about this scheme is it follows the inclusion principle kerala following in all other fields.  These colleges are spread across the state. Out of all the initiatives KSM has, IEDCs are the one I pick as the best. With the effort of KSM team and Fellows IEDCs grown from 25 to 150 in less than a year.

College is the best place to experiment, we have more than enough time. In my opinion everyone should give a try to startups while they are in college.  It can be their own or working as a part time in a outside startup. Both are equally good. I would say second year starting is the best time to give it a try. We all know that it will be very hard to make a successful startup from the college. It may fail, It will fail. At least the first one for sure, but it’s fine. It should be like that. Thing is  the kind of experience you had, the way of thinking and the depth of skills you made will change you. I’m so sure of this. I started this way, and it changed my life.

Why you should join the movement

KSM is taking fellows in each six months. This is a great opportunity for anyone who is looking into a technology leadership career. Apart from the good stipend these are the other perks you can have.

Impact level

If you really wanted to make changes in scale, government is the best way. It has the access and resources spread across. It have that machinery to implement. Taking the case of startup mission alone, it has a 50+ crore budget. Working with all the incubators in the state. Direct access to 150+ colleges and what not. Here is the real scale.

Resources

Networks

Being the state nodal agency, Startup mission is connected to all the players in the startup ecosystem. In local level and in national level. All Incubators in the state are working with KSM. All the leading startup and business organisations are partners of KSM. All these together gives you an access to almost all the important people in the ecosystem.

Mentors

KSM have a list of mentors for startups. All of them are experienced people from different background. Like Mr Balagopal of thermo penpol. We can have an in depth conversations and relationship with these mentors.

Sijo kuruvilla george, The founding CEO of startup village is working with KSM as a consultant for the fellowship program. He is the mentor for fellows.  He is my personal mentor too, I was so glad that he joined KSM. On the very first fellows meet up with him, he threw a bunch of PDFs to us. Those PDF’s were full of proposals, presentations,Government orders. It was the Startup history of the state. Starting from Technopark Business Incubator to Startup Village and How a bunch of people made a difference.

Working with Policy makers

It was a great opportunity to work with people who are leading the state. It was such a privilege to work with Jayshankar prasad, CEO of Kerala startup mission. He also lead many flagships projects earlier in the state. PH Kurian IAS, Principal secretary of revenue, Then the IT secretary of Kerala is the other person who made a huge impact on my thoughts. He is a visionary, His thoughts really helped me in understanding the bigger picture and what is the impact we are creating through all this.

People

KSM was a family and fellows were all cool bros to each other. It was so exciting to work with all of those tech leaders of Kerala. Couple of interesting people who made the journey so joyful :

Ganesh

Ganesh Gopal, we call him GG. Brother from another mother. We share same feelings about the people and about the change we want to see in the world. He and his team prepared the ecosystem study for startup mission.

Jaseel

Jaseel is from Malappuram, an awesome maker and hardware geek. He always has that smile and slang. Jaseel is currently hosting ‘school maker faire’ across the state. I got a chance to organise one such maker faire with him. That was so awesome. We are planning to make a model to scale it up to the state level in coming days.

Vishnu

The Trivandrum bro. He is so cool with his long hair. Apart from that he is keen at electronics. He was an integral part of Fab lab project.

Ashok kurian

Ashok Kurian Panjikkaran, a.k.a AKP of startup mission. If I was asked to pick one best person from KSM family, i would pick him. He is kind of mentor and a friend for me. He really helped us in shaping the initial phase of TinkerHub Foundation. Considering his long experience with his own nonprofit, ‘Go Green, Save Earth” The inputs were really helpful for us.

About the title

I believe that if you have the will to dream of a better tomorrow, If you have an idea about the path to there and if you can convince people, this is the place to start with. We all have a dream of Kerala. One day, sometimes in the future we will make mind blowing technologies for the world from here. KSM has  that dream, if you believe in it join the team as a fellow. Let’s design the future.