OPINION

IIT Kharagpur Plans School for Entrepreneurship

January 05, 2008
GV Krishnan

IIT Kharagpur plans to open next year a school for entrepreneurship. It would target students with "financially secure backgrounds", says the IIT director D Acharya, adding that the school isn't for job seekers, but for "potential employment generators". A school, I guess, for the kin and close cousins of the Birlas, Nandas, Ambanis; the tech-millionaires, and of those who have made fortunes on real estate, and mushrooming malls and multiplexes.

One wonders if the idea of a five-year course at Kharagpur would appeal to this lot. Business moms and dads send their heirs to US b-schools. Would Kharagpur sound as good as Wharton or Stanford to them? Also, five years doing an entrepreneurial course may seem too long a time for those who are willing and eager to get into their family-held businesses.

The e-school idea was first floated by Prof. Acharya at an Entrepreneurship Summit on the Kharagpur campus in November last. Expressing disappointment at the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among students, he observed that for IITans the challenge was not getting a job for themselves, but doing something of their own and contributing to India's growth.

The IIT professor's points have been echoed in a Silicon India blog by Gunjan Sinha who would like to see the emergence of, what he calls, the entrepreneurial India. He speaks of the need for building network-infrastructure in a professional environment. Mr Sinha points out there are some 27,000 professional associations in the US. Wonder what his take is on the Kharagpur e-school idea.

As an idea, I reckon, it is entrepreneurial; in the sense that no one else has thought of it. But would an e-school make business sense? Wouldn't it be better to have it as an add-on to the MBA program, with an additional year or two of e-schooling for the benefit of students with entrepreneurial aptitude? As someone who has neither been an academic nor entrepreneurial I lack credentials to answer these questions. I can only raise them. I wonder how many people with "financially secure backgrounds" have an aptitude for entrepreneurship.

Maybe heirs of business millionaires may not wish/need to go for such schooling, for they can hire professionals to complement their own skill sets, says Som Karamchetty, who has once taught at Kharagpur and he is now engaged in volunteer buisness counselling to entrepreneurs under th auspices of US-Score. Dr. Karamchetty, coming as he did from a middle-class family, says he lacked the ability to risk his meagre resources, and so 'I ventured late in life'. In his reckoning entrepreneurs are both born and can be groomed, as is the case in many other creative fields. He shares Kharagpur director's enthusiasm for the e-school concept - "let us leave skepticism at the door and support Dr Acharya in his highly deserving venture".

Abraham Tharakan, a Chennai-based consultant, blogs about conspicuous lack of private initiative to promote industries in Karala, although the state accounted for over $16 billion remittances from 1.8 million Keralite NRIs in 2006. Bulk of this money went into building fabulous houses and investment in land. That kind of fund-flow could have made a thousand businesses bloom. Mr Tharakan attributes it 'a general lack of entrepreneurship' among the moneyed in Kerala.

Would an e-school help promote entrepreneurs here? Isn't entrepreneurship about taking business risks? We have it from Hotmail Bhatia that nine in ten products conceived in Silicon Valley flop, but the one that succeeds more than makes up for the failed nine. Which is what, I guess, entrepreneurship is all about. It is a matter of mindset.

Retired Times of India correspondent, based in Mysore.; hosts MysoreBlogPark, a parking lot for a bunch of Mysore-connected bloggers; writes a Monday column for www.zine5.com
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