The rise of entrepreneurship has been a dominant feature of India’s economic expansion in recent years. In the past decade, venture capital and private equity (PE) investment in the country has grown from $20 million in 1996 (about Rs70 crore then) to an estimated $13.5 billion in 2007, according to data compiled by Evalueserve, a global research and analytics firm.
The main protagonists in this story of booming opportunity so far have been start-up entrepreneurs looking for investors seeking a fair return on capital.
But now, as the flow of money quickens with investors expected to channel fresh funds of more than $48 billion into new businesses by 2010, the focus is moving towards building a system of education and training to create a pool of people with innovative ideas and skills.
The academic sector, with a slew of training programmes and collaborative studies, is, therefore, emerging as a significant player in the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Xiaohong He, professor, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut. Photo: Hemant Mishra / Mint
In 2005, 16 colleges across the country sent faculty members to the entrepreneurship educators course conducted by the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN); at the end of 2007, 269 colleges across the country had signed on to the programme—an initiative of the Wadhwani Foundation, which is focused on accelerating entrepreneurship in emerging economies, and has trained more than 470 faculty members in Indian colleges so far.
At the end of January, the NS Raghavan Centre of Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), in collaboration with the Singapore-based Universitas 21 Global, a distance learning educator, will start a programme for entrepreneurial training in family-owned businesses.
Both NSRCEL and the Stanford Technology Ventures Programme (STVP), the entrepreneurship centre at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, provide faculty and learning material for the NEN programme, which trains teachers who can in turn teach entrepreneurship as an academic course to college students across India.
“The challenge is no longer about the entrepreneur finding money; for the first time in India, there is a confluence of money and very smart venture capitalists who can nurture businesses,” says Vijay Angadi, managing director of Novastar International Fund, an early stage venture capital firm, who feels that a shortage of skilled people is the most important threat facing the Indian economy.
While the initiatives by NEN and at IIM-B are aimed at nurturing the entrepreneurial instinct in students, industry watchers feel that even people running their own businesses can benefit from a study of the subject.
To facilitate such learning, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), an umbrella group of Indian-origin entrepreneurs across the globe, set up a training institute in Bangalore in December.
The TiE University will offer courses taught by practising entrepreneurs and domain specialists such as lawyers, accountants and technologists in a method labelled experiential learning, which relies more on actual business problems and less on classroom pedagogy.
“We will also build a library of case studies and classroom lectures that will be accessible to entrepreneurs,” says Ravi Narayan, director of TiE University, Bangalore, and founder of Mentor Partners, a firm that helps very early stage start-up companies build business plans and find the right venture capital investors.
Academic research also helps turn the spotlight on gaps in the system that hinder the growth of entrepreneurship. For instance, in India, very early stage start-up companies get only a small portion of the total investment that flows into the sector.
Venture capitalists who invest in early- and seed-stage start-up companies put in $777 million in 57 deals during the first three quarters of 2007, according to the Quarterly India Venture Capital Report released by Dow Jones and Co. Inc.’s VentureOne, an information service that tracks the venture capital industry, and Ernst and Young, a global consultancy firm.
This is less than one-tenth of the $13.5 billion of PE and venture capital money the country is estimated to have received in 2007. Such a small pipeline of early stage deals limits the number of investment opportunities available for PE investors who invest in late stage firms with a robust revenue stream.
“Entrepreneurial studies can identify economic, sociological and environmental factors and provide tools to further economic growth in such cases,” says Xiaohong He, professor and chair of international business, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, who is working on a comparative study of entrepreneurship in China and India that is expected to run for two years starting from 2008. “I see entrepreneurial skills and education as the way to economic freedom, and we in academia have the responsibility to find out what can be taught and learnt in this area,” she says.
Academicians in India, too, are seeing themselves as stakeholders in entrepreneurship development. The TA Pai Management Institute (Tapmi) in Manipal, Karnataka, is creating a platform where researchers from across the globe can share their findings with practising entrepreneurs.
At an international seminar on entrepreneurship held at the institute in December, more than 45 research papers were presented on topics ranging from innovation to start-up enterprises, small business management and social entrepreneurship.
Nurturing skills: NS Raghavan Centre of Entrepreneurial Learning chairperson Kalyani Gandhi (left) and National Entrepreneurship Network executive director Laura Parkin at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, campus.
As a follow-up to interaction at the seminar, Tapmi faculty member Satyajit Majumdar is set to begin work on a study of growth strategies used by entrepreneurs along with He.
“Since we share common research interests, we have decided to focus on entrepreneurial growth strategy in India, China and USA,” says Majumdar, an associate professor at the institute, who regularly mentors start-up entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship as a subject can be learnt provided the person is willing to learn and has the drive to implement such learning,” he says.
In the two years since NEN began the course, more than 167 entrepreneurship development cells have been set up in colleges such as the PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore and the KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research in Mumbai.
“As faculty, we can kindle an entrepreneurial mindset but business school students have a single-minded focus of obtaining a secure job; overcoming that mindset is a challenge,” says Radha Iyer, professor at the KJ Somaiya institute, who has used the learning material she received at the NEN programme to create a curriculum for her students.
“Indian students need to understand that entrepreneurship is now a viable career option,” says Laura Parkin, executive director, NEN, who has tracked the impact of the faculty development programme at Indian colleges.
At the end of September, the NEN study found that 85% of the 269 colleges in the NEN network had no prior activities related to entrepreneurship on their campuses but within 18 months of joining NEN, the average entrepreneurship-related activity level had increased more than seven?times.?
Students were organizing workshops for business plan development, inviting entrepreneurs to speak on campus and networking with e-development cells on other campuses to set up events and games centred on entrepreneurship.
“We know that unless entrepreneurship activity and participation on campuses ramps up, the longer term impact of more entrepreneurs creating jobs will not materialize,” says Parkin.
On the research front, the Wadhwani Foundation is also supporting the National Entrepreneurship Survey, a joint initiative by Amar Bhide of Columbia University and the IIM-B, aimed at identifying policy recommendations that will help improve the business environment for first-generation entrepreneurs.
“The mindset towards entrepreneurship in India is changing. Those who have the ability to build new businesses must receive the facilities and support to pursue their goal,” says Kalyani Gandhi, chairperson, NSRCEL.
For those entrepreneurs looking for know-how to turn ideas into business, help is clearly at hand.