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Column
Published on: Dec. 14, 2020, 2:10 p.m.
Making good entrepreneurs
  • Do MBAs make good entrepreneurs?

By Ranjan Banerjee. The author is Dean, S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research

What is common to IndiaInfoline, Microland, Swiggy, Fractal Analytics, Pepperfry, et al? They are all entrepreneurial ventures, which have achieved success. They are also businesses started by founders who had acquired an MBA degree from a top Indian business school before they became entrepreneurs.

The popular rhetoric around the MBA has a lot to do with preparing our brightest and best for careers in large, prestigious, private enterprises. Many corporate leaders are MBAs from top schools and it is still largely true that many young MBAs aspire to become leaders of private sector companies. This is largely a function of the way the expectations, aspirations and role models of young MBAs are shaped.

Do MBAs make good entrepreneurs? Under a set of circumstances, they do. There is, of course, a strong argument for encouraging entrepreneurship in business schools. We need our best young people to become job creators, and not job takers. There are a few other factors that are in favour of a greater trend to entrepreneurship in business schools.

Firstly, the current generation of MBA aspirants have been parented differently and have a significantly higher need for both autonomy and self-expression.

Secondly, shifts in technology and the dynamic nature of tomorrow’s workplace imply that the very job security that large companies were valued for may prove elusive. And, thirdly, a dynamic environment implies that traditional silos will weaken, and there will be more business models that lie at the cusp between silos. Newer, fresher, digital savvy generations are less encumbered by the past and better positioned to visualise the new businesses of tomorrow.

To realise this potential, business schools will need to change the way they think at many levels. Firstly, admission procedures need to value initiative and risk taking. A student who has taken a break to backpack across India or attempt a failed start-up may appear less focussed than his peers. However, he/she has demonstrated courage and initiative, and admission processes need to be able to understand his/her motivation before a passing summary one-sided judgement.

Secondly, potential entrepreneurs in every batch need to be nurtured differently. From creating a track of entrepreneurial courses to supplement the basic grounding in business disciplines, to creating different entrepreneurial internships, this often requires a substantively different set of elective courses and projects. It may also require adding a significant cohort of experienced entrepreneurs to the visiting faculty list.

Third, we need to create both a deferred placement option (potential entrepreneurs with an idea will get a support salary for a fixed period of time, incubation support and the option to still take campus placement after a gap), and an alumni incubation process. Many MBAs have taken significant education loans, and aspire to work for a few years prior to pursuing entrepreneurship. By this time, they have acquired both meaningful experience and some initial capital. The progressive business school must recognise this, and gear itself to encourage alumni ventures.

What needs to change is the implicit incentives in business schools. This is not just about making entrepreneurship ‘cool’, but about creating a larger, more honest awareness of both the perils and rewards of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is difficult, and involves much lower social acceptance in the initial phases. If we do not paint an honest and complete picture, the wrong person may be attracted to entrepreneurship for perceived ‘glamour’ and the dream of becoming the next Flipkart, and this can have disastrous consequences.

We cannot take conservative security seekers and turn them into entrepreneurs. Business schools need to build the ability to look for entrepreneurial instincts (initiative, courage, unconventional thinking are all early indicators) and then build a curriculum, incentives and an enabling environment to nurture that entrepreneurial instinct.

A significant proportion of business school students will continue to become leaders of large corporations. This is desirable. Corporations need strong leaders, and developing these leaders will continue to be one of the primary roles of the business school. Business schools also need to enable the creation and growth of tomorrow’s large corporations (which is today’s start-up) and, even if one in five business school graduates is selected for entrepreneurial instinct and nurtured for entrepreneurship in a systematic way, this can be made possible. When that happens, the words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘MBA’ will cease to feel like an oxymoron when used in conjunction!


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