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Here's What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 Mission Chandrayaan-2 was a grand mission. Entrepreneurs need to run their startups the same way. Every enterprise begins as a vision, and it takes a team with great passion, dedication, and talent to help realize this vision

By Shalabh Singhal

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At around 1.50 a.m. on September 7, 2019, millions of Indians sat wide awake with eyes glued to their television screens with bated breath as Chandrayaan-2's Vikram lander prepared to conduct a historic soft-landing on the moon's south pole. For more than two months, ISRO had captured the public imagination with its next bold and ambitious lunar mission. Even as living rooms across the country were alive with excitement and anticipation, the control room at ISRO was tense as the "fifteen minutes of terror' drew closer to its final moments.

Suddenly, the trajectory of the lander on screen, which had been green until then, turned red, signalling that the lander had veered off course. Any attempt by ISRO to communicate was met with radio silence that seemingly echoed the tense silence that gripped the entire nation.

In the days that followed, much has been said about Chandrayaan-2. India stood united in support of ISRO while the international space community commended the team's efforts. Success and failure are part of every journey, and everyone could relate to ISRO on a certain level (although the question of failure remains uncertain in ISRO's case). As entrepreneurs, we too may find much to relate from the Chandrayaan story. Indeed, it is a story that offers much to learn for every startup founder. For me, Chandrayaan-2 offers five important takeaways:

Take the first step

When the idea of an Indian scientific mission to the moon was initially proposed in 1999, the Indian Academy of Sciences mooted it. But the following year, Astronautical Society of India took the plan forward, and ISRO was found to have the right technical expertise to spearhead India's lunar mission. In 2003, the Chandrayaan programme was officially announced by the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. ISRO's breakthrough happened five years later with the success of Chandrayaan-1, a major milestone in India's space history. Chandrayaan-2 was a more ambitious venture that followed in the footsteps of Chandrayaan-1, which in turn will be followed by Chandrayaan-3, scheduled for 2024.

Related: How to Monetize Space Beyond Expeditions and Research

Success is a long journey, and ISRO's Chandrayaan story sets a great example for this. Humankind took its first steps on the moon in 1969, but it was a full four decades before India seriously considered conducting its own lunar mission. Taking this monumental step was India's first move towards carving a niche for itself in a field that was previously dominated by global superpowers. It eventually paid off with the success of Chandrayaan-1, which in turn was followed by Chandrayaan-2.

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As an entrepreneur, you may have a seemingly impossible idea that could potentially transform the future, but it takes a strong amount of willpower and self-confidence to take the plunge. Once you have taken the first step, other things will start falling into place if you are willing to put in all it takes to make it a reality.

Related: It's the space age! Dhruva set to privatize India's satellite industry

Dare to dream big

Making a mark in any field demands setting ambitious and challenging goals. This has perhaps been one of the biggest takeaways from ISRO's recent mission. Chandrayaan-2 was the team's most ambitious project to date. Had it succeeded, the Vikram lander would have been the first artificial body to touch the south pole of the moon. Despite the initial hiccups, the ISRO team was able to successfully launch the spacecraft and conduct a series of tricky maneuvers to bring Chandrayaan-2 into the lunar orbit. The team successfully separated the lander and the orbiter earlier this month, and the Vikram lander was able to pass almost every critical phase of its landing. Unfortunately, the last mile did not go as planned.

Despite this, ISRO has set a commendable example of how setting high goals can bring out the best in individuals. If we entrepreneurs can dare to dream big, we can also solve some of the toughest problems in India.

Follow a missionary approach

Chandrayaan-2 was a grand mission that involved some of the greatest scientific and engineering minds in India today. Throughout its existence, ISRO has always set a high benchmark for talent, and this has been one of its defining traits. The chief scientists of the Chandrayaan-2 mission had decades of experience working with ISRO on its most successful projects. Entrepreneurs need to run their startups the same way. Every enterprise begins as a vision, and it takes a team with enough passion, dedication, and talent to help materialise this vision. That said, not everyone is cut out to work in a startup. To see our startups succeed, we really need to run it like a mission. We shouldn't stop at hiring the best talent. We must also create a sense of mission and purpose in our teams to achieve our dreams.

Frugal Innovation: The Success Mantra

Over the years, ISRO has mastered the art of frugal innovation. The Mangalyaan mission in 2013 cost $74 million. Less than a month earlier, Alfonso Cuarón had released his hit film Gravity, which was made on a budget of $100 million. Similarly, Chandrayaan-2 was built on a budget of $142 million. Avengers: Endgame, which released earlier this year, cost a whopping $356 million. Now, compare the cost of Chandrayaan-2 to the cost of NASA's Apollo missions – $25 billion, which is equivalent to $175 billion today.

Innovation does not necessarily depend on the funds at your disposal, and this is one of the most remarkable lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from ISRO. This mindset can create a level playing field between Indian startups and other tech giants. Startups all over the world often look at Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple as benchmarks for innovation. Perhaps they should now start looking closer to home.

Failure is not the end

Chandrayaan-2 faced several setbacks since its commission in 2008. After successfully tackling these setbacks, the ISRO team lost contact with the lander just minutes before it toppled on the moon's surface. Even if it ultimately fails, Chandrayaan-2's orbiter will continue to provide valuable insights that can guide future missions.

Whatever the eventual outcome, ISRO's resilience and fortitude throughout this mission have earned the respect of every Indian and the international space community. Considering how the team has handled every setback on this journey, there is no doubt that it will learn from its mistakes and ensure its future success. ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 mission echoes the average entrepreneurial journey. Success and failure are the two poles of every ambitious cycle.

Failure is a frequent occurrence in entrepreneurship. There is a famous claim that nine out of ten startups fail in their initial years. Your partnerships may fail, your projects may not go as planned, and you may lose clients. But, each of these setbacks is a chance to improve yourself and your business. To me, ISRO continues to be an inspiration.

Shalabh Singhal

CFA, Co-Founder & Managing Director at ZipLoan

Shalabh Singhal has more than 10 years of experience across Finance, Technology, Sales and building startups. He is the Managing Director of ZipLoan, a fintech NBFC incorporated in 2015 with a mission to provide Indian MSMEs easy access to credit. He previously founded Credence, a CRM(Client Relationship Management) product company serving clients in Education, Finance, Hospitality, Health care and Real Estate sector. He started his career with Goldman Sachs, New York. 

During his stint with Goldman Sachs he built financial products for Goldman's Institutional clients like GE and IBM. He completed his graduation in Electrical Engineering from IIT-BHU where he was among the top 10 rank holders. Shalabh is a CFA(USA) Charterholder and part of the Indian Association of Investment Professionals.

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