(Note: As promised to our awesome readers, we have now published a list of top women entrepreneurs in India)
Most teenagers in India dream of getting into an IIT and/or IIM. Of lakhs of young Indians, who sit for the entrance exams, only a few hundred make it to these institutions. In addition to IIT, IIMs, the likes of BITS-Pilani and NIFT are popular too. While a plush job after graduation is one reason for this immense popularity, another reason is an ideal atmosphere that encourages entrepreneurship in India. A general perception is that most top entrepreneurs in India are from these top institutes.
What’s more, a trend that has been observed these days is that it is easier for someone from an IIT or an IIM to get funding for their entrepreneurial dreams. The current startup ecosystem is dotted with success stories of top entrepreneurs who graduated from either an IIM, IIT, BITS and the likes. Nevertheless, as we said, there is a general perception unless you are an IIT/IIM alumni, it is tough to be a successful entrepreneur. We have now drawn up a list of top entrepreneurs in India who have not been to any of these top institutes yet have gone on to create some wonderful companies and built great teams.
Here is a list of top entrepreneurs in India who were successful without attending an IIT or an IIM:
* In alphabetical order
Sydenham College, Campion School
Alok Kejriwal is a top serial entrepreneur from India who made his name with the Contests2Win companies, especially Games2Win, which comScore rates as one of the top 20 online gaming businesses in the world. The site has hundreds of games and gets over 15 million unique users each month. A typical Mumbai boy, Kejriwal’s alma mater consists of the Campion School in Colaba and the Sydenham College. While The Walt Disney Company has acquired Mobile2win China, he now acts as a mentor for many startups and has launched a community for budding entrepreneurs – Rodin Hoods.
Sydenham College, Manekji Cooper
Ashish Hemrajani, who helms one of India’s top entertainment ticketing applications and analysis solutions provider, Bigtree Entertainment, is an MBA from the Mumbai University (Sydenham College). He completed his schooling from the prestigious Manekji Cooper School in Juhu, Mumbai. After a two-year stint at J. Walter Thompson (JWT), Hemrajani founded Bigtree Entertainment that launched Bookmyshow, which has managed to grab 90% market share in the online entertainment ticketing space. In addition, the Network 18 group has heavily invested in his company.
D.G. Ruparel College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Arya Vidya Mandir
Bhavin Turakhia is an internet maverick, who managed to have a vision about the internet industry in India as no one did. Turakhia, while still in college at Ruparel founded Directi, a web products company, in the late nineties. Now, a technology conglomerate, it has nearly a thousand employees. There are two special things about Directi. One is a pretty well known fact that Turakhia started the company with a capital of Rs 25,000 from his father. What many people don’t know is that thanks to the company’s culture and hiring practices, quite a few employees of Directi have gone and helmed important positions at major startups and have founded their own companies. Turakhia is a top entrepreneur in India who has thus indirectly mentored many entrepreneurs in India.
(PS: sumHR is co-founded by Jay Thaker, who started his career at Directi in mid-2000s.)
Kannur University (Dropout)
Deepak Ravindran founded one of the leading mobile companies Innoz, while still at college in 2008 along with three of his fellow students. This tech startup operates the largest offline mobile search engine 55444, which has managed to clock 15 million plus user, and is still growing. In fact, Innoz was rated among the top 100 technology companies by the Red Herring magazine. The only connection that Ravindran has with top educational institutions such as IIT, IIM, or Stanford is that he’s given lectures about the finer nuances of entrepreneurship and starting up to the students of these elite institutions!
Narsee Monjee, St. Thomas High School
Dippak Khurana, the co-founder of Vserv.mobi, earned his Bachelor’s in Commerce as well as his management degree from Narsee Monjee in Mumbai. His company Vserv.mobi acts as an advertising network for app developers, publishers, and advertisers, enabling major global brands and digital agencies for the in-app marketing. Prior to starting up Vserv.mobi, Khurana worked at major digital technology projects for biggies like Times of India, Yahoo, and Mauj. However, his zeal for entrepreneurship began during his college days when he started up a business manufacturing and selling t-shirts with rock band prints, which was followed up by a livestock business after graduation.
University of Madras, SASTRA University, and Campion
Girish Mathrubootham, who is the Founder & CEO for one of the leading customer support software provider Freshdesk, could well be an ideal role model for all professionals working at tech companies. Educated at the SASTRA University (Bachelor of Engineering) and University of Madras (MBA in Marketing), Girish got the idea of a helpdesk software after reading an online discussion, after which he thoroughly followed it up and quit his plush job at ZOHO. Freshdesk is now one of the top web based customer support platform, thanks to its really simple to use GUI and intuitive interface. Mathrubootham’s experience and leadership, coupled with competitive rates has made the service a preferred choice of not only startups but also major corporations.
NMIMS (Dropout), Wilson College
Kunal Shah, the co-founder and CEO of FreeCharge.in, completed his Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy and joined the NMIMS to pursue an MBA but soon dropped out. While he began his first company, PaisaBack, a business process outsourcing firm in 2009, it was FreeCharge.in which has caught the interest of many. Established in 2010, the online recharged site has attracted the likes of Sequoia Capital India, who have pumped in Rs 20 crore. Another indicator of Shah’s success with FreeCharge.in is the number of copycat sites that have come up and imitated their business model!
Osmania University (Dropout), Kendriya Vidyalaya
Say the words digital media and startups, the first person that comes to your mind is Mahesh Murthy. Schooled at a Kendriya Vidyalaya, Murthy then went to Osmania University to study Chemical Engineering but dropped out after a year and just like every other dropout in India those days, joined the advertising industry and grew through the ranks. He eventually founded Pinstorm, one of India’s top digital marketing agencies. But Mahesh Murthy’s stint with entrepreneurship started in 1999, when he co-founded Geodesic, a pioneering company since it was product-driven. He is also a well-know investor, and is the Managing Partner at Seedfund, which invests in technology companies.
SIMSREE, Allahabad University, St. Joseph’s College, Nainital
Neeraj Roy, the MD & CEO of Hungama, completed his schooling at St. Joseph’s College in Nainital and then went to Allahabad University. Always, wanting to be an entrepreneur, Roy then came to Mumbai where he completed his MBA from Sydenham Institute of Management Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship Education (SIMSREE). Hungama is one of Asia’s top digital and mobile entertainment firms. Roy founded the company in 1999, after spending close to a decade at the Taj Group of Hotels and Prime Securities. In addition to being a top entrepreneur, Neeraj Roy has also invested in a company started up by an ex-Hungama employee.
Sydenham College, Bombay Scottish
Nitish Mittersain is the founder and CEO of Nazara, one of India’s top mobile content platform provider and games publishers. Schooled at the Bombay Scottish, he then went to Sydenham College in Mumbai (just like the other top entrepreneurs in India on this list). While in college, Mittersain launched the firm, which focused only on games but it later started to provide content too.The company started just after the dotcom bubble burst but managed to rake in some Rs 20 crores in 2005 from Sequoia Capital. Nazara has come a long way since then and has even backed and incubated another gaming startup, Playcaso, which focuses on casual and social games.
Fergusson College, Kendriya Vidyalaya
Rudrajeet Desai is the co-founder and CEO of Ideacts Innovations, a startup that has developed software for cyber-cafes and then successfully dabbled in technology solutions for online shopping. Desai graduated with a degree in Mathematics from the Fergusson College in Pune. He has completed his schooling at a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Commonly known as a cyber cafe advertising company, Ideacts Innovations managed to raise capital from Sequoia. Prior to starting up, Rudrajeet Desai worked for industry majors such as BPL Mobile, Cadbury, Mobile2win, and Group M, working on diverse fields, including large-scale distribution networks and branding.
Symbiosis, Delhi University
Sandeep Singh is the co-founder of one of India’s leading online lifestyle apparel brand, Freecultr. He finished complete his Bachelors of Commerce with honors at the Delhi University, during which he also had his first stint with entrepreneurship. After graduation, Singh went to Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, where he completed his MBA with a specialization in communication and advertising. Freecultr is a young firm that was started in December 2011 by Sandeep Singh, Sujal Shah (who has now exited the firm), and Rajesh Narkar, and has been funded by the Smile Group. In addition to Freecultr, Singh previously started up Quasar Media, one of India’s top digital marketing agencies.
Kurukshetra University (Dropout), Kendriya Vidyalaya
Varun Singh is the founder and CEO of ScaleArc, a Santa Clara-based technology firm that specializes in database infrastructure solutions. After completing his schooling from a Kendriya Vidyalaya, Singh joined the Kurukshetra University to study electronics and telecommunications but eventually dropped out. While he started off as a tech journalist, Singh created and worked on major online properties related to technology news/information in India, such as TechTree, Tech2, Web18, etc. He eventually started up ScaleArc, which has received some rave reviews and managed to get funding from major VC firms, such as Nexus Ventures, Accel Partners, and Trinity Ventures. This Indian entrepreneur is also a well know host for top technology-related shows on major networks, including CNN and Economic Times Now.
Sri Venkateswara University, Kendriya Vidyalaya
Vinay Gupta, the Chairman, Founder, and CEO of Via, completed his schooling at a Kendriya Vidyalaya and then went to Sri Venkateswara University and graduated with a degree in engineering (computer science). Formerly known as Flightraja, Via is India’s largest technology based travel services firm, and a network that spans 900+ cities in the country along with 17000 agents. Coming from a management consultancy background, Gupta has worked with companies such as Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, etc. He founded Via in 2006, and has taken the company to great heights, attracting investments from Sequoia Capital and NEA IndoUS Ventures.
Sydenham College, Campion School
Vinay Sanghi is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CarTrade.com, one of India’s top online motoring market for buyers and sellers of new and used vehicles. Born and raised in Mumbai, Sanghi too went to the Campion School and then went to the Sydenham College to complete his graduation. While Sanghi commenced his career at a Bajaj dealership with a job in the sales department, it was in 1999 when he had his first real tryst as an entrepreneur after launched Automart, an online platform for selling pre-owned vehicles. But his claim to fame is with CarTrade.com, which has become a go-to site for car buyers in India, thanks to a network that spans 80 cities and 12000+ dealers. The company has backing of Canaan Partners, Tiger Global, and Epiphany.
Pune Institute of Computer Technology, IPS Academy, Indore Public School
Virat Khutal is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Twist Mobile, a Singapore-based mobile development company that focuses on mobile applications and games for India and other emerging countries. Schooled at the Indore Public School, Khutal then studied at the IPS Academy and Pune Institute of Computer Technology. Founded some five years ago, Twist Mobile has made a name for itself in application and game development, and has managed to attract investments from the likes of Matrix Partners India as well as Achal Choudhary, who provided the seed fund. Prior to this, Khutal worked as a game designer at games industry biggie Gameloft in Pune.
RA Podar College Of Commerce & Economics, General Education Academy
Vishal Gondal is most probably India’s answer to the Cliff Bleszinskis and Gabe Newells! Schooled at the General Education Academy, Gondal then went to the well-known RA Podar College to study commerce but eventually dropped out to concentrate on his entrepreneurial ambitions. While he dabbled in video games and software development during his teenage years, it was in 1999 when he founded Indiagames, which went on to establish itself as one of the top gaming companies in India. The gaming company set up offices in other countries too. Disney acquired it for around a hundred million dollars in 2011, and Gondal was then made the MD of the newly formed DisneyUTV Digital (from which he quit recently). A true entrepreneur at heart, Vishal Gondal also invests in new startups via Sweat And Blood Venture Group.
We are sure you enjoyed reading this list about the top entrepreneurs in India. There are hundreds of budding entrepreneurs in India (a majority of them wannabepreneurs) who haven’t been to a top institute like an IIT or an IIM or XLRI or the ISB. This list also tries to serve as an inspiration for these promising entrepreneurs who can take a cue from the top Indian entrepreneurs above.
Being a startup that serves other startups and small businesses, sumHR closely interacts with various important stakeholders of the Indian startup ecosystem including VCs, most of whom are positive about mentoring startups and entrepreneurs from non-IIT or non-IIM backgrounds. The perception of startups in India as a whole is changing and various platforms are emerging for just about anyone who has a good business idea, regardless of the educational institute he/she has studied (or dropped out). This article is merely an attempt to break the common misconception observed in the startup ecosystem of India, that ‘only entrepreneurs who’ve studied at such institutes can manage to succeed in their enterprises’.
Please, feel free to use the comment section to add any top Indian entrepreneur that you feel has scaled up and succeeded without going to a top education institute such as IIT, IIM, ISB, etc.
Disclaimer: IITs & IIMs are premier institutes, which produce some very talented professionals, and we have high regards for these and similar institutes. While this list is inspired by actual entrepreneurs who have NOT attended/graduated from an institute like IIT/IIM, it doesn’t mean to imply, in any way whatsoever, that these entrepreneurs have anything against institutes like IIT/IIMs. On the contrary, some of these entrepreneurs are guest/visiting faculties are these institutes and have high regards for these institutes, and often look out to hire talent professionals graduating from these institutes.