Start-up studies: Learning to be an entrepreneur

As young Indians now seek to become job creators, educational institutions are rolling out enabling courses


IIM-B is ready to make entrepreneurship education part of its flagship PG programme from the coming academic year. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
IIM-B is ready to make entrepreneurship education part of its flagship PG programme from the coming academic year. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Two years into her job in a leading information technology (IT) company, Varsha Ramachandran, 27, got bored and decided to quit for a creative career—a start-up that would help organizations and companies “redefine green spaces,” preferably in an organic way.

“I was a bio-technology student, joined an IT company and did coding work till late in the night every day. I completely lost interest and resigned to start a gardening start-up along with a friend,” said Ramachandran, from Chennai.

“Soon, I realized it takes guts to start a start-up and more so to sustain it,” she said. “With no background in business and little knowledge of management, I found myself lacking in understanding the basics. That’s when I decided to go to IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Bangalore,” she added.

After completing her certificate course in entrepreneurship in 2015, Ramachandran now feels much more “business-like” in her approach and has launched another start-up—a health food cafe in Bengaluru, with plans to go to other cities.

“Ideas are plenty but somebody has to validate your ideas, give you confidence and tell you whether your business model is scalable and how to achieve scale. That’s what IIM Bangalore did to me and perhaps to all my 29 other classmates,” she added.

As more and more young Indians now seek to become what Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls job creators, educational institutions—from business schools and education foundations to universities—are rolling out enabling courses.

Besides revamping its two certificate courses, IIM Bangalore, for instance, is ready to make entrepreneurship education part of its flagship postgraduate programme from the coming academic year. Chicago Booth School of Business is looking to offer a customized programme aimed at the growing start-up community in the country through its University of Chicago centre in India. While XLRI Jamshedpur is running a certificate course on entrepreneurship, IIM Udaipur is starting a course on “empowering women entrepreneurs”.

The human resources development ministry has asked the 40-plus central universities to start courses on women entrepreneurship. Recently the Union budget for 2016-17 gave a push to entrepreneurship education through open learning and vocational education.

“Entrepreneurship education and training will be provided in 2,200 colleges, 300 schools, 500 government ITIs and 50 vocational training centres through Massive Open Online Courses,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said in his budget speech on 29 February.

G. Sabarinathan, professor and chairperson, NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at IIM Bangalore, said young Indians are ready to take more risks and that the desire to grow big is driving them toward entrepreneurship.

He said there are two categories of people who come to IIM Bangalore—those who are already in business and those who are into new businesses but want to grow in a structured way.

“While the first category of people want to polish their business acumen, learn from bigger companies the tricks to scale up and adopt new business strategies, the other group is where we invest a lot—in personal involvement, mentorship, connecting them with investors and validation of ideas. Above all constant motivation to boost their confidence that ‘yes you can’,” said Sabarinathan.

“This is a good situation but aspiring and young entrepreneurs must keep in mind that success lies in sustained growth rather than in bubbles. Some want to become unicorns quickly. But we teach them that aspiration is not bad but it is better to achieve sustainable growth,” added Sabarinathan.

He said the recent central government push for Start up India and Stand up India has done a lot of good for entrepreneurship. “When the prime minister pushes for an idea, you feel energized,” he said adding that from the coming academic session IIM-B will teach entrepreneurship as part of the core MBA programme, and not just electives.

As of January 2016, India had 19,400 technology-enabled start-ups, of which 5,000 were launched in 2015 alone, according to the Economic Survey 2015-16.

It’s a good environment and both the central and state governments are pushing for entrepreneurship, leadership development etc., said William Kooser, associate dean (global outreach) at Chicago Booth School of Business.

“We are looking to offer some customized courses. We are planning to bring an entrepreneurship boot camp to India and can offer knowledge on leadership, global business mindset, strategic thinking, innovation and creativity, and issues about funding,” said Kooser, adding that his school will draw faculty from its US campus and rope in Booth Schools alumni and established entrepreneurs from India. The school did not divulge a timeline for their plan, saying it will be announced soon.

How does an entrepreneurship course help a budding entrepreneur? “In several ways - in giving us confidence, validating ideas, providing mentors, connecting with angel investors and providing a network,” said Ramachandran.

But can entrepreneurship be taught in classrooms? “I was skeptical earlier but when you join the course, you realize that you do not know several things—your mentor, teacher or peers teach you new things and give you new business ideas that gels with your plan,” said Mamta Joseph, who runs a merchandise start-up in Bengaluru with products ranging from home decor to apparel “with a Christian theme”. Joseph, also went to IIM-Bangalore for a certificate course.

So what’s the future of such courses? “Youngsters are ready to take risks, hence you see this start-up boom. But they do need handholding,” said Siby Joseph, general manager (human resources) at Birlasoft (India) Ltd, a Noida-based IT company.

“Earlier, it was largely tech-based start-ups, but now you see a diverse range of such companies—from lifestyle to hobby and daily needs related. Youngsters will continue to diversify and educational institutions can work as catalysts,” said Ramachandran.