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A Focus On Academic Entrepreneurs In India

India is home to 38,756 officially-recognized start-ups, including 27 unicorns

India is the third-largest tech start-up hub globally, yet academicians are still on the fringes when it comes to entrepreneurship in the country. The gaps in academic entrepreneurship are evident in the number of data scientists, engineers, and other skilled professionals who continue to seek employment opportunities – even when the job market is down – and hesitate to dream of becoming entrepreneurs, says Esha Tiwary, India head, Entrepreneur First.

In a bid to facilitate academicians to turn to entrepreneurship and be successful at it, London-based talent investor firm Entrepreneur First has launched a nation-wide program ‘Ideathon – Open Innovation’ to hunt, nurture and facilitate academicians.

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Driving the though is the idea that while traditionally the Indian market allowed and facilitated the entry of entrepreneurs, it was largely restricted to a family run business or those with decades of corporate experience in the industry. Things are fast changing, premier institutes in India like IIT, IIM, BITS, and NIT among others are waking up to the idea of academic entrepreneurs.

According to Tiwary’s chat with IANSlife, the idea is that one does not need to have years of corporate experience to build disruptive businesses. More excerpts:

Where do you think to lie the gaps in academic entrepreneurship in India? What are some of those key gaps?

Tiwary: India is the third-largest tech start-up hub globally, yet academicians are still on the fringes when it comes to entrepreneurship in the country. The gaps in academic entrepreneurship are evident in the number of data scientists, engineers, and other skilled professionals who continue to seek employment opportunities – even when the job market is down – and hesitate to dream of becoming entrepreneurs!

Entrepreneurs
Tech start-ups have opened up new opportunities and leveled the playing field. Pixabay

Traditionally, there are have been pre-defined pathways, such as family-run businesses or small-scale business establishments, for Indians to get into entrepreneurship. However, tech start-ups have opened up new opportunities and leveled the playing field for anybody with a great idea to set up a business.

Those in academia, though, are yet to realize the potential of turning their research or discoveries into real world businesses that can have a deeper and greater societal impact. In today’s time, you don’t need to have a long corporate experience to become an entrepreneur, as long as you have an impactful idea and zeal to convert it into a purposeful enterprise, anyone from anywhere can build a great tech business.

For this to happen, India needs to encourage and invest in market-led innovations, powered by new-age technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), etc. Getting the academicians on board can make this a rewarding experience, both for the individuals as well as the ecosystem.

Another key gap that needs to be addressed is the gender inequality in entrepreneurship in India. In 2015, only 14 percent of the patent applications listed women as inventors. Academic entrepreneurship offers a level playing field for female researchers, who account for about 40 percent of the academic talent pool globally.

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All things considered, there’s an immense opportunity for India to harness the power of academic entrepreneurship to transform the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country and ride the growth wave.

Is academic entrepreneurship funded enough? If not, why do you think that is the case?

Tiwary: Academic entrepreneurship is considered a niche subject and not everybody understands the opportunities it presents. At Entrepreneur First, we have a global perspective as we help build start-ups in diverse markets, such as London, Singapore, Berlin, Paris, and Toronto in addition to India.

Entrepreneurs
You don’t need to have a long corporate experience to become an entrepreneur. Pixabay

Our experience over the last decade shows that funding is only one part of a startup’s success story. The key is to build on the business idea and find the right people to make it a reality. As a technology talent investor, our role is to bring together highly skilled individuals with different areas of expertise to solve specific problems and eventually, create dynamic and innovative companies that otherwise may not have existed! EF acts as the bridge between business and technical experts e thus bringing together the right set of founders to build high potential startups.

COVID-19 has forced a new reality in the teaching and learning space. Your thoughts?

Tiwary: Yes, COVID-19 has upended our lives and forced us to recalibrate our strategies and expectations. It has been, particularly, tough for the educational institutes, given the prolonged uncertainty of the pandemic situation. However, online classes could open up new possibilities for the future, with e-learning becoming more mainstream. The new macroeconomic situation has also led to the opening up of new possibilities e for example, the boom in online education has now exposed the need to better track learning ability and retention online, and also improve engagement of online teaching. All these are areas ripe for disruption by new technological businesses.

In the long-term, we need to look at ways to tap into the emerging entrepreneurial potential of India. Educational institutes must be equipped to nurture young talent into ambitious entrepreneurs and to expose students to the potential of entrepreneurship from an early age. Currently, India is home to 38,756 officially-recognized start-ups, including 27 unicorns. It’s high time that we update our conventional understanding of entrepreneurship so that we can create new, exciting career pathways for Indian talent.

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How does Ideathon aim to identify and enhance innovation in academia?

Tiwary: With the EF IDEATION, we are working towards building an ecosystem of budding entrepreneurs who have taken the challenge to move beyond the conventional ways of doing business. It is a unique platform to encourage entrepreneurial thinking of budding entrepreneurs. While the program is open for all talented individuals across sectors e academicians form a large part of our target group.

The event will provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a platform to showcase their talent and provide innovative, impactful, and practical solutions to problems in any industry – with a clear plan that leverages tech to create 10x solutions.

Applicants need to submit a problem statement, solution, market potential, and founder market fit. The shortlisted teams/individuals will be asked to present their submissions to the judges. Apart from a revolutionary idea, participants will need to present wireframe models/mock-ups, websites, a working proof of concept (POC), demo videos, or any other form of detailed project presentation.

ALSO READ: Indians Willing To Take Salary Cut To Work From Home

The winners would be announced in December 2020 and there is a total prize of Rs 1.8 lakh up for grabs, along with a fast track application process for Entrepreneur First’s next cohort.

Anyone with a technical degree e Btech/MTech/Ph.D. and equivalent.

Preferably, between one to six years of work experience, along with a stellar academic and professional background. Graduates from any Indian or foreign university, but must currently be working in India. You can apply individually or together with a team member. A maximum of two participants is allowed in a team. One can register and submit a concept note by December 7. (IANS)

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