Blending Incubation Centres with Indian Educational Institutions

Younus AhmadAn intense chemistry that can drive our country in all verticals

The common thing among the eminent global companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, WalMart and more is that their founders were all between the ages of 20 & 26 when they were launched. With India having more than 50 percent of its population below the age of 25 and over 65 percent below 35, it’s the college-aged entrepreneurs who can replicate the same in India and drive our economy. It sounds peachy, however, our would-be entrepreneurs, from awareness and sustainability of businesses to regulations allied with legality & enforceability, will face sundry challenges as they embark on this novel mission. To bout these daunting challenges, incubators will be their major ally, where they would gain the required skillset to transform their ideas into reality.

Thankfully, the Government of India has undertaken several initiatives to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. For instance, the ‘Atal Innovation Mission’ that is setting up 'Atal Incubation Centres' across higher educational institutes, and ‘Atal Tinkering Laboratories’ in schools to foster innovative thinking, creativity & scientific temperament among students. Other instances are the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning in IIM Bangalore (NSRCEL-IIMB), which carries out international collaboration projects, and IIM Calcutta’s activities on innovation and entrepreneurship, which are more practical and driven by students. Other notable names include Technology Business Incubation Unit, Delhi, SIDBI Innovation & Incubation Centre in Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and the Society for Innovation & Development(SID), IISC Bangalore.

Empowering Indian College-Aged Would-Be Entrepreneurs
Although these centres are doing well to some degree, they still lag at the global level.While India has the third-highest number of startup incubators in the world, it’s still behind China & the US who have over 2,400 & 1,500 respectively. Moreover, these incubators are heavily concentrated (40 percent)in Bangalore, Mumbai & Delhi-NCR. No doubt these cities are the cream of India, but the growth of the Indian economy lies on entrepreneurs PAN India. There is a need for developing entrepreneurship among the college students across the country.

As the pace of discovery accelerates and global competition intensifies, global universities are embracing entrepreneurship as part of the academic experience, creating cultures where innovative thinking is inspired and nurtured. Unfortunately, most of our universities fail to do that and that is why since 1930, no scholar from an Indian university (without a foreign education) has won the Nobel Prize and not a single Indian
university features in the Reuters ranking of the world’s 100 most innovative universities.

As the famous saying goes 'the art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery', a major component of the mission of any Indian university has to be the creation of knowledge by researching. At a time when societal challenges are demanding discoveries at the intersections of diverse disciplines, fostering a culture of entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful ways that Indian universities need to adopt and act as economic accelerators.This will not only foster entrepreneurship among students but in young faculty too, who can develop new technologies or engage in startups.“Unfortunately, projects in the most of our colleges are purchased from third-party suppliers; if students are encouraged to build projects in their labs (incubation centres) at least to some extent that will have a big impact in developing their skills,” states Syam Madanapalli, Director – IoT, NTT DATA Services.

Enhancing the Centers
Another drawback of our centres is that most of them do not offer adequate research infrastructure or provide the ecosystem needed to make ground-breaking discoveries. Offering best possible research-enabled faculty to students and also empowering them with the necessary infrastructural, networking, and another support is the need of the hour that the university system needs to spark and nurture imagination and creativity, and enable the process of innovation. “The tools and other resources available are very limited, while the mentors or the person running these incubators are also not highly skilled. We need to improve these two things,”adds Syam.

As we embrace this tech-driven economy, our incubators must meet the challenges of the digital revolution head on, and play an increasingly important role in innovation ecosystems. “With the advent of Cloud or other internet storages, we store or share sensitive data which can be our personal captions, bank details, and even our country’s defence data on these platforms. Now if we don’t develop technology for ourselves instead rely on the third-party (import technology), ensuring the privacy of these sensitive data will be a daunting task and eventually our national, as well as personal security, will be inadequate,” says Syam.

Dating India's Would-Be Entrepreneurs with Global Players
In today’s competitive environment, our universities must also develop new partnerships with leading companies, foundations, and other research-intensive institutions. These partnerships provide critical funding for talented faculty and students to pursue foundational research, enable students and faculty to exchange ideas with the very best minds inside and outside the academy, and prepare students to be citizens of this rapidly changing world.

The incubators set up at institutions to nurture India's next generation of unicorns need sufficient amount of funds. For the capital pile for startups, the Government of India’s ‘Startup India’ scheme has the India Aspiration Fund which disburses Rs.2,500 crore per year, with a total corpus of Rs.10,000 crore across four years. However, if we see at the global level, the figures are drastically different. For instance, in the US, according to data compiled by the National Science Foundation for the US, industry funding for university research and development has grown by more than 5.5 per cent annually, from about $2.4 billion in 2006 to over $4.2 billion in 2016. By not fully financing the pool of entrepreneurs, we risk falling short of the growing demand, with serious consequences for the future of technological innovation.

Fostering Women Entrepreneurship
It’s no secret that women entrepreneurs are still few in India. Recognising the importance of women entrepreneurs, these centres need to gear toward enabling equal opportunity for women. The government also needs to bring women to the forefront of India's entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing access to loans, networks, markets and training.

Concluding with famous sayings of Steven Johnson, “If you look at history, innovation doesn't come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” We need to endow our young entrepreneurs with cutting-edge platforms and financial support and create an atmosphere for them that will foster entrepreneurship in them, and they will eventually drive our country.