How to incubate job creation in universities: India must adapt global models to meet its needs

Published: October 19, 2016 6:29:24 AM

Campus companies ensure quick learning and problem solving before an entrepreneur takes the blue-sky approach

The economic development of any country is dependent upon the mindset of its people. Re-emergence of India as a global economic power is directly linked to the creation of an army of job-creators.

Our universities and other educational establishments are the bedrock where the entrepreneurial mindset is created. Incubation centres in universities, both in India and across the world support and encourage business activity. This leads to fostering the entrepreneurial mindset and results in job-creation and economic development in the country. At a macro level, start-ups are being encouraged both by the Central and the state governments. This can easily be understood from the ‘Start-up India’ initiative. It is the only way we can take advantage of our demographic dividend.

A start-up ecosystem with states playing a pivotal role has to be built along with academia and industry. Over the last couple of years, experience in the trenches has suggested that changing the mindset of a straitjacketed professional in academia and industry is more difficult than nudging young minds.

As a nation, we need to begin building entrepreneurship-oriented faculty that is not afraid of being challenged by young minds and is able to connect with them and does not always stand on a pedestal.

Creative energies of the youth need to be nurtured for this nation to grow and to cross multiple hurdles created due to the outdated mindset of a control economy. In the past, this desire to control resulted in stifled thinking.

Unbridling of the creative and innovative energy needs support and guidance and this is where university-based incubators have a pivotal role to play. Any university-based incubator stands on three pillars: its attractiveness to the student community, value for incubatees and value for the ecosystem. After examining numerous successful business incubators, a framework has emerged that is considered a benchmark. This Sweden-based benchmark brings best practices together and we in India can learn much from these global practices and suitably adapt them to meet our needs.

The University Incubator is attractive to the student community only if it has an open culture, challenges the traditional and allows students to play with various ideas. A good e-cell plays the role of an entrepreneurship evangelist by reaching out to the larger student community via various engagements. An annual business plan competition with numerous smaller activities helps in building the entrepreneurial mindset.

Campus companies are yet another step to nurture the values of entrepreneurship among the youth. These companies prepare the youth to take the initiative, solve problems and apply innovative thinking that would be useful both in entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial situations. An example of such campus companies is the practice of allowing teams to run college canteens on a weekly basis and award them after the completion of the semester or year. Yet another way to increase the entrepreneurial mindset among the student community is to evolve a policy of deferred placements built on the principles of “fail fast, fail young”. It ensures quick learning and suitable corrective measures before taking a blue-sky approach.

Value for incubatee companies emerges through structured mentoring, exposure to networks and assistance in customer validation of ideas and concepts. Structured mentoring requires that each idea is given its due attention. As a first step, the Business Opportunity Canvas should be used in marrying opportunity with the individual, asserts JV Green. Having identified the existence of the real business opportunity, it is necessary to examine the broader picture and develop a Business Model Canvas, says A Osterwalder.

One of the first elements discussed in the Business Model Canvas is value. The question is how to find out what’s valuable from a customer perspective. At the university, we have created what is known as a register of problems as an online platform. The idea of a nationwide register of problems was germinated in a discussion with Prof PK Ghosh at IIT Roorkee and later discussed in various platforms of CII. E-cell of UPES has taken this forward by beginning to crowd source problems.

The Industries Association of Uttarakhand has seen merit in this approach and is in the process of organising events in the state from this perspective. This approach is different and distinct from the conventional thinking of creating a product or a service in an isolated platform and then seeking a market. It also ensures that the problems being solved are relevant to society and assumes the existence of demand, hence the market. The register of problems can also serve as a database for the research and development function of Universities. Theory gets converted into action during customer validation and it is here that universities play a critical role through the incubator by supporting students in the process.

Furthermore, value can be created by ensuring a constant interaction with industry, directly or through industry associations. A number of entrepreneurs can take advantage of the knowledge network of the university. The university benefits by being exposed to new thinking and the interactions the entrepreneurs have with the student community.

This approach will increase the probability of success of any start-up idea from university campuses. It is through these fledgling steps in building a start-up ecosystem that we will see the re-emergence of India as an entrepreneurial superpower.

Ajit Kumar Nigam

The author is an associate professor heading the incubation centre at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Dehradun.

Views are personal

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