Private initiatives like NEN lead by example
After completing Class 12, Durgesh Kumar opted to work in a supermarket in Gurgaon to test his newly acquired retailing skills. The government school he was studying had offered the option of a course in retailing as a subject in which he scored 86 per cent marks. Later, he opted for open schooling, and studied a four-year Bachelor of Business Administration in Retailing while working as a consultant for an online shopping portal selling insurance. “I work and study and don’t want to be burden on my parents who live in Chhattisgarh,” said the 19-year-old.
The Centre’s move to pilot entrepreneurship courses in government schools in 2012 is aimed at generating jobs but on the ground it leaves much to be desired. It is left to private initiatives to take the matter forward by providing mentoring networks or even educating students who show promise.
Surender Singh, a senior manager at a retail store, said the company allowed students to get hands-on training in retailing and they contact the placement officer in schools for this purpose. The company also sponsors bright students for a four-year course in business administration.
It is not only skills that need to be upgraded but also finances which need attention. Even for top of the line graduates from IITs and IIMs the going may not be easy if they want to start a company.
Sahil Kapoor from IIT, along with two others, launched in 2011 Novo Informatics, a research and development company dealing with drug discovery and research, on a skimpy budget of Rs. 1 lakh. They bought up IIT’s proprietary technology and in September, the company is poised to launch Inventus, computation software which eases scientific research in drug discovery, agriculture and cosmetology.
Mr. Kapoor says he got clients to pick up some projects in advance. They were also assisted by the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer, established by IIT-Delhi, without which, he said, things would have been difficult. In addition to funds, marketing was also important and help came from the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) set up by the Wadhwani Foundation in 2003, which helped them out in terms of exposure.
Novo Informatics got the Asia Pacific emerging company of the year award and NEN helped with media publicity which in turn found an investor for the fledgling company.
The NEN was co-founded with premier educational institutions in India and aims to build institutional capacity for creating entrepreneurs.
Dr. Ajay Kela, president and CEO of Wadhwani Foundation, said that the idea is to create many Silicon Valleys in India and there is great opportunity in the IT, education, retail, and healthcare sectors.
“The Foundation works with 500 colleges with a focus on entrepreneurship and the aim is to scale this up. There are 33,000 colleges of higher education in the country and to create capacity to churn out high quality entrepreneurs was a challenge. We have submitted a proposal to the government to digitise and standardise a course on entrepreneurship and skill development in various areas. Learning through clicks rather than bricks is the future,” he remarked.
Dr. Kela said that every year, nine million students finish 12th standard but of this only five million student go for higher studies. The remaining four million should be the target for skill development and the government had agreed to pilot entrepreneurship courses in 350 colleges which should be scaled up. It was important to create an IIT of vocational education like other countries have done, he added.
Ms. Abha Rishi, chairperson, Centre for Innovative Entrepreneurship and Development (CIED) at the Birla Institute of Management and Technology, says she mentors women entrepreneurs and helps them scale up specially on financial and marketing fronts,. “Sometimes women are so engrossed in operational elements that they forget the wider picture and I give practical inputs,” she said. The Institute’s Birla Incubation Centre helps startups and an Alumni entrepreneurship programme which assists Rs. 100 crore companies going in for IPOs by creating a suitable ecosystem.
For women especially there are big problems in terms of funding and banks often ask who are their partners, is it the husband or the brother, in the venture, she added. For women entrepreneurs the journey is that much more difficult, says Usha Prajapati who runs a social enterprise involving craftswomen from Bihar called Samoolan. A design professional , Ms. Prajapati was mentored by Ms. Rishi. “Being a woman, people don’t take you seriously and the main handicap in setting up your own company can be resources apart from having an insufficient knowledge base,” she said.
For Bangalore based Keerthana Ramarapu who runs Kinderdance India which focuses on a childhood development programme using dance, the best thing about NEN was the mentoring and handholding process. “Being part of this network helped me expedite my business skills and since I am a science graduate I needed to learn from scratch about business management,” she said.
While the newly created Bharatiya Mahila Bank has come as a solace to women entrepreneurs, there remain huge gaps with most schemes on paper. Clearly the government needs to build on its initiative with a better sense of purpose.
Keywords: entrepreneurship courses, women entrepreneurs, Bharatiya Mahila Bank, entrepreneurship programme, National Entrepreneurship Network
This story was first published in The Hindu on August 25th, 2014