A boss by 18? The debate on what is the ideal age to start a business

by Anna Munhin Mar 20, 2023 News
A boss by 18? The debate on what is the ideal age to start a business

Students can get a sense of drive and direction from starting a business.

What is the right age to start a business? The debate about gauging the correct age to take an entrepreneurial plunge has been a contentious one. While some would say experience and a certain amount of grey hair can be decisive between success and failure, others argue youngsters that have a head start in building a business stand a better chance at achieving a favourable outcome.

Youngsters are starting up in large numbers across the length and breadth of the country. Encouraging students to take the entrepreneurial route can help them grow personally and professionally according to Shaila Prabhu, who runs an entrepreneurship programme called the TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE) for TiE Delhi-NCR. Students can create something of their own with the help of entrepreneurship. Students can get a sense of drive and direction from starting a business.

“Entrepreneurship can foster innovation and creativity. As entrepreneurs, students are often required to think outside the box and develop unique solutions to problems. This can lead to the development of new products or services, which in a broader term can lead to economic growth, benefiting both the individual and society at large. Entrepreneurship can also teach important life skills, such as leadership, time management and decision-making. Starting and running a business requires a high level of organisation and planning, and students who choose this path can develop these skills through hands-on experience. Student entrepreneurship also helps nurture the next generation of innovators and leaders,” says Prabhu.

When is the right time to begin?

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs began their companies when they were in their 20s, but today the age to form a business has been dropping even lower. In India and across the world, even children in schools harbour entrepreneurial ambitions.For example, the TYE programme Prabhu is running for The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a global not-for-profit organisation focused on promoting and fostering entrepreneurship, has been working with high school students for several years.

The TYE Program was created in 2005 at TiE Boston with the commitment of charter member teachers. It was TiE's first global programme in 2009.

According to Prabhu, The TYE Program has been preparing the next generation of young leaders for over 15 years. It has impacted over 12,000 high school children from 25 chapters around the world. It provides a stepping stone for students to develop a growth mindset and experience the startup world.“Major cities in India have created TiE Young Entrepreneurs, including New Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore. It has impacted students in smaller cities in India and Pakistan, including Kochi, Chandigarh, Nagpur, Lahore, Hubli, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow and Kanpur,” says Prabhu.

There is a young and restless person.

School students trying their hands at entrepreneurship may push the boundary, but for college and university students, entrepreneurship is quickly becoming popular.

BlueLearn is a student community platform that helps students learn a new skill, earn their first salary, and network with smart people. Shreyans Sancheti and Harish Uthayakumar started it in 2019. Your risk tolerance is the greatest positive of starting early. College students were free to attend classes and pass exams. It helped to start early. The more you learn, the sooner you start.

Snapdeal co-founder Kunal Bahl has earlier said, “The number of 18-year-olds in India who are running full-fledged startups with revenues, employees, etc, is just mind-boggling. Their level of maturity and hustle is next level. They have no fear of failure. The future of India's startup ecosystem is looking brighter than ever.”

It is the right time for students to consider entrepreneurship and become job creators because India is the third-largest startup nation. The future knowledge-based economy of the country can only be shaped by today's students. The right environment for entrepreneurship is provided by setting up maker labs, incubator centres, offering academic programmes, and encouraging formal and informal activities.

It's a tricky path.

For students, the going is difficult. Prabhu says student entrepreneurs face several challenges as they balance their academic commitments with their entrepreneurial ventures. “One major challenge is limited resources, including funding, time, and experience. Students often lack the financial resources to invest in their businesses, and they may have limited experience in the industry or in running a company. Balancing coursework and business operations can be difficult, leading to time management challenges. Another challenge is a lack of access to networks and mentorship. Overcoming these challenges requires creativity, perseverance, and a willingness to seek resources and support,” says Prabhu.Sancheti says he felt constrained by the lack of experience and also found that it was hard for older people to take them seriously.

The co- founder of Pepper Content faced the same issues. Shekhar says that it was difficult for them to be taken seriously as they were college students.

The Blue Learn and Pepper Content founders were, however, able to secure the faith of investors in the pre-product stage. “Titan Capital saw the potential in us and bet on us in our pre-product stage. They helped us with copious advice and provided the connect to the entire ecosystem of Titan-backed founders,” says Sancheti.Titan Capital has been focusing on student entrepreneurs for some time now. It visits campuses to meet and connect with student founders and runs campus-focused initiatives like “Chai with Titan Capital” to engage with college students and help them in business. It has invested in student-led startups like Pepper Content, Workduck, Verak, ClaimBuddy, BlueLearn and Zivov.Bipin Shah, Partner at Titan Capital, says: “Entrepreneurs create something new and innovative, which can be a highly satisfying and fulfilling experience for students, as they get to see the direct impact of their ideas and hard work. They also get the opportunity to shape their own career and determine their own success. This can be particularly appealing for students who may feel limited by traditional career paths and want to chart their own courses.”

A shoulder to hold onto.

Rimy Oberoi, Chair, TYE Delhi-NCR, says there are certain essentials for moving an entrepreneur from ideation to execution. This is where a mentor and a guide become extremely important.She says entrepreneurs many a time find it difficult to launch themselves. “They get caught in trying to find the perfect idea. It is important to make them understand that an idea is only worth it when you execute upon it. That execution gives life to the idea. Nudging them to build a minimum viable product is a great way to get them along on this path. Attaching them to mentors who have travelled this path also helps them to gain more confidence.”The role of an investor in student startups is usually more intense, as the founders may be less experienced and the business idea may also not be fully developed. As a result, investors in a student startup may need to be more hands-on and actively involved in supporting the operations of the company, providing more intense levels of support and mentorship. This may include helping the founders with things like market research, financial planning, strategic decision-making, making necessary introductions, etc. Shah says a little investor faith and engagement can transform student entrepreneurs from placement-seekers to employment-creators.“During the series-A of one of Titan's investee student startups, Titan Capital’s partners used to get on weekly calls with founders to help them in building their deck, P&L, making necessary investor connections, and fine-tuning their business metrics to make sure the startup is able to raise the necessary capital for business,” Bipin says. “However, it is important for investors to strike a balance between providing support and allowing the founders to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes.”

There is a thought that with young people starting up, they may lose focus on their education, which is important. Such a idea is dispelled by Oberoi. There was a time when a student spent too much time participating in sports contests that their parents were concerned about. Students who do well in sports are encouraged to pursue it. I believe entrepreneurship is going through the same thing. I think it's up to the individual. It is a balancing act. Students are being encouraged to take a semester off to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.