Can college incubators fuel the next wave of tech startups?
While the debate of how fast or how effectively the economy has been growing in recent years, there is one clear challenge in front of the Indian economy: the problem of creating enough jobs. The fact that the size of India’s working population is growing has been known for some time. Touted as the demographic dividend whose benefits the country would soon reap, what remains now is that labor markets today see four to eight million new job seekers enter the market.
The role of student entrepreneurship cannot be underestimated in today’s economy. Owing to decentralized access to technology, students are better equipped to go beyond traditionally archaic syllabuses and build skills which makes them more productive. There is also an abundance of ideas and creativity and many tech facing graduate programs today have some of the best minds. Left untouched, talent and creativity both undergo a grind where at the end of the course, students end up being just another job aspirant. That is a loss of great potential.
To get an idea of what this could mean, let’s take a look at the state of student entrepreneurship in the US. According to data from Contrary Capital’s 2019 University Report the top 10 American universities (by startup activities) created 1,167 students led startups since 2017. This, in turn, plays a larger role in creating a self-sustaining business that contributes to larger growth and job creation. With the startup sector becoming an important means in which the benefits of tech advancements leads to economic productivity, creating jobs in its wake.
Indian startups have come to play an important role in how technological development spreads economic benefits. Many have found access to a healthy funding environment that fosters innovation and creates employment. And while the overall startup ecosystem matures, the ability of young people to capitalize on this growing access to better tech and create gainful value to the economy remains severely missing.
Bridging the gap between youth and access to tech
All India Council for Technical Education, the statutory body in charge of technical education in the country has in recent years passed policies to address this gap. In its most recent reiteration the AICTE they have made it mandatory for institutes imparting technical education to young people. This has created a necessary mandate among many technical institutions to support their student entrepreneurial spirit and advance its scope. In addition to this, AICTE also launched a policy framework this year to create a holistic way of enabling universities and institutions to provide better infrastructure and enable their students to practice and develop their entrepreneurial skills:
- The role of universities in fostering tech talent and providing opportunities for their skills to flourish in an economic environment today cannot be understated. Silicon Valley, a name that’s become synonymous with the tech startup boom in the US has always had strong relationships with premier institutions especially Stanford. According to a report by the World economic forum, such correlation is expected in current times. This is because: Universities have all the means and resources to support a young, budding entrepreneur, such as labs to experiment in, connections to jump up and mentors to rely upon
- A student in a university has enough understanding of the world to start a business, and she has a significant amount of time to work on such business ideas risk-taking ability for a student at this point is pretty low, so to say that if a venture fails, the student can always pick up the pieces and start again.
An important way to foster a better development environment for their students is for universities to collaborate with industries. Universities can improve collaboration by creating a transparent framework for industry partnerships. This includes appointing a dedicated partnership facilitator to help business leaders understand the processes and sequences of collaboration within the university and navigate transitions. Such a counterpart allows the university to take the lead on the collaboration in a structured way.
Indian states too have in the last decade taken steps to improve the conditions within colleges and institutions imparting technical knowledge to enable students to have access to a healthy entrepreneurial environment. Schemes like the Student Entrepreneurship Scheme formalized attendance and credit grants for students undertaking entrepreneurship whereas Startup Village proved to be a highly successful public-private model of incubation, incubating student ideas from standard, affiliated educational institutes.
Older schemes by governments today have been further strengthened under the policy changes brought in AICTE. The further structuring of the sector under other schemes like Startup India has further enabled young people with a technical background to experiment and build their skills. MIT’s Industrial Liaison Programme and Imperial College’s Business Partners Club are good models of some of the top educational institutions that have partnered with leading industries to provide their student's exposure to more relevant skills. Improving access to both funding and skill-building opportunities can enable students to not only enter the jobs market as a more qualified talent but also end up being job creators themselves.