Indian Universities: Hotbeds of entrepreneurship and innovation

Create: 06/18/2016 - 13:22

Professor Sunil Khanna, Vice President, NIIT University 

While India is emerging as a global growth story and expected to rank among the top economies of the world by 2025, there are still several uncomfortable questions that the nation must face before it can claim to be an international leader. One of the age old questions that is incessantly asked within India’s industry circles is why a nation of over 1.3 billion people has been unable to give the world a Ferrari, an iPhone, robots, the space shuttle and E=MC2?

The Indian IT industry, currently the showpiece of the country’s prowess, is also questioned about why it has been unable to spawn a Google, Microsoft, or Facebook—companies that epitomize the glowing spirit of entrepreneurship. Why, after all, is path-breaking innovation, that alters the world, still conspicuous by its absence in India?

The answer of course lies in innovation, which is closely linked to the matter of entrepreneurship. It is a stark truth, but entrepreneurship is not something that is imbibed or entrenched in the Indian DNA. It is simply not in our culture. Unlike nations such as the USA, where from the very beginning (through school and college), children are encouraged to think independently and creatively, come up with fresh ideas and even test them, India has stayed with rote learning that is not known to be imaginative, inspirational or innovation-centric.

The overall economic landscape too has not been conducive to nurturing entrepreneurship and driving innovation. India’s universities (the real hot-beds of entrepreneurship, the places where it all begins), have typically not had strong linkages with industry or offered curriculum that is mapped to what organizations really require. Many have therefore not been able to supply industry ready or employable manpower, which is the vital life blood for companies.

Silicon Valley, USA, which is technopreneurship at its very best, has reached where it has largely due to its deep connect with Stanford, University of California, Berkeley and other institutions. It is these citadels of learning that have provided tech start-ups the rightly skilled resources that have enabled them to grow and flourish.

Furthermore, India has not (until recently), had an eco-system of risk takers—the Venture Capitalists, Angels and other investors, who have stretched their necks out for dreamers and visionaries. In the absence of proper funding, entrepreneurship simply hasn’t taken off in India.

One is glad to state that the environment has changed significantly now. The poster boy of India’s economy, the IT-BPM industry, now boasts a huge pool of software product start-ups and emerging companies that are projected to emerge as the drivers of the sector in the future.

According to research firm Zinnov, the Indian technology product and Digital start-ups eco-system in fact, is moving up along the maturity curve. In a 2015 study, Zinnov shares that India’s community of entrepreneurs ranked among the top five largest in the world. India, it points out, has moved up to the third position and has the fastest growing base of start-ups worldwide!

It also says that five start-ups are born each day and every week around USD 100 million worth of funding is disbursed to a large number of organizations. This is clearly a happy story and good news indeed for India. Clearly, entrepreneurship is flourishing within the tech domain and this success can be replicated in other industry verticals as well. Provided the talent conundrum can be resolved and funding is readily available, India can indeed become a global hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Today, the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is finding the right talent. Typically, being risk averse, people prefer to go with the big names instead of choosing young entrepreneurial ventures—the new kids on the block—to earn their spurs. This attitude needs to change. From school and right through University, students must be taught to take a different view of entrepreneurship. They should be taught to become entrepreneurs, or if not, then work with them.

Universities are where the seeds of entrepreneurship have to be sown. It is here that student must learn about how they can think differently, come up with new, unique ideas, take them to market fearlessly and above all, survive and thrive in a competitive scenario. They must be made aware of the opportunities that entrepreneurship offers them—the chance to change the world, be independent, free, satisfied, and yes, even wealthy!

Besides the ‘would be entrepreneurs’, the education system in India should also acquaint other learners with the advantages of working with nimble and agile start-ups, which are known to have exceptional domain strengths, as well as working environments that are exciting and engaging.

Universities, which have linkages with industry, (both for student internships and guest faculty), are in the best position to extol the virtues of start-ups as career builders and preferred employers. They can even provide students with a ‘live’ experience of working with entrepreneurs, to offer them the chance of seeing the benefits first hand. Well known institutions of advanced, higher-end learning such as Neemrana-based NIIT University (NU), which have fostered robust links with the industry, are already exposing students to the entrepreneurial world through internships as well as visiting teachers who are drawn from successful start-ups and other organizations.

Universities in India can therefore emerge as the best hunting grounds for potential entrepreneurs. They are the ones that can give shape to entrepreneurial dreams and help take them to fruition. If our Universities step in, it won’t be long before India too has its rich share of ‘garage to greatness’ and ‘rags to riches’ stories. It is in fact the responsibility of Indian Universities to set the ball rolling and usher in the entrepreneurship revolution in the country.

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