Management educators have by and large overlooked the option of young men and women giving up the idea of working for others, and choosing instead to create their own ventures. It is time we dispensed with this mindset, and the places where we must start the process of change – to extract the maximum dividends from it– are our universities and management institutes.
No one will quarrel with the proposition that entrepreneurial activity in India needs a boost. This has become imperative for a number of reasons. First, India’s command-and-control economy stifled the entrepreneurial energies of the people in the first 45 years after Independence. Second, the country’s liberalized industrial and economic policies have been around for only 11 years, and have not made the desired dent in the culture of over-regulation and control that preceded them. Thirdly, the over-protective environment of the Indian business family system has prevented the seed of entrepreneurship from germinating amongst the younger generations of these families. Finally, and perhaps most important, India’s manufacturing sector, mired in a slowdown for the past few years, has seen a decline in its rate of growth of employment creation.
As a result, India finds itself in a situation of “jobless growth,” and the rate at which youngsters fresh out of university are entering the job market has in recent years tended to dwarf the rate of new employment creation. Indian society’s value system holds the concept of salaried employment – whether in government or the private sector – in very high regard, and the idea of entrepreneurship has traditionally been looked down upon. The curriculum taught at most management institutes and business schools perpetuates this mindset, because it is based on the assumption that students have enrolled in order to develop skills to become managers and advance up the career ladder in large businesses. Rarely have business courses assumed that students will be the creators and owners of their own businesses.
Management educators have by and large overlooked the option of young men and women giving up the idea of working for others, and choosing instead to create their own ventures. It is time we dispensed with this mindset, and the places where we must start the process of change – to extract the maximum dividends from it– are our universities and management institutes. They need to introduce courses exclusively devoted to preparing students to become entrepreneurs. These would have to be separate from the standard MBA courses offered (though there will no doubt be a degree of overlap in the subjects taught in the two courses), which can continue undisturbed. But the Union Ministry of HRD, the University Grants Commission, the All-India Council for Technical Education, as well as individual universities and business schools, will have to jointly ensure that the courses in entrepreneurship enjoy the same prestige as MBA courses at India’s leading management institutes.
Neither the task of fashioning the course curriculum, nor that of identifying and enlisting teaching faculty for the proposed new courses, should pose a problem. There are sufficient numbers of successful entrepreneurs who are alumni of leading Indian and foreign universities and management schools, who can be invited to help with designing the courses and serving as visiting or guest faculty. This will enable entrepreneurs to share their experiences with the students, who in turn will be exposed to the practical wisdom of individuals who have set up and grown their own businesses. In defining entrepreneurship education, we can borrow the definition used by America’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Clearing House on Entrepreneurial Education (CELCEE), a non-profit organization created in 1996 as a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
“Entrepreneurship Education is the process of providing individuals with the concepts and skills to recognize the opportunities that others have overlooked, and to have the insight, self-esteem, and knowledge to act where others have hesitated,” according to CELCEE. “It includes instruction in opportunity recognition, marshalling resources in the face of risk, and initiating a business venture. It also includes instruction in business management processes such as business planning, capital development, marketing, and cash-flow analysis” The focus of entrepreneurship courses must be on students finding opportunities and ideas that might be new and different, or at least those that serve needs that have not yet been met. And these ideas can originate from any subject that a student is pursuing.
Entrepreneurship education will consist of a variety of experiences that give students a vision of how to access different kinds of opportunities. This is where the experience of successful entrepreneurs, which can be shared with students through “hands-on teaching”, will be vital. In the US, research has shown that two-thirds of that country’s entrepreneurs come from homes where someone who has owned a business. Clearly, close interaction with individuals who are successful entrepreneurs can provide students with the kind of expertise and ‘experience’; that they will themselves need when setting up their own businesses. Only through the concerted implementation of well-designed courses in entrepreneurship education can we expect to see – to paraphrase a now-discarded aphorism coined by Mao Zedong – a thousand flowers bloom.
(A variant of this article “The entrepreneurship Imperative” was published in Business Today by Invitation November 24, 2002)