Indian Universities: Promoting The Startup Culture

Prof. Sunil Khanna, VP & DEAN - RESEARCH & ADMISSIONS, NIIT UniversityA not-for-profit university, NIIT University is notified by the Government of Rajasthan in 2009 as a premier institution seeking to create original thinkers who will lead the knowledge society of the future.

India, an ancient land, known for its Gurukuls and Universities such as Nalanda and Taxila, has always given precedence to higher learning. These institutions have remained a significant part of the country's fabric, imparting special skills and knowledge to students that have shaped them into the pillars of society and contributors to its economic progress.

Nalanda and Taxila were centers of Buddhist and Hindu studies, besides training in archery, hunting, law, medicine, economics, astronomy, mathematics and military science. It is said that eminent alumni such as Chanakya (the author of the famous work of Economics, Arthashastra), Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta and Ayurvedic healer Charaka, passed through the portals of Taxila!

When it comes to higher-end learning then, India has a rich and illustrious history, a past which has paved the path of knowledge dissemination over the centuries and brought us to the current age. Bolstered by its impressive academic legacy, India continues to nurture and nourish schools of higher education. Like their ancient forerunners, these citadels of learning are also playing a key role in driving the economic momentum of India.

They are doing so by crafting the human resources that are needed by India and Indian industry. After all, a country's greatest economic wealth is its people-especially citizens who are equipped with the right knowledge, skills and expertise necessary for nation building.

Students meanwhile, continue to pursue higher education as a coveted goal, one that is an acknowledged and integral part of India's culture and ethos because universities and colleges are not just the citadels of learning, they are also the seeding grounds for research and innovation. They work hard to gain admission into the country's reputed institutions, fighting intense competition from other learners. Looking at the scenario, one would automatically assume that Indian universities are indeed the champions of economic development, reform in society, and above all invention that leads to change.

That however, is not entirely true. One of the criticisms that India has had to face in recent years, regarding its education system, is its lack of
emphasis on innovation. A common complaint is that Indian universities, while aces when it comes to academic rigor, have lagged in the areas of creativity, innovation and inventiveness.

Indian universities have often been compared to some of the shinning schools of learning in the U.S., such as Stanford University, which is credited with the creation of the biggest success story of innovation in the world-the techie hub Silicon Valley. Much of what humanity has seen in terms of innovation can often be traced back to these schools of learning. Often, that's really where it all began.

It has been pointed out that Stanford, riding on its culture of research, helped spawn ideas that went on to become killer products and services. These in turn seeded organizations that contributed to the legend of Silicon Valley.

The result is a paucity of learners who want to be entrepreneurs and establish their own ventures, their own footprint in the domain of business

Other foreign institutions too have been spotlighted for their contribution to the growth of industry in their respective countries, and above all, an ecosystem of startups and entrepreneurship. India on the other hand, industry watchers say, has been unable to wow the world with path-breaking and pioneering products. Neither has the country been able to produce a Google, Microsoft or Facebook-all classic examples of the flaming spirit of entrepreneurship and of startups that grew into giant organizations.

Among the several reasons why the start-up revolution has been slow in coming in India is the absence of the `entrepreneurship culture' in the Indian DNA. Sadly, the country's schools, colleges and universities have been unable to provide learners with an environment that is conducive to, and spurs creativity, ideation and innovation.

It is also a known fact that most of Indian universities have not forged strong linkages with industry. In the absence of this connect and understanding of its needs, they have been unable to provide relevantly skilled, `Day-one, hour-one ready' manpower to industry. At the same time these institutions have not really focused on inculcating a risk taking, out-of-the-box thinking attitude among students. The result is a paucity of learners who want to be entrepreneurs and establish their own ventures, their own footprint in the domain of business.

One sector in India however, that has managed to swim against the tide is the IT-BPM industry, a landscape that is dotted with software product startups and emerging companies. According to research firm Zinnov, the Indian technology segment ranks third globally when it comes to being home to startups. The report states that five tech startups are born each day, and that every week around $100 million worth of funding is disbursed to many organizations. Clearly, if the IT industry can be the flag-bearer of the startup and entrepreneurship movement, why not other segments?

Also, Indian institutions of higher learning need to sow the seeds of entrepreneurship on their turf itself. They need to encourage students to take the unbeaten path and be generators of employment rather than employees themselves. Well known institutions of advanced, higher-end learning such as Neemrana-based NIIT University (NU), are already on this path and have been incubating some fresh ideas which have translated into innovation-led startups. NU, which is providing a nurturing atmosphere for `would be, potential' entrepreneurs, is also exposing them to other successful startup ventures to learn about what makes these players tick.

Indian universities therefore, can be the hotbeds of innovation and entrepreneurship provided they can lead their learners down new avenues and fresh pastures. By igniting unique ideas and giving wing to the dreams of students, they can in fact light the fire of entrepreneurship in a major way in India.