I entered IIT Bombay as a rather inquisitive and motivated guy, with a mix of regrets of not doing much outside academics in school and a strong desire to build my individuality. A couple weeks before I entered college, I’d seen this TED talk (baad mein dekh lena, abhi article padh lo :p) by my Math professor at coaching, and I decided – I’m going to use these 4 years to explore – explore every possible thing that I might even remotely be interested in.
And so, I made a checklist. I wanted to do everything. Sports, Culturals, Internships, Core Projects, International Exposure, Academics, Starting Up. Everything. I realised early on that starting up was probably pretty different from the other points, which happened to have precedence or some defined structures of going about them. But entrepreneurship seemed somewhat unique, something that takes much more than just an intent to help realise.
Months, years passed by. I couldn’t find the time or bandwidth to actually come up with or identify an idea to work upon, let alone invest in building something from scratch. I had realised that entrepreneurship is too much of an effort for me – and it definitely needed more motivation and drive, than, say, applying for an internship or a conference. And honestly, I gave it up, or at least mentally erased the point from my checklist, deciding that I should rather make the most of the structures easily available in the institute.
My ISMP mentor had mentioned in my first year that some wingie of his had gone to an international conference and that such opportunities are also available in insti. In my second year, a senior from my wing went to Malaysia for a week-long immersion program. My urge to apply for international opportunities grew. I was on a constant lookout, and diligently applied for more than 10 programs. I got selected for the STEP Youth Regional Affairs Dialogue in Singapore and the International Youth Delegation by the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, both through the campus itself.
After I went to these programs, I realised that there’s a whole world outside the limits of the institute that’s yet to be explored. I made friends globally, learnt from my peers’ experiences, and got exposed to a whole set of new ideas. There’s just so much intangible stuff out there that can add more value to your personality than the things we currently value or fight for.
In my third year, a lot of my juniors, batchmates and even seniors reached out, asking about these programs. And I knew for a fact that the limited opportunities through campus would not be able to accommodate so many enthusiastic students. Upward of 100 students had applied for each of them, and I was the only one who got selected for STEP and one of six who got into IYD. I wondered why such opportunities, despite being at par or at times even much better than the ones we avail through campus, are so few in number. At almost the same time, my close friend from BITS Pilani, Rahul Sundareshwaran, happened to get selected for the Stanford ASES program and for HPAIR. And we often ended up discussing our experiences, and how rare it is for students to actually find out about these, apply for them, and avail them.
For months, we had this problem statement in mind, but we were pretty much clueless as to how to go ahead. It was finally when COVID happened that we started to actually consider working on this. We decided to speak to some seniors and see what they thought about it. While most agreed that this was a good idea and something that’s actually needed, they also hinted towards the efforts that would have to be put in to deal with a problem that required us to somehow dig up good opportunities and be better than the existing players in the market.
Personally, I felt very demotivated – even decided to give up. Our enthusiasm had gone down again. But then one day, Rahul sent me a doc which had a rather ambitious thesis about his idea of the Project.
It was March, and we both had our academics, PoRs, internships, and placements ahead of us. But we decided that this deserved to be given a shot. We both wanted to build something of our own, be able to hone the crucial art of selling things and make the lives of future instizens a little easier. But most importantly, we wanted to work together. We both had similar values and ways of seeing things, although we did (and do) starkly differ at some more granular way of executing things.
So, it seemed like a perfect fit. And so we began. We called it The Opportunity Project. Because that’s what it is. An experiment to help bridge the gap between quality exclusive experiential learning opportunities and ambitious students. A place where a student from any year or background could choose from a vetted set of global conferences, competitions, hackathons, workshops, scholarships, summer schools, internships, fellowships, and even courses.
We both sat down and tried to structure the whole problem at hand from first principles. We questioned each and every aspect of the idea. Is there even a problem? What is the problem? Should we address the problem? How should we address the problem? We spent a couple of weeks trying to understand our motivations and worked on identifying gaps and plausible solutions to the same.
We got Hrishikesh on board and started off by doing a competitors’ analysis – trying to understand what solutions exist in the market and what the gaps are. We realised that although a number of such platforms exist, most of their opportunities were diluted and not completely relevant to tier-one Indian college students. Even from our own experiences, we’d wasted days trying to find that one good opportunity for us – endlessly surfing on these platforms, but they never seemed to have much meat to them.
So the first step was to try to figure out how to even catch hold of quality opportunities – to define thresholds and to be able to call an opportunity a “good” opportunity. We identified several domains and started reaching out to seniors who had experience in that particular domain – but it didn’t seem to work out, as most of our contacts had done stuff we already knew about. Now, we had two options – to either build a tool that could efficiently scrape the best of the best opportunities or to manually hand-pick them. We went for the latter, as we didn’t have the technical know-how or a set of tangible parameters to help define a “quality” opportunity.
We got in 4 more students from BITS Pilani and BITS Goa to complete our core team of 7, and quickly got to work. Each took charge of one domain – Core, IT, Entrepreneurship, Consulting, Finance, Social Development, and Policy, and we began searching for the best lot based on our experience. Further, to vet our opportunities, we planned to reach out for testimonials for each opportunity by those who’ve pursued them. After a couple weeks of this activity, we came up with 300 quality opportunities and around 50 testimonials, and decided to conduct our MVP.
The minimum viable product stage is the phase where you’d want to test your core solution. So we created and reached out to a hand-picked cohort of 50 students across colleges, years and interests and questioned them to understand the problem better and whether our database was of any use to help address that. The feedback we got was pretty encouraging. More than 70% provided very optimistic inputs about the idea and gave valuable critical reviews and suggestions.
Now that we knew that we were doing something meaningful, we needed to convert this idea from a proof-of-concept to a product. And this meant scouting for more opportunities, more testimonials and also building the platform. Giving in to the fact that we had chosen an information-intensive project, we realised that we needed more hands to help identify those quality opportunities. So we expanded our team and recruited 9 sophomores across colleges, and ramped up the product curation aspect. Simultaneously, we got in 3 developers to help realise the backend (Pratham), the front-end (Rwitban), and the design (Nimish) of the platform.
After 100s of hours of deliberations and discussions over a span of two months, we were able to create a platform that would house more than 1000 opportunities and over 200 testimonials across domains. We currently have 700 registrations and are quickly onboarding all of them in phases, simultaneously collecting feedback and making changes.
Further, to improve the opportunity-discovering experience of users, we incorporated several functionalities – cards for both, opportunities and people, so that you easily scroll through the best opportunities suited for you and also connect with like-minded people with similar interests, recommendations of opportunities based on your usage, and wishlists, where you can save the opportunities you love for future reference.
A snapshot of The Opportunity Project
The way forward
At this stage, although we’ve come a long way, I earnestly believe that we’ve just begun. For now, we’ve limited users through a controlled referral mechanism on the platform, and have opened to only 10 colleges to just ensure that we’re able to fulfill the user need before going all out. We plan to make it open for all, so that everyone can benefit from the experiences and find that perfect opportunity for themselves.
That said, this effort of ours happens to be incomplete without you. Because opportunities keep changing, and we can do only so much. So to make it sustainable, we’d need the IIT and BITS community to reach out to us and help us in keeping this going. We’d love to know about quality opportunities you’ve pursued or know about, for which we’ve created a “Contribute” page on the platform. We’d love it if you would be willing to contribute to this Project or would share it with someone who would be benefited by it.
Down the line, we plan to introduce several interesting networking solutions on the same platform itself, so do keep a lookout :)) You can register at www.opproject.club, or to know more about us, you can look up our Instagram handle.
Entrepreneurship in IIT Bombay
Personally, I feel the startup culture on campus isn’t as sturdy or encouraging as it should be. In BITS Pilani and IIT Madras, literally every wing has a startup. It’s not because they’re smarter or more innovative than us, or have more facilities than us, it’s just about what precedence is set and the kind of ideas you’re exposed to.
Explore that idea of yours that you’ve been thinking about. Approach relevant seniors and professors. Invest those extra hours of slogging into solving a problem that you are excited about. Yes, this isn’t going to be as easy as marking a tick on your checklist, but it will be a completely eye-opening experience where you’ll explore skills and ideas that you cannot explore through a job or a project.
Just remember that you’ve got the support system you need. Keep exploring various channels in the institute – there are efforts by Desai Sethi Centre for Entrepreneurship to provide the best guidance, by E-Cell to create more opportunities, and by Insight to cover and encourage them. Leverage those. It’s the best time to experiment and fail, and experiment again, because we have nothing to lose. If you feel something’s missing, stand up and fill that gap, or else someone else will.