Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Entrepreneurship conference on campus

These past two days have been rather intense. I was supposed to be on a term break, but I have somehow managed to stuff so much onto my plate that it seems like it was only yesterday that my break had begun, and term 2 starts on Monday! Exhausting, yet fulfilling is what would aptly describe these past two days.

We had the First International conference on Entrepreneurship right here on campus. It was organized in partnership with the Rand corporation and the Legatum institute, and it dealt with a broad theme titled - 'Catalysts of Entrepreneurship - Policies for Growth'. The focus of the conference was education and infrastructure and we had a whole host of dignitaries who graced the occasion and presented their perspective on how public policy can and should be moulded to make way for more successful entrepreneurship. An official release of whatever was discussed would soon be out, and I can perhaps give more specific corroborated details then, but as of now, I just wanted to pen down a few things that for me, were major takeaways. The official site for the event is here.

One, the conference brought together people from different walks of life - policy makers, academicians and entrepreneurs, and this confluence of thought gave rise to a lot of healthy discussion and debate not just amongst the panelists, but between students / audience and the panelists as well. Entrepreneurship in education and infrastructure in India are by and far two of the hottest topics on peoples' minds, given the recession and the need to think out of the box. And no entrepreneurial venture can succeed without the proper backing from policy makers. And having representatives of every set of entities gave students like us, who have so far had a rather contrived view of the world so far, a much broader perspective.

The delegates from Rand and Legatum provided a completely independent view of the situation at hand, delving into their painstaking research and pointing out how policy can actually influence entrepreneurship. They backed it up with research findings and their view on how improving the policy framework can have a direct positive effect on improving entrepreneurial effort in the field.

Secondly, in the arena of education, some of the points highlighted were extremely logical and moved in a sort of natural progression, towards the topic of the need / want of governance in education. Chaired by Mr Manish Sabharwal of Team Lease, this session was extremely informative and very vibrantly active. A few of the points that the panel put across were extremely incisive. For instance, while describing the entrepreneurial opportunities available in the arena of education, there was talk of the number of opportunities available in primary and pre-primary education.
  • The panelists mentioned that affordability is by and far the least considered aspect when a parent chooses a school for their child.
  • Also, effective and regular appraisals of the teaching system are of importance and one can look at these accreditation exercises as a good opportunity to do something new. Somewhat akin to organizational certifications like ISO and BS7799.
  • Now, another very interesting point that was raised, was about the mushrooming engineering colleges and business schools in some states of India. People pointed out concerns about how these mushrooming colleges were posing a threat to the quality of Indian education. I, for one, believed that these colleges would ultimately bring down the overall quality of Indian education, since the individual quality of teaching at each of these colleges was certainly not very good, and the quality of students they churned out on an average, was not particularly wonderful. But a very unique point of view that came out, was that market forces would certainly force the poor players to down their shutters and walk out of the game, since the bad colleges would only manage close to 5 to 10 students!
  • Another point that was picked up and this is one that is rather vociferously debated all the time, is one that says that expansion of educational institutions dilutes quality. Well, to a very great extent, that is indeed true, but at times, these expansions are by and far the only way to reach out to more number of people. So, in order to increase the reach of education to consumers at the base of the pyramid, expansion is absolutely essential. But when it comes to the pinnacle institutions, an expansion must be looked upon with utmost caution and must be executed with finesse.

  • Coming over to infrastructure, the key point was of public-private partnerships and how entrepreneurs can benefit through primarily liaising with the government. It made a lot of sense, since through PPP's, the initial capital investment, need not be exorbitantly high for a small player, and hence the entrepreneurial reach of such ventures can be rather high. Another key point that was raised was one of the need to develop not just the urban and uber urban areas but to concentrate on a more holistic development plan, whereby every urban area has its satellite town developed as well.

    And finally, on the road ahead, there was talk of how industries must collaborate to bring in more entrepreneurs, since more entrepreneurship would spell more growth for the industry as a whole. Another key point raised was that academia and the industry must collaborate on more policy - oriented research that can effectively be driven to action. Plus there was talk on how the present taxation system can be tweaked to invite more entrepreneurs into the fold.

    All in all, it was extremely invigorating, getting together with so many bright minds. What I have presented here is still just a small gist of the whole story, as much as I could remember off the top of my head. But the truly interesting part of the whole event was the impact of so many different perspectives, albeit all collated at the same venue, and covering the same topic.
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