For India’s start-ups to thrive, the start-up ecosystem at institutions like the top technology and management ones needs to evolve, mainly through collaborations with students from other disciplines, and industry guidance, suggest experts. There should also be proper systems to appreciate the faculty members involved in start-up mentoring when it comes to recognition for their work, they say.
Many start-up ideas at technology institutions face a roadblock when it comes to the go-to-market stage due to their founders’ lack of experience in the market. This has been a challenge at institutions like the premiere Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) for several years now.
One way to overcome this for these institutions or students or incubators is through collaboration between technology and management disciplines – rope in co-founders who know the other side of the business – say experts from these institutions.
“Almost 70 per cent time is taken in talking about the technology itself, but this problem has been faced by a lot of people. Nobody understands "business" so much, because they cannot afford co-founders from the IIMs. They cannot pay them, and the founder himself wants to do everything from selling to buying. This is a problem that you have to solve,” said Milind D Atrey, institute chair professor and professor-in-charge, Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, IIT Bombay.
“You have to expose people to the other side. While there have been some experiments in terms of collaborating management institutes with science ones, we are struggling. It is a mindset problem: We are not open to collaboration and we sometimes look down upon the other side. This is a real challenge,” says Sushil Vachani, former director, IIM Bangalore, and a non-profit and EdTech advisor.
One of the solutions under discussion is to create a platform where the institution in different disciplines can communicate and know the requirements of others for better collaboration. At present, there is no communication within the IITs and IIMs. If there is a mechanism to bring them to one platform, it would be beneficial, say the experts. Most of the IIM graduates are from IITs and there may not be much difficulty in creating such a platform, they explained.
Creating teams is a way if all of these students are at the same institute. One could request an engineering student to pair with a management student, but then you won’t have enough management students at institutions like IIT Madras. Another opportunity is to mix up the hostels so that students from different disciplines become friends and figure out about creating something, said Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, who is now an angel investor.
A collaboration between industry and academia is another way. Industry could mentor students in entrepreneurship to help figure out the go-to-market strategy for their technology. For instance, institutions like IIT Madras has mentors who are entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, venture capitalists etc, to guide students on how they could take their business to the market.
Among incubatees with faculty members on their boards, the primary go-to-market strategy is connecting with early adopters or testers through these faculty members. However, the student-only companies are finding it difficult to find out a way, since they don't have the contact network that the faculty can offer. This could be addressed if institutions can bring together a well-wisher network to mentor start-ups, said educational experts in a recent Deshpande-Gopalakrishnan Symposium organised at the IIT Madras.
The faculty members involved in a traditional way of teaching and engaging in writing research papers are rewarded on the basis of gauges like the number of papers published. At present, there is no mechanism to properly gauge the work of faculty involved in mentoring start-ups.
“This has been an issue in discussion for some time now. It seems this is an issue faced by faculty members and start-ups across the world, not only in India. There should be some mechanism to reward them for mentoring start-up activities,” said Gopalakrishnan.