12 May 2021 22:39 IST

Three ways to spark innovation in B-schools

Entrepreneurship-oriented education and formalised ideation processes can fuel a start-up boom on campuses

It is a well-known fact that small and medium-sized enterprises generate the majority of decent, sustainable jobs in an economy. Economic growth can be termed as ‘development’ only when growth is job-led rather than just investment, valuation, or technology-led. And entrepreneurship is ‘job providing’ and not ‘job seeking,’ automatically making it the engine of long-term growth.

B-schools can adopt three ways to foster entrepreneurship:

Curriculum expansion

B-schools can include topics such as design thinking, innovation management or negotiation skills, as stand-alone courses or even as modules within their core course offerings. These tools form the essential toolkit for all managers, especially founders/entrepreneurs.

Having a typical two-year masters programme is another option. This allows graduates to hone entrepreneurship-oriented conceptual and practical skills. When such programmes are offered in conjunction with a pre-incubation or incubation service, then the chances that the graduates of this programme will go on to be successful enterprise founders is definitely higher.

Secondly, being ‘entrepreneurial’ is a definite advantage in companies that are innovation-driven and experiment constantly. Such companies are always on the lookout for employees who have a flair for risk-taking and bootstrapping new initiatives.

Nurturing ideas

Several business schools, both autonomous and part of a university system, have set up incubation and acceleration facilities. B-schools part of a University System tend to have access to ideas, innovations, and research that originates from different disciplines such as medicine, natural sciences, engineering, architecture, design and communication, management studies, humanities, hotel management, and law. These ecosystems allow for the cross-pollination of ideas through cross-disciplinary research.

Standalone business schools have the possibility to specialise in the innovation of existing value chains and disrupting product spaces.Regardless of what the model is, B-schools play a crucial role in ensuring that the commercial value of ideas and patents are optimised, governance standards are met and enhanced, stakeholder points of view are systematically on-boarded early in the innovation process.

Establishing good ideation processes via hackathons, bootcamps, and workshops is vital. Having access to experienced and specialist mentors is an invaluable resource for early-stage entrepreneurs.

A typical MBA graduate has a large student loan to take care of and other responsibilities that makes the entrepreneurship journey a difficult one to take on straight out of business school. For students who would like to seriously attempt founding a business rather than opting for regular placements, many schools now offer an ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ (EIR) option. The EIR provides the individual with a monthly stipend for a period of 12-18 months to meet minimum financial commitments while experimenting with an idea or product. At the end of the EIR period, the individual has the option to get placed via the school’s traditional placement process or independently continue on their chosen entrepreneurship path.

Organising special initiatives for alumni who want to switch from corporate roles to entrepreneurship can lead to sustained growth. These returning alumni have corporate experience and are likely to found businesses in domains they have a keen understanding of. Venture funders also tend to prefer founding teams that have previous domain expertise. These are important factors that can increase the likelihood of the start-ups becoming successful.

Some B-schools overseas have been instrumental in creating specific investment vehicles via alumnus and other interested funders. This is an option that can, not just foster innovation and entrepreneurship in specific domains, but also offers an alternate revenue stream for the B-school.

Promoting social inclusion

Business schools affect the lives of not just their graduates, but also the broader business world, the communities that host them, and society as a whole.

The third pillar of innovation and entrepreneurship that B-schools can contribute to is the important agenda of inclusion. Whether it is women, individuals from economically challenged backgrounds, individuals from spatially remote geographies, traditionally discriminated communities, business schools have the imperative to positively affect all these individuals and groups. All innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives therefore must make a special effort to ensure that these disadvantaged groups have full and fair access to resources and must be provided with all the required support to exercise the option to found businesses.

To encourage and actively catalyse businesses being set up that address specific problems can magnify their societal impact.

It is not just possible but incumbent upon business schools just as much as other institutions of higher learning, if not even more, to foster, support and invigorate new enterprise creation in their campuses.

(The writer is Associate Professor & Chairman – T A Pai Management Institute Center for Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness. )