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February 21, 2022 Monday 03:59:31 AM IST

Why Should We Promote Entrepreneurial Universities in India?

Cover Story

Find a need and fill it is the success mantra of successful entrepreneurs. Manmeet Maggu did exactly that. He saw his nephew Praneit who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy unable to walk. Not finding any solutions in the market, Maggu developed the child like robotic exoskeletons in 2016 and tested the prototype on his nephew. Thus the startup Trexo Robotics was born in 2016. The product is now used in homes and hospitals around the world. 

The surprise is that the founders of Trexo Robotics were not renowned or experienced businessmen but students of University of Toronto (U of T) who shared their success story at the Indo-Canadian Entrepreneurship Exchange (ICEE) Speaker Series recently. ICEE is a new programme offered by U of T in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT) and IIT Bombay's Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE) incubator. The co-founders Manmeet Jaggu and Rahul Udasi were friends doing MBA and Master's in Engineering respectively at U of T and believes that the university's entrepreneurship eco system played a key role in helping Trexo Robotics take its early steps.

Entrepreneurial Universities

A new breed of universities which may be called ‘entrepreneurial universities’ have emerged across the world that combines the three pillars of higher education into one system- academics, innovation and research and entrepreneurship.  The entrepreneurial eco system in universities can cover a broad range of activities such as patenting and licensing, creating incubators, science parks, university spin outs and creating equity in startups among other indicators, according to Dr Brenda Fellows, Professor at University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, one of the top ranking entrepreneurial universities of the world. "There is often a lack of consensus on what constitutes an entrepreneurial eco system and pathways by which such a system can be effectively functionalised to thrive," she said at the 76th Rajagiri Round Table Conference held recently on the topic-"Is time ripe for Entrepreneurial Universities in India?"

The four focus areas of an entrepreneurial ecosystem are:

•Entrepreneurial university
•Technology transfer offices
•University spinouts
•Environmental context of the universities.

Local institutional and cultural factors and prior patterns of regional economic development need to be taken into consideration to design the incentives and policy levers for each university system to become more entrepreneurial, according to Dr Brenda Fellows.

Every year, The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine publish the top 50 undergrad and grad schools for entrepreneurship studies. From the 2021 undergraduate schools list, the University of Houston at number #1 had its alumni start more than 1300 businesses over the past ten years. At Babson College (#2), fully 100% of the entrepreneurship programme faculty have started, bought or run a successful business. On the graduate schools list, the topper Rice University had its graduates raised more than $5.5 bn in funding for their companies in 10 years.  At the University of Chicago (#2), 340 mentors work with the program's 2,700+ students as part of the school's officially-sponsored mentorship program. At Northwestern University (#3), students won more than $400,000 in prize money in entrepreneurship business competitions last year. (

Entrepreneurial Interest

"The pandemic has triggered a massive wave of entrepreneurial interest, and more Americans are starting businesses now than in the last decade," said Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. "

And that may be not be surprising. US universities have a longer history of promoting entrepreneurship.  

The Sun Microsystems (now owned by Oracle Corporation), the leading manufacturers of computer workstations, servers and software was founded in 1982 by Andreas Bechtolsheim, William Joy, Vinod Khosla, and Scott McNealy to sell desktop computers working on UNIX software. The word 'Sun' originated from Stanford University Network and three of the founders were the students of Stanford.

When Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004, it was an immediate hit.  In the first month of going online, almost half the campus had signed up for it. 

The Stanford Daily reported: “Classes are skipped. Work is being ignored. Students are spending hours in front of their computers in utter fascination. The craze has swept through campus. … A student with just over 100 friends can have a network of over 1,500 people.” Although Zuckerburg had dropped out from the University to full focus on his business, he later on went back to Harvard in May 2017 to receive a Honourary degree. He told the students that we are living in an unstable time and students need to not only create jobs, but create a sense of purpose.

NEP and Entrepreneurship

The National Education Policy (NEP)2020 has laid great emphasis on innovation, skill development and entrepreneurship. Indian universities by and large were teaching universities but now several centres of excellence, private and public technology institutions are promoting innovation and research apart from entrepreneurship development. Even vocational training centres such as Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) have been urged to become entrepreneurial.  Recently, an entrepreneurship development centre was set up at Government ITI Kohima Complex jointly by Department of Employment Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Government of Nagaland and IIE.

PradhanMantri YUVA (PM YUVA) Yojana, a pilot scheme, is intended to create an enabling ecosystem for entrepreneurship development through entrepreneurship education, training, advocacy and easy access to the entrepreneurship network in skill training institutes. The pilot is being implemented in ten States and two UTs including State of Uttarakhand. So far,around 60,000 candidates benefitted from this scheme including 3,836 candidates from the State of Uttarakhand, Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship recently informed Parliament.

Indian Models of Entrepreneurship Training

US models of entrepreneurship universities and business schools may not be easily implemented in European and Asian nations including India. However, given the cultural milieu, educational systems and governance, some institutions are thinking differently to provide the best of entrepreneurial education in the country.

IIT Hyderabad has set up a new Department of Entrepreneurship and Management which now provides basic to advanced courses in entrepreneurship guiding students into development of proof of concept and prototypes paving the way to be integrated into startup system in the campus, according to Dr MP Ganesh, Head of the Department. A compulsory entrepreneurship course is offered to all students. Once they undergo 15 hours of lecture classes they have the option to go for Minor in Entrepreneurship which provides 12 credits. The topics covered are social entrepreneurship, business strategy, supply chain and related areas. After completion of a minor course, the students could opt for dual degree in entrepreneurship in the fourth year of BTech. This will make them eligible for a dual degree with the fifth year (MTech)being fully devoted to development of their idea into proof of concept or prototype. Once this is developed, these students are connected to the Tech incubators in the campus. "We are giving an opportunity to students to try out entrepreneurship and if they don't find the good good, they can always sit for campus placement," Dr MP Ganesh said.

The Lead College of Management, Palakkad has introduced entrepreneurship in the very first semester of the MBA programme where students can present their innovative business idea and the institution would handhold them in developing the product or service so that in three years time the startup becomes operational, according to Dr Thomas George K, Director. Most of the institutes teach entrepreneurship and try to make them entrepreneurs. However, entrepreneurship concepts can be taught but entrepreneurship has to be learnt by doing, he added.


Academic Freedom

Academic freedom and flexibility is vital for implementation of entrepreneurial universities in India. The Organisation of Economic Development in a paper titled A Guiding Framework for Entrepreneurial Universities  (2012) has pointed out that faculties and units should have the autonomy to act. Overcoming bureaucratic barriers is the key to entrepreneurship. Universities with fewer barriers or hierarchies find it easier to undertake entrepreneurial activities and speed up idea creation and decision making. Although prepared in the context of European universities, some of the suggestions and recommendations are very relevant to India too. The report further stated that the university's entrepreneurial objectives should be supported by a wide variety of funding sources/investment, including investment by external stakeholders. Hackathons and other startup events could promote a spirit of innovation and enterprise in students. Entrepreneurial approach to teaching should be adopted in all departments, promoting diversity and innovation in teaching and learning. More liberal arts courses in technology and management institutes can lead to inter-disciplinary approaches and opening up the world perspective of students. 

“Traditionally we have given less importance to liberal arts in our universities which includes psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics among others. We have performing arts training at IIT Hyderabad where students are taught painting, flamingo dance etc. Your world is only this much gets questioned by liberal arts,” Dr M P Ganesh of IIT Hyderabad said. Courses on poverty, economic development and inclusive growth can lead to entrepreneurial solutions that address real world problems, he added.

Indeed winds of change is sweeping across the higher education sector thanks to technology disruptions due to pandemic, the NEP 2020 and the need for universities to have students who will be job and wealth creators rather than job seekers.