The TechForChange initiative, spearheaded by Nasscom Foundation and Ciena, empowers college students to cultivate impactful social ventures through an intensive 18-month programme. Participating startups receive grants, funding, mentorship, and a host of other resources to support their growth and development.

This article is sponsored by Ciena in collaboration with nasscom foundation.

A young child is encouraged to explore the world and get their hands dirty in a playground. ‘Fall down seven times, stand up eight’, are words that every child lives by. Why then, do we lose this never-say-die attitude as we grow up? 

Pushing youngsters to harbour this attitude to solve real-life challenges is the TechForChange programme, which provides them with a “geek playground”.

The idea, Nidhi Bhasin, CEO, nasscom foundation, explains, is to encourage social innovations from the leaders of tomorrow. “We encourage children to play while teaching them that it’s okay to fall in a playground. We are creating a similar playground for entrepreneurs, where it’s okay to fail. We teach them to stand up by providing the necessary support needed for success.”

Take, for example, 22-year-old Shivam Gupta who had a fantastic idea for building drones for the defence and agriculture sectors. In need for guidance and funding, he joined the programme as an engineering student in August 2022.

The programme helped him refine his idea and learn the art of pitching to investors. His startup ‘House Technologies’ was one of the winners in Cohort 2 and is now up and running, blazing an impactful trail on the ground.

Not just Shivam, this programme has helped 11 startups find their feet while accelerating the entrepreneurship journey for the students. This helps to make the challenging early stages of venture creation — from ideation to product development and marketing — easier to navigate.

TechForChange is a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative led by Ciena, a network hardware, software and services company, in collaboration with nasscom foundation as part of the nasscom ecosystem in its third year.

The purpose is to equip young innovators with essential tools, support, knowledge, and opportunities, empowering them to make a meaningful impact. It is also to provide them with a platform to turn their ideas into prototypes and businesses. Spanning over 18 months, the immersive programme guides students, exposing them to cutting-edge technology and potential use cases.

The top five high-potential startups are presented with a seed grant of Rs 5 lakh each through Technology Business Incubators (TBI).

Empowering tomorrow’s leaders to drive sustainable innovation

Today, the imperative for sustainable solutions that tackle critical social issues is undeniable. And this programme seeks to empower young leaders to catalyse global transformation through their innovative ventures and entrepreneurial spirit.

College students refine their ideas and get them running through this programme
College students refine their ideas and get them running through this programme.

TechForChange strives to lead this charge by nurturing emerging entrepreneurs and providing them with the support and resources they need to soar. It is designed to foster solutions that not only tackle pressing challenges but also resonate with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thereby contributing to a more sustainable and equitable future.

This programme was conceptualised to address the gap found in the skill set among college students. While they are well-prepared for placements, they are not equipped with the essential tools needed to start their own ventures.

“Ciena’s Digital Inclusion programme aims to foster student development and entrepreneurship in technology, promoting it as a viable and sustainable career option,” says Amit Malik, VP & Sales Leader, Ciena India.

Ciena India employees also engage in regular volunteering sessions to impart their own skills and knowledge to help boost the students’ confidence.

Ciena, in collaboration with nasscom foundation, has conducted two successful cohorts in the past two years and nurtured over 157 ideas. Of these, 11 startups have materialised across various sectors — including healthcare, education, mental health, and agriculture technology.

These 11 startups received mentorship from industry stalwarts and grants worth Rs 61 lakh.

The programme stands out by offering hands-on workshops and project-based learning.
The programme stands out by offering hands-on workshops and project-based learning.

“We received a lot of help and support from the mentorship sessions. The programme helped us learn marketing and allocation of funds too. It has made me a more confident person who can present his idea better,” Shivam shares.

He adds that the programme helped them launch the drones in the market and also led to grants worth over Rs 19 lakh from programmes in IIT-Mandi, NSUT IIF (Incubation and Innovation Foundation of Netaji Subhas University of Technology, New Delhi), and the Vimarsh 5G Hackathon.

Since the third edition of the TechForChange programme commenced in January 2024, the top 124 ideas were chosen. The process was kick-started through hands-on workshops on design thinking and ideation, which helped in refining the ideas.

The programme stands out by offering hands-on workshops and project-based learning, which are instrumental in developing expertise in cutting-edge technologies — such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).

Going beyond technical skills, the TechForChange-Cohort 3 programme emphasises the importance of innovation, guiding participants to identify customer needs and market gaps. This ensures that the solutions are not just theoretical but are relevant, and it helps in finding the product-market fit.

Through this, they hope to encourage youngsters to find solutions to the burning challenges in society today. The TechForChange-Cohort 3 programme has created a framework and support system that enables these solutions to become working prototypes through technology.

However, coming up with an innovative idea is just the first step in the journey of entrepreneurship. Recognising this, the programme offers extensive support in the critical early stages of venture creation. This includes mentorship, resources, and guidance on aspects — ranging from ideation to product development and marketing — ensuring that these young entrepreneurs have the best possible foundation to thrive.

The heartening change observed in the programme over the past three years is the increasing number of women participants. TechForChange’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion has played a key role in attracting more women. In the current cohort, 30 percent of the participants are women. “We hope that this number continues to increase over time,” says Vishal Thakur, CTO, nasscom foundation. 

The top five chosen startups from the third cohort will receive business mentoring, seed funding, and marketing help. At the end of 16 months, these five startups will be ready to launch.

Details of the programme

The TechForChange-Cohort 3 programme is open for college students in Delhi-NCR with a technical background. The students must come up with a technical solution for a social problem. The programme spans 18 months — including 11 months of cohort and seven months of incubation for the chosen five startups.

Students working on building drones for the defence and agriculture sectors.
Students working on building drones for the defence and agriculture sectors.

Phase 1: Ideation track (2 months)

The chosen 124 teams get an opportunity to refine their early-stage concepts into viable ideas through workshops and webinars. This track focuses on refining the problem statement.

Phase 2: Product track (3-4 months)

Fifty teams with promising ideas will be selected for this exciting stage, where their ideas will come to fruition as prototypes. Mentors with relevant experience will guide the students and equip them with the necessary skills to do so. The programme will also provide resources for their prototyping journey, including a small fund to help students build their solutions.

Phase 3: Startup track (2 months)

Things get heated up as 20 promising prototypes move to the next phase, where the concepts will start becoming business models. Mentors will guide on product-market fit, development, company registrations, and more.

Phase 4: The final five

The top five startups will be chosen for incubation and a chance at seed funding. Their ventures will be on the cusp of becoming realities through a seven-month incubation.

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Edited by Pranita Bhat

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