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Published on: Dec. 14, 2020, 12:07 p.m.
Redefining the purpose
  • There are very few MBA schools that give students a feel of the entrepreneur journey

By Kavil Ramachandran. The author is Professor, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

The landscape of entrepreneurship is witnessing major changes under the influence of a variety of forces including that of technological disruptions. While service-based businesses, many in the aggregator space, are dominating the space, several manufacturing start-ups with new technologies have also come up across the country, often with support from various technology incubators. Active presence and support of management and technology institutions have facilitated the creation of a fertile ecosystem for entrepreneurship to flourish. It is in this context that we discuss the relevance of MBA education in making successful entrepreneurs.

What does MBA offer?

A good MBA education not only provides business knowledge but also equips the student with a variety of skills such as analytical, decision-making, communication and team orientation. Besides, the student is prepared to stretch himself and work under pressure on multiple fronts. They are trained to synthesise a lot of things across disciplines, using a variety of tools. In effect, an MBA graduate comes out of the programme as a transformed individual, ready to take challenging assignments with confidence. One of the major outcomes of a strong MBA is the access to a pool of alumni that offers a rich basket of contacts with unique capabilities. This is critical to get doors opened for new conversations to begin, ranging from start-up capital to team building to acquisition of customers.

While MBAs develop multiple capabilities during their studies, most of their learning revolves around existing organisations. This capability basket is good for someone to work in an existing organisation, and will also definitely help a start-up entrepreneur in many ways. But, that is not good enough to be a successful entrepreneur!

At the core

In the context of entrepreneurship what an MBA graduate lacks may be practical experience of identifying an attractive venture opportunity, whether it is commercial or social. The ability to spot opportunities by observing patterns in the marketplace and technology environments and identifying existing and emerging areas of customer dissatisfaction helps an entrepreneur avoid death traps. It is useful to remember that more than 90 per cent of start-ups fail these days. Exposure to both failure and success of start-ups in the classroom will help a student to know the realities of a career in entrepreneurship.

A major deficiency of the current MBA curriculum is that it does not give students a feel for the mental make-up required to succeed as an entrepreneur. Working in an unstructured environment and taking decisions with limited data support means gut feel as the guiding light for an entrepreneur. This is particularly challenging if the products/ services offered and the market are fairly unexplored. The entrepreneur would require a lot of confidence to manage the unknown. Given that both hard work and hardship are parts of a start-up journey, the early days of the career of an entrepreneur will require substantial levels of commitment and perseverance. In short, the start-up phase of an enterprise consists of a lot of rollercoaster ride!

In a rapidly changing external environment, entrepreneurs will have to adapt themselves to learn and apply new ways of doing business. Adding to the complexity are changes taking place around and particularly in several value links that form essential ingredients of success for any venture, be they in the way of promotion, payment modes, packaging and/or platforms for sale. This calls for constant review and reassessment often leading to a realignment among the stakeholders of the business model and sometimes also the creation of new models where required.

There are very few MBA schools that give students a feel of the entrepreneur journey. T. Prasad, professor, NITIE, takes students through an experiential learning journey, called mandi. ISB has sometimes organised student enterprise experiments and competitions. Most others have business plan writing as an option. Institutions such as the ISB and leading IIMs have business incubators that some students tap into for learning and starting ventures. But these are few in numbers.

We need to redefine the purpose of an MBA programme to prepare students to be entrepreneurial managers. In an everchanging environment with the economy on a growth path, all managers ought to be entrepreneurial, stand-alone or corporate. We need a large crop of start-up entrepreneurs with the attributes, skills and knowledge that will make them successful in a technology-driven, globally integrated environment. MBA education in India has immense opportunities to exploit. That will require the institutional leadership to be entrepreneurial!


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