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New age startups: Entrepreneurs trying to tap-in internship market

The rising demand for young internees across large corporations and startup firms is spawning a number of new ventures that link prospective employers with aspiring students. These firms are aggregating demand from companies eager to spot fresh talent and connecting them with candidates seeking multiple options on a single platform.

"Barring the IITs and IIMs, most colleges leave students to fend for themselves when it comes to internships, even though it is an integral part of most academic courses," says Karthikeyan Vijayakumar, founder of Twenty19.com, a portal which focuses on students in their teens or twenties looking for an internship. The 30-year-old engineer from the 
Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, Pilani, interned with General Motors while still in college but found that most peers were not so lucky. "The reason being the lack of a consolidated platform to fill the demand and supply gap," says Vijayakumar who founded his company in 2010. 

Across the startup ecosystem a number of such new ventures have sprung up including LetsIntern.com, HelloIntern. com and Internshala. These portals together have a database of over 20,000 companies and institutes listing internships both in India and globally. "Interns are part of a 'millennial' talent pool and bring an enhanced value to our work environment," says Debashis Chakraborty, a recruitment leader at 
IBM for India and South Asia. The technology corporation views internships as a route to identify high-potential talent they can recruit in future. These could include positions within the research labs, sales and distribution as well as marketing, communication and human resource. 

For portals that are pooling together such demand, the business model can vary. Often it is a combination of a straight fee charged for each listing on a monthly basis or an annual subscription charge. Twenty19, which works with around 5,400 companies, chargesRs2,000 for a single listing and a flat fee ofRs9,000 for an annual subscription. With about 1.8 lakh visitors to its website every month, Vijayakumar is expecting to earn revenues ofRs60 crore by 2015. Entrepreneurs are also keen to tap into demand from overseas students looking to intern in emerging markets such as India. For instance, 29-year-old Sarvesh Agrawal set up Internshala.com in 2010, when a close friend studying in the 
London Business School, was unable to find an internship opening in India. The IIT Madras graduate says his portal now aggregates global internships from a number of universities including Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and Arizona State University in the US.

In turn, students are lapping up the plethora of choices that these portals now offer. Technology undergraduate Vishal Kumar, who develops mobile applications and games, notched up10 internships last year. A student of Jalandhar's Lovely Professional University, 21-year-old Kumar earned close toRs85,000 by working for startups such as MySuperBrain. com and Thinkappz.com. 

"I believe that learning from books is not a good way to acquire knowledge. Because of these internships, I have become more tactical," says Kumar, who intends to launch his own venture soon. For portals that list such internships finding the right business model is proving to be critical. Thirty-seven-year-old Tanuj Malik, who set up Indianinternship.com, says his portal earns revenues from advertisements, as startup firms who form the bulk of his customer base are not keen to pay for listing on the site.

In contrast, Delhi-based Letsintern. com charges students a fee for premium services. At present, the portal has 18,000 openings posted by companies and 1.2 lakh registered candidates. "As the demand is less than the supply, we wish to keep it free for companies," says Rishabh Gupta, 27, who co-founded the firm in 2010. Letsintern.com is aiming to earn revenues ofRs100 crore by 2017. Increasingly, more portals are offering specialist services as the industry grows rapidly. As in the case of Lawctopus.com set up two years ago by Tanuj Kalia, who set up the company with four friends while recovering from a bout of chickenpox. Kalia and his friends earn aboutRs6 lakh per year as profit from portal which hosts advertisements and paid blogging services. 

Malavika Jaggi, business development specialist at HelloIntern.com, says that convincing organizations about an intern's capability is also a challenge. To ensure they get the best talent, the company has tied-up with institutes such as IIT-Kanpur, NIT Trichy and BITS Pilani-Dubai Campus to ensure that specific requirements set out by companies can be met. For instance 
Google India, which also recruits interns through Web portals, has launched an internship program for second and third-year computer science students. 

The 12 -week software project, where each internee is paired with a Google engineer, includes training in coding and exposure to new Google tools. "The lack of internship platforms was a definite gap in the Indian market. These new startups are providing options across the job market," says Nishant Saxena, founder CEO Round One, an employee referral portal. The sector will grow rapidly as "more models emerge to help monetise this business," says Saxena of RoundOne.