28 Jul 2020 20:49 IST

How B-schools can fuel the start-up ecosystem post Covid-19

Students can be job-creators rather than job-seekers if institutions foster the entrepreneurial spirit

Ron Dermer, Former Adviser to four Israeli Ministers of Finance, said, “Reform happens when you change the policy of the government; a revolution happens when you change the mindset of a country.”

As per the reports on Statista, in 2019, agriculture contributed to 42 per cent of the total employed workforce in India while the share of the industrial and services sectors were 26 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. India’s employed population in the agricultural sector has been on a steady decline, from 52.5 per cent of total jobs in 2009. Over the same time, the services sector gained an additional 6 per cent. The impact of the pandemic on industries has been severe.

While sectors such as pharma, healthcare, electronics, telecommunication and information technology have been the beneficiaries of the pandemic, these times have been deeply alarming for aviation, hospitality, tourism, automotive industries and numerous organisations associated with upstream and downstream activities. With projections of deep cuts to the overall economic prospects, anticipating a poor job market scenario over the next six to twelve months won’t be far-fetched.

India’s management education system has so far largely catered to the current demand dynamics of organisations. And, rightly so, considering the demand from the industry ecosystem was growing year-on-year with firms requiring specialised management talent to keep pace with the growing economy. For the past couple of decades, placements have been a significant part of a student’s B-school journey. However, with the brakes being firmly applied to companies’ business prospects owing to the complete breakdown of the global supply chain, the scenario is expected to change drastically.

Reorient the teaching curriculum

In a depressing demand situation for management talent, visionary and agile management institutions have the opportunity of a lifetime to show how the higher education system can make a difference to the country’s economic prospects.

What can B-schools do in to further themselves in this direction?

Time-tested management principles taught in management institutes are relevant to start-ups as much as they are to a mature organisations. With a reorientation of the teaching curriculum across all disciplines of management, students can be prepared for the start-up ecosystem. For instance, be it in marketing or strategy of finance, a dimension of the start-up world has to be included in the curriculum so that students have a first hand understanding of what it takes to launch a start-up or join one.

Revamp the incubation centres

Most B-schools have incubation centres meant to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Barring a handful, such as like CIIE at IIM Ahmedabad, NSRCEL at IIM Bangalore, FCEI at FLAME University, incubation centres hosted in many B-schools have remained on the peripheries of most institutions. Incubation centres should occupy prime positions in the strategic discussions of an institution’s boardroom. Rather than taking the “also-ran” approach, incubators should follow a commercial approach, bringing in commitment and accountability.

Attracting entrepreneurs from outside to incubate their start-ups in these centres can have a very positive rub-off effect on the students. Gaining direct and prolonged exposure to the entrepreneurial world with strong conceptual knowledge can be a huge catalyst in the lives of young, talented and energetic students in pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

The new world order emerging out of the pandemic has already thrown open several exciting opportunities and will continue to do so in the near future. Students with adequate direction and support from the rich environment of management institutions can be motivated to become job-creators rather than job-seekers. Incubation centres can be at the forefront of such a transformational journey.

Re-imagining a comprehensive entrepreneurial network

Problem-solving competencies are embedded in B-school students. Students from management institutions are competent in spotting opportunities through a myriad business problems, defining the problem statement, identifying multiple solution options, selecting a particular solution after examining various trade-offs and drawing up the solution blueprint.

However, they are often challenged in converting these business blueprints into real ventures due to lack of access to technical and financial resources. A coalition between other disciplines, such as, engineering, commerce, arts and management can help motivate students to collaborate effectively.

The last cog in the wheel is the participation of investors in such an ecosystem. Government’s effort in making financial resources available to early-stage entrepreneurs through various schemes under the Start-up India initiative is a welcome step. Such a union of young, resilient and talented minds, adequately supported by a network of management experts from institutions and investors, can genuinely transform India into a global benchmark for entrepreneurship. In addition, establishing a linkage between incubators and accelerators can help these start-ups scale and mature into resilient organisations.

Harnessing potential

With 28.4 years as the median age in India, the country has the most significant advantage of having a large population in their most productive age. Finding ways to constructively channel this abundant energy of our ambitious youth for productive purposes is a non-negotiable for a prosperous and peaceful world. With 284 incubators, India ranks third globally in the number of start-up incubators and accelerators in a country. In comparison, China has over 2,400 and the US approximately 1,500.

According to a report published in 2017, 51 per cent of the incubators in India are run by academic institutions, which means, educational institutions can make a significant positive contribution to the Indian start-up world. Rather than playing the role of a passive enabler, the time is ripe for management institutions in India to assume a more active role of being the harbinger of change that can propel the business world to great heights!

(The writer is a visiting faculty at IIM Udaipur. He is also a start-up adviser, seed investor, and works with several reputed corporate accelerators.)

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