Is entrepreneurship a redundant word for MBAs?
India's potent entrepreneurship lies untapped because of the life skills that aren't taught, and the social expectations that aren't set right. 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 Proto.in.
Let's 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 kinds of people that startups should avoid. The first are the consultants, and the other are the MBAs.
But my opinion of the cadre is not so bleak. Nor is the world so black and white. There are avenues for change, and there is a need for an ambience in B Schools that could nurture entrepreneurial spirit.
Vijay Anand is a serial entrepreneur, and currently heads the Incubation Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras. He is also the founder of various initiatives in the startup landscape of India, including The Startup Centre, Proto.in.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh and Dominic Xavier
Taking a leap forward
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 mobilise resources to turn dreams into reality. If some of these are skills that one can learn as a result of being in an environment, then how B Schools can impart it into their students, is the question.
1. The need to groom freshers
If building an enterprise has to find an analogy, it would be in a relay race. B Schools have traditionally groomed people who to make an entry 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 a huge oversight to have MBAs of today unable to participate in different avenues and build value from scratch, rather than remain bystanders and spectators. We desperately need sprinters who are agile, who can spot the right timing, and who 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 gets through in order to get to the final goal of achieving and honing one's skills: hopefully not towards a pay cheque alone, but to being the best that you can at something. If that is the case, then it's not enough to have just business plan competitions where everything is dreamt up in vacuum. It makes more sense for B Schools to actively engage startup and SME communities, and let students get a hands-on experience in building value to a company's offerings, and not just manipulate Excel values.
Making the best out of things
3. Understand the value of money
I sometimes wonder if, as a society, 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 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 mobilise resources
Walk into any college or university, and the best example of entrepreneurship is the way college events are run, if not funded by the college authorities. Brands are created, values are defined, money is raised on the promise of service and quality, and a team comes together to pull the 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 analyse resources in hand, where one needs to be, and draw the path to achieve the projected outcome?
Having the right perspective
5. Hands-on, not theory
The basis of our 'growing pain' 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 of a large foreign operation, operate in a different tune and rhythm here in India. As someone elegantly put it -- we require talent to be trained on technologies and processes that are yet to exist here. 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 the Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame writes -- most of us are one skill short of making it big. Most of us are uni-talented and vertically 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 book written on entrepreneurship -- and never will be. The best answer to 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 skill-set 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 tying you down, and there is your passion which makes you feel alive. In business, there is a fine balance of creativity and processes that can make an organisation 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 life is not defined and we have to survive by instincts and unsaid rules, entrepreneurship comes naturally -- but the pity is that it's unhoned, and does not carry the confidence of scale.