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April 16, 2019 Tuesday 12:47:54 PM IST

Building a Startup Ecosystem

Cover Story

Gone are the days of a world populated by asset-heavy corporations, who committed massive amounts of capital to build factories, storage facilities for parts and finished products with attendant security personnel, logistics infrastructure, extensive pool of human resources to man them and large marketing budgets to start new businesses.Nowadays much more value is created by crowd sourced ideas, crowd funded, using the crowd’s resources, hosted on the cloud and marketed globally, virtually free, via social media. How did the business world get to the stage where incredible mindboggling valuations have been achieved, with small investments? This is the question we in India should be asking, in the backdrop of high unemployment rates as our schools and colleges churn out a million plus youngsters lookingforwardto join the workforce every month. It is simply beyond the capabilities of the government and private institutions to provide employment at this humungous scale. The way forward is to empower individuals to seek gainful upkeep with their own capabilities.

How do we facilitate this flowering of human capabilities from an individual’s formative stage? That brings us to the question whether the campus eco system is capable of producing creative, proactive, empowered youth to take on their future into their own hands? The answer to the questions as to whether the campus is endowed with the necessary infrastructure to sow the seeds of entrepreneurship and whether the teachers are equipped to be mentors to budding entrepreneurs, is an emphatic no. A system of pedagogy with a rigid curriculum more akin to generalised teaching and validating aspirants for jobs in a regulated, predictable environment of the past, cannot achieve that goal. Of course, there are a few exceptional autonomous institutions in higher education, which use very different learning approaches successfully. On the question being posed about the ability of the campus to be a crucible of experimental entrepreneurship is an equally emphatic ‘yes’, but first let us have a peek into what the accelerating future holds in store for the youth of today. 

Changing job scenario

There are fundamentally crucial changes happening in the backgroundwhich will have the ability to drastically rearrange the job scenario. The most important are the advances being made in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, powered by massive improvements in cloud based computing power with access to almost unlimited data storage at very nominal rates. This will be powered by the advent of ultra-high speed bandwidth on the 5G spectrum, enabling transmission of power also over the airwaves, in addition to voice and data. This will enable the Internet of Things to really take off, with almost all machinesand the myriad of sensors embedded in the eco system to be remotely connected to access, communicate, control and regulate many activities without human intervention.


These high tech capabilitiescombined with advances in robotics, nano technology, virtual reality, 3D printing and multi-purpose drones will be accounted automatically by Block Chain ledger technology. This means manytraditional jobs will become redundant. Of course, many new jobs will be created, but in highly specialised fieldssuch as data analytics, cyber security andfin-tech industry which will be accessible to a resourceful elite capable of un-learning and re-learning on the go literally, leaving many less qualified to the vagaries of the fast changing job market. A corollary of this situation will be the possibilities of utilising these emerging cutting edge technologies, to create innovative jobs and services. Perfect examples of these are the millions of global Airbnb hosts earning a living from renting out their spare accommodation space and offering various tourism related activities for a fee, the Uber and Ola drivers, and the burgeoning food and grocery delivery services.

Creativity

This is where we need our schooling system to buckle up to the challenge of facilitating a burgeoning young population to think differently like how Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber Technologies, visualised the Ride Hailing App when he nearly froze to death waiting for a taxi outside a suburban Parisian park in the middle of winter or how Brian Chesky and his Design School friends founded the world’s most valued accommodation services company, by renting out their spare beds to people who could not find hotel rooms while attending a big Design Conference in San Francisco. These people saw opportunity in a situation which we may also have faced at some point, but saw it in a different light and thought through a solution for the need. That is the kind of innovative thinking that we need to awaken. When we make the young realise that there is immense resources for the asking, in solving a societal need, they will start to see the big picture. Facebook was an idea just waiting to happenas the solution to the need to exchange social bonhomie.Whatsapp came out of a need for secure communication for the founder Jan Koumliving in the USA to his father stuck in pre Cold War Communist Russia, where eavesdropping by the authorities was common with disastrous consequences. Our homemade multi-billion dollar unicorn, Flipkart started as an online book selling company like Amazon. Their initial investment of Rs.4 lakh has created a Rs.1,50,000 crore behemoth in little over a decade. Oyo Rooms, the India-based hotel room aggregator, has grown to be a phenomenal Rs.36,000 crorecompany in 5 years. 

The moot question is how do we get our youth to think out of the boxlike these street smart founders who created immense value and employment for thousands without actually owning the products or services they were marketing? One big step we could take is to start weekly ‘Ideation’sessions in all schools, highlighting the above mentioned success stories. Another suggestion is to have case studies facilitated by industry experts about successful businesses and social ventures, how they came up with innovative solutions to issues that they faced in the beginning. They could also be grouped into small teams to brainstorm ideas on how to start a business in their home town or village. Hold negotiation sessions in teams with other teams grouped into buyers, competing suppliers, contractors, government authorities. Further incorporate a must have CSR activity also into the process and finally the teams will have to present their ideas to the whole class and faculty in a simplified format. This can be a whole day exercise. This way they not only learn entrepreneurship, but also negotiation skills, sales strategies, team work and most importantly, presentation skills. At a later stage, this can be done as an individual activity as part of a ‘my passion’ subject, culminating in an individual presentation with local business leaders in attendance.


At these sessions, the young can be given detailed awareness about the various aspect of the Start Up India initiative, about venture capitalist investors, visit start up incubators and be given short term internships or apprenticeships in areas of their interest. Last but not least they should be mandatorily involved in problem solving of societal and environmental issues, so that they become truly grounded, responsible individuals, gainfully earning their keep. I believe that we will not have to gut the system to make these simple ground breaking changes. 


Thomas George


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