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September 10, 2010

“Entrepreneurs are born, not made. It’s in the DNA – or mostly, it isn’t. You cant acquire passion (for entrepreneurship, that is) in the classroom”. These comments reflect a large chunk of global opinion on this topic. Add the formidable ‘business community’ factor and you have a pretty water-tight case against the motion in India..

Traditionally, we have believed that “business is in the blood” of the marwaris, chettiars, banias…hence the continued stranglehold of families in business (and now in politics). The (exclusive ) eco-system of  breakfast-to-dinner business education, family funds, access to service providers ( CAs for instance) and  regulators (a ‘must’ for old economy industries), incubation within the family business  and  mentoring by elders,  enabled members of the business community to  pursue  opportunity and take  risk for  venture creation.

However, evolution (the world is flat, emergence of the new economy), passage of time and significantly, the breakdown of barriers– mindset and access —have brought about increasing keenness for entrepreneurship among all Indians. The phenomenon of stand alone or first generation entrepreneurs is indisputable testimony to the fact that in India today, both community and ‘brahmin’ originated entrepreneurs are feasible.  Sustaining this phenomenon is the emergence of an inclusive eco-system, more similar to that prevalent in the developed world.

This breakthrough in thought and action has shown that entrepreneurs can be made too (note the reality of ‘too’). Leading to the inevitable inference that they can be ‘made better’.  This is where entrepreneurship education comes in substituting for on-site education in family businesses.

What do you teach in entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship education is based on the core premise laid down by guru Howard Stevenson; the Sarofim-Rock Professor of Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control. Stemming from this understanding, the required knowledge, skills and attitude for creating a sustainable venture need to be taught. Starting with creating the belief within students that they can become entrepreneurs, that entrepreneurship is far more of perspiration, mental and experimental, than of inspiration. How should an entrepreneur recognize and assess opportunity for profitable growth, how does (s)he pursue the opportunity in stages and  manage risk through sharing  resources and responsibilities. Forecasting cash flows and identifying sources of funds– introduction to venture capital, angel investors, strategic investors and other means of support. How to manage relationships since an entrepreneur has to co-ordinate and control resources as (s)he doesn’t own most of them, specially money.

Faculty can go beyond teaching to play matchmaker for budding entrepreneurs seeking management teams, advisors and investors. And in the words of a participant of the Start Your Business Program offered by S P Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), the faculty “opened my eyes to the idea that I can be bigger than a local coaching class. I can create a national venture for enabling employability of under-graduates in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.”

It also happens that some students discover that they cannot stomach the ambiguity and risk involved in starting and running a venture- better early than late..

Educational institutions and faculty have traditionally regarded starting a business as a waste of students’ time and talent. However, growing familiarity with entrepreneurs (thanks to the evangelizing efforts of NEN, TiE and to the network effect), has led students to understand  that being an entrepreneur is as  much a personality characteristic as it is a learnable  skill-set.

The  learning can be either at the school of hard knocks or in the classroom, building an understanding of the venture creation process and by acquiring  tools and techniques to improve the probability of success.


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