Startups: Internshala


by Jayant Thatte

Finding a good internship is a nightmare for most students, IITians  or otherwise. In some institutes, departments help their students  find core internships within India. But those who wish to take up a  foreign or a non-core internship are forced to struggle pretty  much on their own. The biggest challenge for many is to acquire   information about the right internship programs at the right time. Experience shows that googling for hours in search of a perfect job profile can be terribly exasperating.

About a year ago, two IIT alumni decided to put an end to this problem. Sarvesh Agrawal, an IIT Madras graduate (D.D, 2006 batch) along with Ankur Khator, an IIT Bombay alumnus (Computer Science, 2005 batch) launched an online platform to bring together students and companies. It has all the information needed for a range of internship programs in government, social, engineering and management sectors. Internships in NGOs, United Nations and areas as diverse as journalism are also featured.

“I really want to thank Internshala for making it possible for me to reach out to high-potential candidates within just a couple of days. Normally, managing to get in touch with good candidates interested in our work would take me nothing less than a month!” wrote the founder of The Learning Point in a testimonial for the online portal.

Some excerpts from our interview with Sarvesh:

SarveshWhat inspired you to start Internshala? When did it first occur to you that you would like to start an online internship portal?
Ever since I graduated I wanted to do a start up because I felt that the learning and fun involved would be immense. I am fascinated by the impact education and technology can have on a person,having been the first hand beneficiary of both myself, and I wanted to do something in this area. Last October while brain storming with a few friends on possible business ideas we zeroed down on a student portal (which quickly distilled down to an internship portal given the obvious need and absence of any major players). At the same time a friend of mine from IIT Madras days, who was then doing his MBA from London Business School, was looking for an internship in India in a niche area and could not get any despite such academic credentials. This I found very odd and the decision to start an internship portal was confirmed.

Getting inspiration is one thing, but converting it to reality is another. I am sure you would have faced a lot of glitches in the initial phases: getting a team, technical knowledge, funds and so on. What were the biggest challenges you faced when you were starting off and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced was not knowing where to start from. I had no background on web technology or internet domains, knew very little about recruitment process and had very few contacts in the industry to whom I could write regarding internships. But there was tremendous help that I got from a lot of people which set the ball rolling. Its only now that I realize what a brand name IIT Madras is; I remember sometime in March there was an email sent out to all the alumni about Internshala and the kind of response I got from all over the world was overwhelming – it took me a week to sort out my mailbox! The other big challenge was to find a co-founder which I believe is no less critical than finding a life partner- you both need to subscribe to the same vision, values and thought process and need to have a good wavelength. Again writing to friends helped and Ankur Khator (IIT Bombay, Class of 2005, Computer Science), an old friend whom I knew since my JEE preparation days in 2001 came onboard. One thing which has worked time and again is perseverance. As an entrepreneur you can not take “No” for an answer and you have to work tirelessly to find solutions to a problem – even if it means just picking up the phone and calling up a complete stranger to ask for help with nothing to offer in return but gratitude!

From being just a small startup, Internshala has grown a lot. Can you give us rough numbers of the students and companies who have benefited from Internshala?
We are on to a good start one could say, but there is LOT to be done before we could say with satisfaction that our vision of ushering in a culture of meaningful internships in India has been realized. Remember there are 2-3 million students out there who look for internships every year and we have just scratched the surface of the ice-berg so far.We are still a start up; and a small one at that. While we are celebrating the 1st anniversary today, the registration took place only 3 months ago. We are yet to hire people full time, yet to get ourselves an office space, yet to have our cards printed (not that it matters). As I said, we are off to a good start but there is LOT that needs to be done. Roughly ~250 organizations have used Internshala till date and ~1,000 students have been placed in the internships posted on Internshala. We have a long way to go from here.

Ankur“People First, Profits Next” is the motto at Internshala. Can you elaborate on your business model?
That’s pretty much the business model also right now. We are focusing on building a user base as of today (both on the students’ side and the companies’ side) and would bring out a revenue model over time. Internshala would ALWAYS be free for students.

As one of the founders of this online internship portal, what do you think when you look back at your one year journey?
There is a sense of joy, pride, fullfilment, with a hint of nervousness and lots of energy! Other than being a business venture, the fact that Internshala is helping thousands of students at such a critical juncture of their lives gives the team a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of “we are making a mark in the enormous universe!”. When a student calls you up in middle of day to tell you how she would never forget the very first internship of her life that she got on Internshala; that’s a moment straight out of the movies- a very emotional moment for everyone in the team. In addition, it has been an immense learning experience for all of us. The kind of things that we have done and learned in the last 12 months-I did not do half as much in 5-6 years of corporate career! We are also aware of the expectations that we are building up in our users’ mind for the future and so we remain excited about what lies ahead!

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