India's latent entrepreneurship potential lies untapped because of life skills that aren't taught and social expectations that aren't set right. By addressing these problems in India's bright youngsters through their curriculums, b-schools could lay the seed for innovative businesses that scale to become billion dollar companies, says Vijay Anand, Head of IIT Madras's Incubation Center and Founder of popular startup event 'Proto.in'.
Lets face it: Throughout the world, and even in the Silicon Valley, MBAs carry a negative connotation when associated with startups. Venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki --- known for his book 'The Art of the Start', goes out to say that there are two categories of people that startups need to avoid --- first the consultants, and secondly the MBAs.
But my opinion of the cadre is not so bleak. Nor is the world so black and white. But there are avenues for change, and a need for an ambience in b-schools that could nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that seems to be getting India adrenalized.
Let's look around and understand the context: Saying that there is a lot going on in India would be an understatement. The elephant that is our country, with its billion voices, opinions and aspirations has started to move, and even jiggle a dance move or two, and that is leading to a rush of entrepreneurial opportunities for those who have the eye to spot it, the will to build a business and the ability to mobilize resources to turn that dream into reality. If some of these are skills that one can learn as a result of being in an environment, then how can b-schools impart them into their students, is the question.
1. The need to groom starters
If building an enterprise has to find an analogy, it would be in a relay race. B-schools have traditionally groomed people who can enter into an enterprise after the models have emerged, and can take it to scale thereafter. In our analogy, they'd be the 'sprinters'. India is a country bubbling with opportunities, needs and wants where one needs initiative to build that zygote of a billion dollar idea. Most MBA graduates aren't equipped to handle that. It's an oversight, if the MBAs of today are not able to participate in the tremendous avenues to build value from scratch but are bystanders and spectators. We desperately need sprinters who are agile, can spot the right timing and can adapt. That'd be the cornerstone of my argument for change.
2. You are the product. Build real value
Gone are the days when one will pledge loyalty to a company for a lifetime. These days, employments are just stages that one goes through to get to the final goal of achieving and honing one's skills --- hopefully not towards a pay cheque alone, but in being the best that one can be at something. If that is the case, then instead of business plan competitions --- where everything is dreamt up in vacuum, it makes a lot more sense for b-schools to actively engage the startup and SME communities and let students get a hands-on experience of building value in terms of the offering of the company and not just manipulate Excel values.
3. Understanding the value of money
As a society, I sometimes wonder if we teach the next generation the actual value of money. Colleges are phases in an individual's life during which they turn to become the biggest consumers of entertainment and lifestyle, rather than producers or creative individuals, thanks to the support of the parents. The greatest opportunity loss for a nation is the time a student spends in university shielded from financial burdens. Young students are in the prime of mental and creative form, but haven't found an avenue nor the inspiration to put it to use.
4.The ability to mobilize resources
Walk into any college or university and the best example of entrepreneurship is the way they run the college events --- if it's not funded by the college. Brands are created, values are defined, money is raised on the promise of service and quality and a team comes together to pull the whole event off. It's not surprising then to hear that time and time again, employers prefer to hire students who have spearheaded large scale events while in college and learned skills required to mobilize people, money and resources. How do you merge these skills to become part of the curriculum, where one learns how to analyze resources in hand, where one needs to be, and can draw the path to achieve the projected outcome?
5. Hands-on, Not theory
The basis of our growing pains as a country comes from the fact that none of our talented workforce is trained for the job at hand --- and that is not the fault of anyone actually. New businesses are emerging and most of the time, even businesses that are part a larger foreign operation, operate in a different tune and rhythm here in India. As someone elegantly put --- we are requiring talent to be trained on technologies and processes that are yet to exist in India. By the time needs are identified, curriculums are set and people are trained, the platform has moved to another level. The only way then to shoot this duck --- so to speak --- is to aim for where the duck would be next, and not where it is right now.
6. The need to cross-breed
We are a nation full of pure-breeds when it comes to academia. As Robert Kiyosaki of 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' fame, writes --- Most of us are one skill set short of making it big. Most of us are uni-talented and vertical focused. It's when business meets technology and technology meets design and design meets biology that new models emerge, and the spark of innovation gets unleashed. There is no written book on entrepreneurship --- nor will there ever be. The best answer for most questions on entrepreneurship --- atleast the bit where it's a journey into a new space, is unchartered. Sadly one often bumps into an entrepreneur or two who flaunt the skillset they possess and are even more proud to say that they don't understand anything else --- that's a recipe for disaster. Uni-talented people make great entry-level staff. If you want to grow beyond that, then buckle up and dive in into something you've never heard of before.
A wiseman once told me that life is a balance between many things. In life, it's the balance between commitment and passion --- you have an obligation to your family and those around you which tie you down and then there is your passion, the thing that makes you feel alive. In business, there is a fine balance of creativity and processes that can make an organization scale. The art of adapting our levels according to the situation --- which is the key to what Jim Collins calls as the 'Genius of the AND' --- is something we need to nurture, not by education alone but also as a personal agenda for our own sake. Indians, I believe, are by nature entrepreneurial. In a country where most of life is not defined and we have to survive by instincts and unsaid rules, entrepreneurship comes naturally --- but the pity is that it's un-honed and not one that carries the confidence of scale.
An apprentice learns operations on the floor of the shop and by being part of an existing organization. But the mindset to really start a new enterprise and to make the leap to build empires is not born by working under someone, but by the conversations that go around the dinner table at home. If as a country we aren't producing enough entrepreneurs then our homes and our second homes and the schools we are educated in are at fault. If only b-schools could do something about it that the country's next decade of growth would be debted to.
Vijay Anand is a Serial Entrepreneur and currently heads the Incubation Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and is also the founder of various initiatives in the Startup landscape in India, Including The Startup Centre, Proto.in etc. He is known popularly as The Startup Guy and tweets at @vijayanands.