It was time. I could feel the anxious and excited butterflies in my stomach, not sure of what to expect when the curtains opened up. I was on stage with our Chief Guest, Guest of Honors, College Dignitaries, and Faculty Advisors. The efforts, dedication, and commitment of my entire team over the last 6 months were to come to a conclusion in just a few moments. It was the last event of the week and it had to be impactful, inspiring, and moving. It was the Valedictory Ceremony of Pune StartUp Fest 2020!
As I heard the curtain’s motor running, I could not believe my eyes. I was looking at an auditorium, filled to the brim, applauding! Although the light was focused on the stage, I could see a few familiar faces, students from my class, members of my team, faculties, entrepreneurs but, I could hear the loudest applause coming from the right side. It was my entire family huddled together experiencing a moment of pride as they saw their daughter on stage.
I knew this moment would be a highlight forever with me but as I experienced it, I could not help but think about everything that led to this moment – the people, the experiences, and the decisions I had to take.
It was my mother’s dream for me to be a student at the College of Engineering Pune because it was the best in the city. She probably was the happiest when I got in and on my first day, she asked me to make the most of this golden opportunity I had.
Right from the first week, I followed my brother’s advice to be like a sponge, take in as much as I can, and not shy away from new experiences. I gave a lot of auditions, interviews, and quizzes in my first month. In this process, I became a part of the COEP’s Entrepreneurship Cell – Bhau’s E-Cell.
Even today, I am not sure why I wanted to join. The club culture they spoke about, the warm people, the events they organized, or just a fascination with the word Entrepreneurship! Unarguably, the decision to be a part of the E-Cell shaped me in my thinking, created a path for me in college and subsequently in life too!
During my first year, I tried to take part in all the activities the club arranged. I thoroughly enjoyed the Case Study on a failed StartUp named Walnut. I felt a little lost in the week-long Virtual Stock Market activity perhaps because it wasn’t my area of interest. Soon we started prepping for E-Fest 2018 where I worked on the creation and design of a new event – ConWINce where you test your communication and convincing skills to sell a product in a new way. I felt so excited by the idea myself that I enjoyed spending time working on it.
In college, the First-year students are not given too much responsibility compared to the Second Year’s while the Third Year or Final Year students do the major heavy lifting in event organization. It is usually due to a lack of experience. On the day of the E-Fest, we were minutes away from the starting time and the Events Head came in a little panicked and said, the anchor(MC of the event) isn’t here yet and we cannot reach him. I really thought all the efforts were going to get wasted and the next thing I remember was me standing in front of 100 odd people, holding the mic and welcoming them. This was way more responsibility than I imagined. The actual host did eventually appear but he asked me to continue as apparently “I was doing a good job”. This was the first highlight moment for me in college. The fact that I could prove myself as reliable and responsible.
In my second year, I decided to continue with E-Cell in order to work on gaining deeper knowledge into the world of startups and innovators. I participated in multiple of the club activities and learned a lot especially in the business planning or B-Plan competition. Here we had mentors who helped us identify a problem, ideate a solution, create a pitch and we actually received a chance to pitch to real-life investors who were happy to give us feedback and suggestions.
Luckily, the core team that year decided to take E-Fest up a notch and created Pune StartUp Fest – a conclave of entrepreneurship. There would be 100 startups coming to college, there would-be potential investors who would visit these startups, and students who would apply for internships at these startups. The event would be open to the public of Pune to come, visit, and get inspired. This had never been done before and no one knew for sure if it were even possible. It was a challenge, we were ready to take on. I requested to work in the team contacting the startups, getting them on board, and designing events. The target was huge but it was an exhilarating and humbling experience.
The best part of working in the E-Cell and Pune Startup fest was there was no limit to what I could learn. The more time and efforts I gave in, the more I learned. There were portfolios for us to work in, but if I showed interest, I was allowed to learn more than just my portfolio. I got a chance to work a little in marketing, finance, documentation as well as PR. On T-1 day, before leaving for home in the evening, looking at the 100+ stalls all over the campus already for the dynamic change we were trying to create was a highlight moment for me.
Within a few months, I saw myself standing in a classroom filled with 15 extremely talented and dynamic students from my batch, and together we would make the Bhau’s E-Cell Core Team for the academic year 2019-2020. I was given the role of the Secretary of the club which did certainly sound very fancy, but over the year I realized the responsibility, the duties, the power as well as the self-obligation that came with the role. Some of these were pre-defined and some I took up myself.
My brother who had been in a similar position as me a few years back gave me a valuable suggestion: whatever you do, where you work, at whichever role, make sure when you leave, you have added some value with your work. Every time I was in a fix, I remembered his words and strived to look for a value-addition-solution. We did face multiple hurdles throughout the year, and these were of various magnitudes, some took a phone call to solve and some took days. Throughout the year, we conducted multiple events including those that we had enjoyed participating in our First and Second years. We opened up the B-Plan and Idea competitions to the whole institute instead of restricting it to only the E-Cell members as well as arranged for workshops to prepare for the same. We had a goal to not only increase the cultivation of ideas in the institute but also help them get developed and converted into enterprises. We wanted to bring the industry experts to the students.
Towards the end of the Odd semester, we began working on Pune StartUp Fest 2020 (PSF’20). Our challenge this year was to not only maintain the success of the previous edition but also take up higher while maintaining the brand we created. Our PR and Networking team worked solely on getting more vetted investors and innovative, non-overlapping startups. An entire team worked on generating corporate funds while one on getting the college’s esteemed alumni on board to be a part of the mega event. Some of the members were working on creating a buzz and getting media partners while some were working on ensuring the lowest rates of items we had to spend on. In the last month, every day was a non-stop action day.
One day before PSF’20, none of us could sleep at night. Call it excitement, nervousness, anxiety, or sheer happiness. On the first day of PSF, just as soon as the Inauguration Ceremony was concluded, I switched on my walkie talkie and it started buzzing non-stop. I could not believe what I heard and ran to see it with my own eyes. There was no place to stand/walk/see/sit at the entrance registration desk. Our dream of not only getting all of Pune but all of Maharashtra had come true. The sight, with so many (hundreds) people waiting to get to see 130 new innovations, ideas, and startups became another highlight moment for me. Our efforts were bearing fruit. The next day and a half no different, with small problems arising and the team solving them on repeat. Over the course of the weekend, all of us interacted with some very strong connections with the Entrepreneurs, Keynote speakers, and Industry Experts who visited PSF.
I recently did a survey to see how many of the 21st-century skills I have. As I mapped out how I received those results, I realized I had either developed or improved 70% of them in my experiences at the Bhau’s E-Cell.
This was my story that took shape based on my choices and opportunities grabbed, and I am so happy to share it with you. Look at college like a novel. This novel tells your story because, at the end of four years, no 2 stories will be the same. Irrespective of whatever you do, make sure you are proud of your own story!
To know more about Bhau’s E-Cell and Pune Startup Fest you can contact:
Instagram: @bec_coep or mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[as originally published at CirQuip on 23rd January 2020]