A scalable model for entrepreneurship development in Indian Colleges

Every third person in India is a youth. By 2020, 64% of the country would be in the working age.[1]There is a mad scramble for jobs today and this is only going to intensify. Some people view this as a demographic dividend but this could also be a ticker bomb we are sitting on.

A combination of young population and high unemployment can be explosive (Arab Spring). With a focus on higher education, more and more people are enrolling and studying but as education levels go up, unemployment levels have also gone up[2].It is easier for high schooled to get a job than it is for a graduate(NSSO data: unemployment rate amongst illiterate men (15–29 yrs) in urban areas is 2.5 % against 5.3% for graduates or higher in 2011–12). This phenomenon worsens as we go to rural areas, where the problem is more pronounced

Our fascination for government jobs, our approval of job seekers and skepticism for first generation entrepreneurs make them outliers, who pave their way against stiff societal opposition. First generation entrepreneurship does not have a nurturing ecosystem. A new NREGA like model can sow seeds of entrepreneurship and be a game changer..

This scalable inclusive model involves mimicking real life entrepreneurship in colleges with the least cost, time and in an entrepreneurial manner. In order to test this approach multiple pilot experiments were conducted in Haryana and Karnataka. In a college, everyone studying in any course, in any year had a right to enroll, to test 15 teams of 2 students (complimentary skills) were given “trigger money (Rs 1000 per team) for a short duration (a week with 2 weekends included) to go out and generate profits. They were no pre requisites and rules. The students kept the profits/losses. At the end of the duration the principal amount was to be returned. Money was routed through known hands of the teacher. These experiments threw surprising results.

Students quickly thought of an idea and went out to implement it since they were competing and had limited time. They handled inter personal team issues, learned, earned and shared profits. They used their skills (opened study classes, beauty points, sold self made paintings), sold local products (handicrafts, khadi clothes) and local resources (local delicacies) and came up with tangible selling propositions. They convinced strangers, shed their inhibitions and hesitations and enjoyed the process. Girls participated as keenly as boys did. The peer pressure of competition made them work hard, the incentive of keeping their profits and the recognition through awards motivated them, involvement of college authorities ensured they returned back the money and the short time frame allowed them to focus. The process initiated them to business realities and removed the inhibitions to try. This taught the first alphabets of entrepreneurship so that they construct sentences and weave entrepreneurship stories in the future.By and large it infused energy, fun and provide a way to express business acumen.

Such experiments are not completely knew, similar efforts with encouraging results have been done by premier business schools like the Indian School of Business,Stanford University and the Deshpande Foundation in India. However the idea now is to scale up and make it available for every Indian student, studying any course, in any college in the country.

The durable asset created here is change in behavior and learning experience for creating new businesses. This sprinkles the seeds of entrepreneurship all across the country. Close government linkages to other government programs can provide the fertilizers (nurturing mechanisms) and irrigation (conducive ecosystem) for them to grow into a full entrepreneurship venture.

Since the program is objective, cost and time effective it can be readily scaled up. Use of technology, online and mobile media makes it possible to further reduce time and costs. In terms of costs in less than 1/4th of a dollar (per team), in terms of time- in a week’s time and in terms of quality- by students actually doing it, we gave a taste of entrepreneurship at places where conventional ecosystem may not reach in the near future.

The scale up requires a PPP model with government and private sector coming together to make a corpus fund. An autonomous body called the National Entrepreneurship Foundation under the new entrepreneurship ministry can be formed.Given that it is a rolling fund, a one-time fund is regenerates and sustains operations. At the cost for less than 30 crores we can cover all 35500 colleges in the country. There would be some non-performing assets (NPAs) but implementation by a private player and strong processes would mitigate this risk. The nurturing ladder from colleges to states to national level requires efficient benchmarking, accreditation and rewarding systems. A database of potential entrepreneurs will make it easy for government and private players to identify job creators and link them to government programs. Such an ecosystem cannot be created in isolation. It needs bodies like the new Ministry of entrepreneurship or Ministry of small and medium enterprises, industry bodies, skill development bodies to come together to take specific roles to ensure we create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship in colleges.

Long back, introduction of cadavers revolutionized the teaching in medical schools, the introduction of trigger money and its associated nurturing system is a game changer to awaken the entrepreneurship spirit of the youth in a cost effective manner. This dedicated trigger money provides an opportunity for students to taste entrepreneurship in a fun way and sow the seeds for a bumper entrepreneurship harvest.

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“Ashutosh did his MBA in Strategy and Finance from Indian School of Business in 2011, along with an exchange programme at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he studied International Development. He worked with the Development Office of a Member of Parliament and then with Evidence Action, where he was responsible for scale-up and institutionalization of the Deworming and the Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation program reaching 36 lakhs children in Delhi. He is currently working on a new cost effective and scalable model to institutionalize entrepreneurship development in Indian colleges by providing a real life taste of entrepreneurship to students in a public private partnership model with government authorities, industry bodies and civil society partners. He can be reached at pratap.ashutosh@gmail.com

[1]‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills,’ a report published by IRIS Knowledge Foundation in collaboration with UN-HABITAT

[2] http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/xDm2iBx0MFCZLnKUwmkefN/The-youth-unemployment-conundrum.html

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