Universities in the US have given birth to some of the best companies we know. Companies like Facebook, Google, Qualcomm, Bose, and many others were started on a university campus.
The lack of global tech players from India squarely points to the failure of Indian universities. Our higher education institutions need to equip themselves better to match the enviable record of their counterparts in the West.
Most tech companies that began in college campuses leveraged several years of research and bright talent that was available within the university. Indian universities need to embrace a culture of in-depth innovation to foster entrepreneurship and become a global soft power.
To address this need, several universities have included innovation in the curriculum. Entrepreneurship and innovation are taught across studies in commerce, management, and engineering courses. Entrepreneurship cells exist in most colleges and business plans are a new attraction in the college festivals. Some colleges go a step further and have added a ‘maker space’ to allow students to create prototypes for their products.
The Government of India launched the ‘Atal Incubation Centres’ to power this trend of entrepreneurship in the country. Incubators provide managed workspace for the startups to operate. Typically, incubators also connect startups with mentors and provide some basic lab facilities, depending on the technology area where the incubator works.
A few premium institutions like the Indian Institute of Science and Central Food Technological Research Institute have dedicated IP licensing centres to make their research available to outside entrepreneurs.
While our country produces some of the brightest students, many of them end up getting placed in MNCs for plush paying jobs and enter international universities for higher education. We need to create a system to help these bright students become innovators and entrepreneurs.
When appropriately planned, entrepreneurship can fund scholarships to attract bright students and research by the faculty. With solid research on the campus, many students will be motivated to pursue higher education in India, thereby further creating an opportunity for profound tech innovation.
Existing incubators in the universities lack participation by the students and faculty for different reasons — tight academic schedules and gaps that exist when it comes to transforming ideas into companies.
Students and faculty engagement in entrepreneurial activities need special consideration from the academic programme to address bandwidth issues.
A venture studio or entrepreneurship lab can bridge gaps that exist in students and faculty in becoming entrepreneurs.
Venture Studios essentially incubate companies by providing capital, mentoring and also a dedicated set of resources for the willing entrepreneurs.
Product design and user interface experts, for example, can make a massive difference to the quality of products coming out of universities.
A team that understands patents, business plan development, digital marketing is crucial for a start up. A hands-on business development team and technology experts can also be part of the Venture Studio.
Venture Studios can also enable better monetisation of IP and a more strategic and proactive licensing programme.
Done right, the venture studio can augment the capability of entrepreneurs to build world-class businesses and help companies become venture capital ready. Making entrepreneurs campus fundable is an essential ingredient of building world-class technology companies.
Having a venture studio with the ability to provide the necessary capital for the entrepreneurs is exceptionally critical. Even today, early-stage fundraising is hard. An innovative early-stage fund structure in universities can catapult entrepreneurial activities and bring in considerable returns to universities which can be used for further investments in research.
Deploying funds in early-stage companies is smarter, considering it takes a much lower cost to build companies inside the campus.
Universities are hotbeds for cross-functional innovation and finding founders with a strong emotional connect with each other.
Leveraging universities for the entrepreneurial journey can help India positively impact the global arena.
(The author is a venture capitalist)