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Mar, 01 2009

Entrepreneurs in the making

Until recently, people were skeptic of creating entrepreneurs through educational endeavours. Entrepreneurship was thought to be more of a genetic or intrinsic phenomenon rather than a skill which could be acquired through training. Educational interventi

A majority of the Indian working class cannot depend forever on foreign feeders or remain contented with the jobs that their degrees would offer, rather, it is time that they move from being ill-paid employees into well-off employers. With this thought rife in their mind, educational institutes have already started courses in entrepreneurship to generate entrepreneurs and to fill in the gap in the growing industry.

In the last two decades following liberalisation and globalisation in the 90s, the Indian economy has undergone a significant shift, presenting an upward curve in almost all areas, thereby boosting entrepreneurial ventures and attracting a large number of foreign companies into the country. Educational institutes too realised that while training a manager, they are only making one person employable, but by training an entrepreneur, more employment can be generated. Moreover, entrepreneurial ventures make more sense in a country like India where opportunities for the working class are in plenty and the environment most conducive for incubation of ideas. Entrepreneurship here does not come as an option but a solution considering the huge population. Finding remedy in entrepreneurship, Dinesh N. Awasthi, Director, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDI) states, “India entered the 21st century with a backlog of 10.6 crore unemployed. One of the remedies to combat unemployment, and thus poverty, is to convert the surplus human resource into productive assets by grooming them as entrepreneurs. This could be done through a well thought-out human resource development strategy known as Entrepreneurship Development.” That`s what these institutes aim at. They create entrepreneurs, who in turn create enterprises and generate employment opportunities for others and engage them productively.

What institutes accomplish

Considering the education system as a medium of inculcating entrepreneurial values in today`s youth, the institutes provide entrepreneurship courses in several steps. EDI not only developed textbooks on entrepreneurship but trained 1,461 teachers from various universities and colleges to impart quality education in the same field. To encourage entrepreneurship among youth, EDI developed programmes which offer four specialisations—New Enterprise Creation, Family Business Management, Services Management and Agri-Entrepreneurship. In 10 batches, 558 students have been successfully groomed by EDI, through action learning, business games, computer simulation, live projects, role plays, case based teachings and field work. IIM-C`s elective courses teach managing new ventures and social entrepreneurship. Its comprehensive course acquaints potential entrepreneurs with opportunity identification, business plan, capturing and harvesting value and acquiring resources. “We discuss cases developed here which tell students about barriers likely to come by and the ways of dealing with them. Students also work with start-ups to know about real life issues. Besides that, we maintain good contacts with funding agencies and help students with such network,” avers Professor Anjan Raichaudhuri, Coordinator, Centre for Entrepreneur & Innovation, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. Some of its alumni who turned illustrious entrepreneurs include Ashok Narasimham (July Systems), Ajit Balakrishnan (Rediff), Pradeep Gupta (Cyber Media), Harish Nim (Emerio Corp), K.Ganesh (Tutorvista) and P.Keshwani (Lemon Tree Hotel).

S P Jain started its first course on entrepreneurship, a second year elective, in 2005. Its basis for teaching entrepreneurship draws on the case method as an effective method for teaching management whereby students grasp the realities of venture formation and discard their genetic bias towards entrepreneurs. Its signature course, namely Managing New Business Initiatives (MNBI), a 2nd year elective, teaches knowledge, skill and attitude for preparing a business plan for a 1st generation venture, whereas its Start Your Business (SYB) programme enables corporate executives and 2nd generation family business members to start their own venture. “Our public program, SYB provides budding entrepreneurs the knowledge, skills and attitude for starting a sustainable business. This is a 17 weekend program, at the end of which participants learn how to develop an idea into a profitable business, manage a start up, prepare the business plan and get connected to the entrepreneurial eco-system,” explains Prof. Suresh Rao, Chairperson, Center for Entrepreneurship, SPJIMR. Besides courses, SPJIMR offers public programmes and workshops, and business plan competitions. From the SYB programme, Mitesh Thakkar of Net Price has made it to Red Herring`s Global Top 100 innovative new ventures for 2008.

The entrepreneurship cell in IIM Bangalore offers a six week programme for women during mid-April to the end of May aimed at existing, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs. “In a fairly short time, they get all the inputs on what is required to start off, how to write a business plan or when and how to get funding,” says Ganesh Prabhu, IIM-B. Some of the entrepreneurs who started off after getting benefited by the programme include Sangita Agarwal (training school in retailing), Zahera Syed (Taekwondo training school), Divya G.S (technology startup at IIT Madras incubator) and Mukta S.Darera (career experience firm).

Teaching entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a quality that stems more from within than outside. Then what has led to the need of these institutes? Replying to whether entrepreneurship can be taught in classrooms, Prasoon Mazumdar, Dean, IIPM says, “It can definitely be taught in the sense that few people certainly have the natural skills but certain skills are learnt through the experience curve. The same could be said for management, teaching or any other profession. By teaching or putting it in the module form, the learning curve gets reduced in the sense that it helps you to learn from others` experiences, something one would not go through himself before learning.” Moreover, by giving adequate training and support, the fear of failure lurking in entrepreneurial ventures can be mitigated. With the right decisions and careful investment, an entrepreneur can surely succeed, provided he has the required skills and traits. “These can be imparted to a person by a carefully designed training package which not just perks up a potential entrepreneur`s motivation but also develops skills to enable him/her to access information, opportunities, capital and market,” states Awasthi. Training also becomes essential to trigger entrepreneurial talent in persons who already possess it but have not given vent to it because of their inhibitions. To meet this objective, EDI has cloned itself in 12 states, facilitating establishment of 12 similar institutions, besides institutionalising EDPs in about 650 NGOs. To strengthen these organisations, EDI has developed about 1,250 Entrepreneur Trainer-Motivators at the national level and regularly provides innovative training techniques, competent faculty support, consultancy, quality teaching and training material.

Slowdown or not

Though no sector could escape the slowdown, entrepreneurship has an inverse relationship with it as a large number of lay offs has made intelligentsia rethink on their future. They find it better to direct their intelligence towards achieving success for themselves and employ other people rather than being mere breadwinners dependent on others. However, a segment of people believe that the slowdown is more in terms of mindset. If an entrepreneur`s understanding and vision is very clear and he has the right knowledge of whatever he is setting up and has passion and risk taking appetite, he is bound to succeed irrespective of the time factor. “There has been huge entrepreneurial success during the slowdown. McDonald`s is a product of the 1930s, a time of the great economic depression of the US. When people were not spending on anything else, they were eating burgers, as they were cheaper and could stifle their hunger. So, McDonald`s evolved during recession. Therefore, you never know what the recession could throw in,” avers Mazumdar.

Prop ups

These institutes provide all kinds of support by arranging workshops, competitions and meets whereby serious students get a chance to network with established entrepreneurs, VCs or potential partners. They also get a chance to showcase their own potential through various events organised round the course, besides the encouraging environment provided at the institutes. Some potential entrepreneurs also get a chance to get started at the institute`s incubation centre to make their dream a reality. IIM Bangalore has an incubation centre with a capacity to incubate 10-12 startups. Students at IIPM have to undertake certain projects as part of their course. It also generates a lot of productive interactions with industry leaders and experts as a part of their course to give them an idea of the real life challenges of an entrepreneur. IIPM also provides scholarships to the overall and subject wise top scorers at the end of the course in order to motivate them.

IIM-C has a Centre for Entrepreneurship & Innovation which helps in case development, research, teaching and outreach programmes. Its active E-Cell, run by students, organises various events like the B Plan competition, i2i (ideas to implementation). It also maintains good contacts with funding agencies and helps students with such networks.

SPJIMR has a financial-cum-mentoring incubation scheme for 2nd year students who opt out of placement for starting their own ventures. They are given access to the institute`s placement process in the next year, if the institute is convinced. Highlighting the importance of such programmes, Prof. Suresh Rao, Chairperson, Center for Entrepreneurship, SPJIMR states, “A good entrepreneurial programme also connects the students to the entrepreneurial support system of wannabe, start up and successful entrepreneurs, early and growth stage investors/VCs, professional advisors and mentors.”

Prospects ahead

Realising the importance of entrepreneurship-cells (e-cells), the top institutes of India including IITs and IIMs have plans to help other institutes in providing entrepreneurship courses by mentoring their e-cells, apart from providing these courses themselves. Besides this, separate bodies, NGOs and institutes like TIE-Bangalore frequently organise entrepreneurship summits or workshops to encourage entrepreneurs in India.

IIPM is in the process of setting up an incubation centre for the students. TIE-Bangalore, which has organised 22 workshops for entrepreneurs during the last two years, is looking at forming a tie-up with large institutes like the IIMs to foster entrepreneurship courses in India. EDI, from the next batch, will offer Summer Internship Placements to the students to facilitate interaction with industrial houses. The students will be placed in SMEs for a period of about 10-12 weeks to gain hands-on experience of managing an enterprise before launching their own.

The steps being taken in the direction of educating aspiring entrepreneurs paint a vivid picture of the future of entrepreneurial India, providing impetus to the innovation of new ideas and business processes, giving aspirants a platform to arm themselves with the requisite skills and knowledge before venturing into a business of their own.

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