The university as idea factory

The World Bank categorizes one in five Indian citizens as poor. But the country is making progress. In 2015, 170 million people (12.4 per cent) lived in poverty, down from 29.8 per cent in 2009, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was born into poverty, has made economic inequality a priority of his administration. Stand-Up India is one initiative Modi is using to correct the economic imbalance. The program provides bank loans to budding entrepreneurs from the lowest economic strata. Student Start-Up, a spin-off program, aims to create 100,000 technology-based student startups and a million employment opportunities within ten years.

“To tackle jobless growth, we must comprehend multifaceted issues, craft viable solutions, and extract answerable questions from the clutter of public needs,” says Sanjay Inamdar, SF ’05, chairman of Student Start-Up. “This requires multiple tools, one of which is energizing entrepreneurship at the university level. Governments can’t provide jobs to everyone. People have to provide jobs to other people. We’re trying to grow a whole generation of self-starters who create jobs for themselves and for others.” The initiative, Inamdar adds, will create innovation laboratories within universities and groom students to take up entrepreneurial careers and launch new enterprises that generate jobs and societal solutions.

Leveraging the nation’s intellectual firepower

India has enviable student strength in technology-related disciplines—eight million students enrolled in more than 10,000 campuses across the country. Inamdar and his team will help shape curriculum, training, and mentorship opportunities to generate new enterprises from university-inspired technological innovation. He reports that India also has organized one of the world’s largest hackathons to challenge students in technology disciplines to develop digital solutions that address socially relevant problems. And the government has launched iMADE, an app development platform aimed at producing 1,000,000 apps as well as a US$3.0 billion banking institution for development and refinancing support.

The challenge at the bottom of it all, however, is mindset. Inamdar notes that many Indians believe that a student graduating from a technical university should immediately get a secure job with a secure company. From a parent’s perspective, he says, that’s the point of an education. “Most parents tend to disapprove when their children want to pursue entrepreneurship, and in India, parents have a great deal of influence. But the parents also have a great deal of trust in colleges and in teachers as the gurus of their children. So with the top-down approach from universities, the bottom-up urge from the students, and an affirming attitude from parents, India can create an environment that will be conducive to building a startup culture.”

Read more about government-fueled enterprise in the MIT Sloan Fellows News.