Charting a Prosperous Future for Humanity

As the G20 Leaders Summit approaches, the summit meeting of the Business 20 grouping (B20) — the largest of the 11 G20 engagement groups sharing policy ideas — got off to an auspicious start this week. Developed through intensive discussions at nine specific groups over the presidency year, the submissions align with the G20 theme of VasudhaivaKutumbakam or ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. B20 India — helmed by Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran — organised deliberations around the overarching theme of RAISE, Responsible, Accelerated, Innovative, Sustainable and Equitable Businesses.

Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t necessitate a substantial amount of money, a background in a large town, or the invention of something entirely new; it’s about identifying problems, conducting effective market research, and crafting a unique value proposition.

The world is undergoing a rapid transformation driven by technological progress, globalisation, and the fourth Industrial Revolution, resulting in unprecedented levels of instability and complexity across sectors. The 2023 World Economic Forum Future Jobs Report predicts significant shifts in the job market, with six out of 10 workers needing training by 2027 and 83 million jobs projected to be eliminated. Add to this that only 29% of millennials feel “engaged” in their jobs at present.

Amid these challenges, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) hold a critical role in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship. Shifting from producing jobseekers to job providers, universities must emphasise 21st-century skills, such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and innovation. In order to encourage entrepreneurial pursuits, the key is to nurture “infinite learners”, a term coined by Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. These are individuals who not only enjoy learning but also require continuous upskilling throughout their professional lives, ultimately leading to a predictable outcome: A surge in entrepreneurial endeavours driven by a quest for purpose.

Entrepreneurship presents a solution to unlock the latent potential within emerging talents and supercharge economic growth. However, despite the allure of entrepreneurship, many students encounter hurdles in pursuing their ambitions due to the lack of proper mentorship and guidance. In reality, becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t necessitate a substantial amount of money, a background in a large town, or the invention of something entirely new; it’s about identifying problems, conducting effective market research, and crafting a unique value proposition. Consider Ritesh Agarwal, the founder of India’s largest hospitality company, OYO Rooms. Hailing from a small town in Odisha, his journey began with a fascination for entrepreneurship and software. Through self-taught coding skills, Agarwal addressed the challenge of finding budget-friendly hotels in India, birthing what is now OYO Rooms. Similar tales abound, underscoring the need to foster a culture that encourages and supports such initiatives.

Fostering Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

In the pursuit of fostering a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, Indian universities can draw valuable insights and lessons from the experiences of renowned foreign universities. They offer specialised entrepreneurship programmes that blend theoretical knowledge with practical applications. Harvard’s Innovation Lab provides a collaborative environment for students to turn their ideas into reality, fostering hands-on learning.

Some of the Indian universities are having dedicated entrepreneur hubs where students are provided with space to incubate ideas, collaborate with stakeholders, and share experiences. The need is not only to make them more effective, vibrant and productive but also to showcase their performance to other universities so that each university can get motivation and have such dedicated entrepreneur hub, which can contribute to the success story of India. Financial support could be sought from industry sponsors, aligning with their interests and objectives. Unfortunately, students often remain oblivious to government initiatives that promote entrepreneurship. For instance, DST and Venture Center’s NIDHI-Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) programme nurtures innovative entrepreneurs through grants at selected technology business incubators. HEIs’ involvement could facilitate soft-skill development, access to team talent, and network expansion, ultimately fostering the growth of nascent ideas.

Next is to cultivate an entrepreneurship budget, initially supported by industry partners and later augmented by annual funds from HEIs, including alumni donations, grants, and student subscriptions. Establishing an environment that engages and recognises alumni is vital, as showcased by the University of Delhi, which recently established Section 8 company registered under the Company Act, 2013 with a professional CEO to gather funds from alumni and corporations through CSR activities.

Networking, collaboration and sharing among various Indian universities are of utmost importance to avoid duplication of efforts, resources and ideas. The need is to have vibrant ecosystems that enable networking between students and industry experts like those practised by developed countries. The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem at the University of California, Berkeley, brings together students, faculty, alumni, and professionals to facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange. Similarly, in Australia, the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship is a collaborative initiative involving 11 universities, providing a wide network for students across the country. This culture of collaboration needs to be replicated by Indian universities.

Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset is another challenge. The University of Oxford runs the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme that encourages students to think innovatively regardless of their field of study. This interdisciplinary approach to fostering an entrepreneurial mindset is crucial for adapting to the ever-changing business landscape. Similarly, in Japan, universities such as Keio University integrate entrepreneurship education across disciplines to nurture a culture of innovation.

Finding Sustainable Solutions

According to Indian ethos and to carry forward the Sarbat Da Bhalaa message of Guru Nanak Dev ji, social entrepreneurship needs to be promoted to address pressing societal and environmental challenges. Many universities abroad started programmes to work in this direction. The University of Amsterdam’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative provides resources and support for students aiming to create businesses with a positive impact.

In Denmark, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) offers programmes such as “Sustainovation,” where students develop sustainable solutions for real-world problems. As consumers grow more discerning, social enterprises driven by purpose, rather than profit, are gaining ground. Small start-ups are poised to address this paradigm shift by improving lives, aligning with a broader goal. For those attuned to changing digital trends, consumer behaviour, and equipped with a drive to address challenges, entrepreneurship emerges as the ultimate solution.

Universities hold the key to instilling an entrepreneurial spirit that resonates throughout the nation. Encouraging collaboration between students, faculty, and industry experts, universities can serve as fertile grounds for innovative ideas to flourish. Through networking events, workshops, and access to funding opportunities, universities become the nucleus for transforming aspiring individuals into adept entrepreneurs. This culture shift not only enriches the professional landscape but also propels India towards becoming a global innovation hub. 

This article was originally published in the Hindustan Times on 26th August.

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