IIT/K in its initial years was generally considered the odd one by most. Bureaucrats in the government were exasperated at the radical ideas and thoughts that went into building this institution. Universities, and even other IITs were a lot more conforming to the thinking of the time.
IITs were not meant to be 'me too' institutes. It was therefore in the fitness of things that people creating these institutions thought out of the box.
But that was then. India did not have many great institutions, self-confidence was relatively low, resources were scarcer, and role models rare.
It's different today. A fairly fast growing economy, young population that is a lot more aware, confident, and ambitious, infrastructure and social indicators that could be better but are quite enough to launch a thousand (make it a few millions, or hundreds of millions) dreams.
Crucially, IITs then were in nascent stages without a significant number of alumni. IIT alumni today are estimated to be about 150,000 now with experience profiles from 0 to 50 years. They are found in most geographies, in most fields, and in all variety of career types.
Premier institutes are meant to provide leadership in thought, training, and action.
IITs do have to carry out that role.
Typical talks on IITs surround around what IITs could do in the field of education, research, and transformation. The focus really should be on helping IITians accomplish a lot more than they have in the past.
It is generally believed that IITians have by and large been successful in most fields they have ventured into. There are plenty of iconic individuals with stellar achievements next to their names.
Yet, these are individual successes. There is no institutionalized mechanism or forum where sharing of vision, values, dreams, goals, strategies, and resources that can catalyze the IIT community to make a 100x mark on the world.
We need to come up with a shared vision and SWOT of contemporary India and the world at large as seen by a premier university and its alumni.
The ecosystem needs to facilitate IITians to become great performers both individually and as a community leveraging the synergies of ideas, resourcefulness, resources, collaborations and so on.
Entrepreneurship is one such area. In many ways the success factors presented by the contemporary ecosystem for entrepreneurs are still quite fragmented and obscure. A lot of false starts and eddy currents can be removed in the journey of the budding entrepreneurs by the many who have 'been there, done that'. A virtual Silicon Valley serving the community of IITians is critically needed with a fairly ambitious agenda.
Why the virtual Silicon Valley for IITians?
Quite simply Silicon Valley is about shared values, attitudes, passions, and dreams. IITians from all campuses always talk about how easy it is to break ice and get along with other IITians. So shared ingredients do exist.
This virtual Silicon Valley should help succeed IITians at least at the scale that the one in California. In fact, Brand IIT should make a much bigger impact in the happening country that India is today.
What about the IITs when the focus is on IITians?
IITs are great nuclei to anchor these initiatives serving the community that is wildly dispersed in both space and time.
The Mentoring Program is a great initiative and I hope it is a firm and forward step towards the goals above.