Institutes with an Entrepreneurial Streak

At NEN’s co-founding institutes, entrepreneurship development is top priority.

• Mitesh Thakker grew his small media solutions startup NetPrice Services to become one of the Top 100 global startups listed in Red Herring in 2008 – a privilege that was earlier awarded to companies like Google and Youtube.

• Major (Retd.) Devashish Chakravarty and his three classmates founded Quetzal Online and Quetzal HR in 2007, a day after they completed their MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad. Last year, despite the recession, the two companies doubled its revenue.

• Little did Prof Shevare of IIT-Bombay imagine that we would start a company someday. Zeus Numerix, a company that sells software for analysis of engineering systems, was started by him and his 9 students four years ago. Today it has 45 employees and over 40 projects in India and abroad.     Wondering what ties these diverse stories together? Mitesh, Major Chakravarty and Prof Sherwade are entrepreneurs who were made (or are being made) in the hallowed portals of some of India’s top institutes – SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), IIM Ahmedabad and IIT-Bombay.

Not surprisingly, these institutes are among the five pioneers that co-founded National Entrepreneurship Network in 2003 – the other two being Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani; Institute of BioInformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bangalore.

Today, these institutes have emerged powerhouses in entrepreneurship, running unique entrepreneurship programs for students in campus, mentoring future entrepreneurs and directly supporting early and growth stage entrepreneurs through incubation and courses.

The SPJIMR story

A closer look at SPJIMR reveals the dynamic entrepreneurship environment that the institute has built over the last five years. SPJIMR introduced an innovative, hands-on elective called Lock, Stock and Trade in 2004, which connected its MBA students with real companies run by the students of its Family Managed Business Program. The MBA and FMB students worked together to create a value proposition for the family-run companies and presentations were made in a public event. Mock shares of these companies were traded at the end of the event. Last year, LST connected with the entrepreneurship community, with students of MBA and FMB students working with startups to experience entrepreneurship firsthand.

SPJIMR also introduced a four-month program, Start Your Business (SYB) course, tailored for aspiring entrepreneurs who were keen to convert their idea into a scalable business but did not have the skills to do so. The demand for the course is so high that the batch strength has been increased from 12 in 2006 to 22 now with two batches being run each year. SPJIMR’s incubation centre, which supports SYB students to start up, has incubated three companies till now. Incidentally, Mitesh founded their companies while doing the SYB program. “SYB for me was the right thing, at the right time and at the right place. It has given me much needed direction to grow my idea into a well recognized business,” says Thakker.

"Entrepreneurship is in the DNA of SPJIMR. So when NEN gave us the opportunity to set up a Centre for Entrepreneurship, we responded with conviction. Influencing practice and value based growth are the twin tenets driving SPJIMR's efforts, and we realized that entrepreneurship development will be key to achieving these goals," shares Dr Shrikant, Honorary Dean of SPJIMR who himself enjoyed a rich entrepreneurial career in the steel industry, and spearheaded SPJIMR’s rapid growth in the last two decades.

As there were no ready references available in India at that time, SPJIMR sent some of its faculty members to study and learn about entrepreneurship education abroad. Dr M Suresh Rao, Chairperson and Professor at the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SPJIMR, participated in Price Babson’s Symposium for Entrepreneurship Education program in USA and Harvard Participant Centered Learning Program in Harvard University. Along with Dr Rao, faculty members Prof Atish Chattopadhyay (who joined Dr Rao in the Harvard University program), Prof Indu Niranjan, Prof Parimal Merchant and Rushi Anandan drew upon their newly gained knowledge to create entrepreneurship courses for colleges in India.

Their knowledge was significant in shaping NEN’s initial faculty development program. Not only did SPJIMR contribute, but it was also the first to host the program in its campus.

Incubation centres: Breeding ground for entrepreneurship

Different models have emerged in different institutes; IIM-Ahmedabad and IIT-Bombay reached out to young entrepreneurs through their incubation centres.

Prof Rakesh Basant, Chairman of the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIM-Ahmedabad, was part of a collaborative research group of entrepreneurship when IIM-A joined NEN as co-founder. Together they strengthened the CIIE, especially its incubation facilities for new entrepreneurs. Today, the number of incubating companies has increased from 3 in 2003 to over 20 active incubatees today. For those like Major Chakravarty, who wanted to start their companies’ right after graduation, with not much money in the pocket – it offered office space, an address and lots of mentorship. “At a time when our company was bootstrapped, the support received from CIIE made a huge difference,” shares Major Chakravarty.

Similarly, the incubation centre at the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) at IIT-Bombay made researchers like Prof Shevare into entrepreneurs. “It was because of SINE’s support that I could convert my research knowledge of fifteen years into a value proposition,’ he says.

How it all began

The role of the five co-founders, at the time of establishing NEN was remarkable. The act itself was entrepreneurial, considering that the concept of entrepreneurship education had not taken hold in India at that time. The number of entrepreneurship education courses, and level of participation, was close to zero. But these five institutes understood the potential of entrepreneurship education, and passionately took the lead to bring world class entrepreneurship education to their campuses and beyond. The five institutes worked with Wadhwani Foundation to give shape to NEN, a program that supports entrepreneurship development in multiple campuses across India.

It was due to their collective efforts that entrepreneurship education has grown so phenomenally in the country: This year, NEN is planning to run 43 different faculty development courses with more than 1,000 faculty members participating in them. Thanks to them, people interested in teaching entrepreneurship do not have to go abroad to study it; rich material is now available in India.

According to Laura Parkin, Executive Director, NEN, it was the ‘entrepreneurial streak’ in NEN’s co-founding institutes that has made them achieve so much in so short a time. “Their success is largely because they were willing to experiment, quick to rework on things that were not working and open to taking risks. From the way they conduct their courses to how they run their incubation centres – they are constantly looking at how to take things to the next level. The biggest strength of these institutes is that they are driven from inside,” she says.