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Thursday, December 06, 2001

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Harnessing youth power


Harsha Subramaniam

Gelled hair, hip glasses, cool mobile, swanky office..."Oh no! not another dotcom CEO. This is your first reaction when you meet Manoj Kumar, Co-founder of Studentconcepts.com, a youth management company. But then, find out what this company has done and you are convinced that this is no dotcom at all. Just listen to him talk and you hear nothing of the revenue model spiel; instead what you hear is a story.

A dream that has come true

One day, ten summers ago, young Manoj found himself at the Principals office. He was asked what he wanted to do in life. I dont know, said Manoj candidly. What then followed changed Manojs perspective about life. His Principal decided that he should study pure science because he was weak in Maths. This set him thinking.

Someone else was making decisions for me. In fact, this happened to all my friends. This just wasnt right, says Manoj.

For the next two years, Manoj visualised a forum that would help students make their own choice about their lives. He wrote to colleges abroad to find out how student counselling worked there.

His academic interest in biotechnology took him to Australia, where he specialised in genetic engineering. But there was always this urge in him to change the way students back home chose their careers.

So in 1999, this 26-year-old came back to India to set up Studentconcepts along with his buddy S.Sashikanth, an architect.

Studentconcepts has positioned itself as an ultimate destination for the youth. It has an AISEC ( a student body) feel with an MTV covering, says Manoj. According to him, the raison detre of the company is to empower the youth of this country.

Initially the going was tough. Manoj and Sashi visited several schools and colleges and met over 20,000 students in a span of one year. The objective of this exercise was to find out what the student community wanted and what was going wrong. In less than a year, the company started receiving responses from several companies, students and individuals. After a presentation that the duo made to Anderson Consulting in Mumbai, the company received seed capital and support from Maveric, the venture capital arm of Polaris Software. It has been a dream run since then.

What do they do?

Studentconcepts has four arms. The first unit called Work-a-while, offers part-time jobs for college students.

The idea is to provide an opportunity for college students to learn and make some money.

When you earn your money, the power of decision-making is in your hands. Its a great learning, he says.

Students are offered part-time jobs at retail outlets, market research agencies, restaurants, corporate organisations and so on. They earn anything from Rs 200 to Rs 6,000 depending on the hours they put in and the nature of work. Studentconcepts has tie-ups with 71 organisations in Chennai alone, which source part-timers from them.

Eventures, the event management arm of the company, specialises in conducting events for corporates who focus on students as their target segment. The event is conceptualised and executed by the company. For instance, Studentconcepts conducted NIIT Brainbusters, one of the biggest quiz shows in the city. It has also have done similar events for Lufthansa, IDP Education Australia and so on. The concept is brainstormed by students themselves,adds Manoj.

Studentconcepts also runs a youth magazine called Scout. Apart from creating the content, this magazine is also designed and distributed by students. With a circulation of 15,000 copies, Scout claims to be the largest youth magazine in the city. It is available free of cost at almost all schools and colleges and at 170 retail outlets across the city. The popularity of the magazine is vouched by the presence of an impressive list of advertisers.

Youth management unit, the fourth arm, deals with the problems that students go through in their life. This is the social side of the operations, explains Manoj. Studentconcepts also has a Web site which makes its services accessible to students all over the world.

The core team of the company consists of just two persons. We have a few full-timers but most of them are students who work part-time with us,says Manoj.

All fine. But is he making money?

We are making money, insists Manoj, though he doesnt disclose any figures, saying it is a promoting companys prerogative.

Studentconcepts is now planning to spread its wings all over the country. It has already reached out to colleges in Bangalore, Cochin and Hyderabad.

Manoj points out that by the year 2015, 55 per cent of Indias population will be in the age group of 15 and 25.

We want to turn out the best youth in the world by then, he says.

Pic.: S.Sashikanth (Left) and Manoj Kumar, Founders of Studentconcepts.com.

Picture by Bijoy Ghosh

 
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