With a little over 3,500 Engineering colleges in India alone, growth of campus incubators could be the tipping point as an essential activity in creating local employment.

By Rajiv Dabhadkar

Everyone, it seems, has an app or a genius idea. Credit goes to the lackluster job market plus dexterous tools and technology — no Masters degree or a Ph.D. in programming is required — for the rise of frugal innovation in campus hack cultures that reach far beyond engineering and computer science majors.

Today’s Indian start-ups are led not just by business and computer science majors but by “designers, musicians, or anybody with good ideas,” and universities need to connect these students to experts, the business community and to one another.

When students are doing crazy stuff, they need to be around other crazy people who think they’re sane.

Today, young entrepreneurs can find good help without having to leave their campus. It is possible for a 20-year-old to create something that changes the world. This revolutionary thinking from a university’s cultural viewpoint has long focused on the inventions of graduate students and their faculty. But campuses are now beginning to put their bets on undergraduates specifically. Who better understands the social media mindset? And what campus wouldn’t want a founder of a revolutionary product as an alum?

Campus Incubators extend frugal innovation and the `jugaad’ mindset

Although universities tend to view campus incubators aimed at undergraduates as a simple career office, they can also have claims on a student’s I.P. (start-up parlance for intellectual property), where students turn campus inventions into commercial deals. Students feared that bringing a project to class or sharing with a professor “would trigger university ownership”. Students are typically considered sole owners of their inventions, but with a few exceptions; if a student receives a university grant or is paid by the university for the work, if the idea is developed with faculty, or if a student uses significant campus resources to develop the idea.

However, there are tangible benefits for the student entreprenuer from the campus incubator. Because their teacher in an entrepreneurship class, becomes their adviser, working with the college gives some legitimacy which can help open doors, including landing the start-up’s first investor.

With these young bright minds, ideas are a dime a dozen — whoever gets it to market in the fastest and most effective manner wins. Success is elusive.

But not all students may end up as successful entrepreneurs. Most don’t even make a profit. A few young founders may decide that it makes more sense to work for someone else. But, nevertheless, even though the value of the venture may be zero, it is what they learned being an entrepreneur,helps make them their career choices early. The experience therefore is invaluable.

Successful entrepreneurs like Vivek Bhargava, CEO of the Dentsu Aegis Network Performance Group (South Asia),  largest digital media agency globally, believes that the world is changing from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths to Communication, Critical thinking, Creativity and Collaboration – Entrepreneurships nurtured on campus help develop these 4 Cs – so campus incubators should need to be looked at as an essential part of the education curriculum itself – an accelerator in the long run would become a subject rather than something that a student can choose to do.

Successful alumni breed successful schools

Business incubators are basically setups that provide support to start-ups and early-stage businesses by providing them with certain facilities, training, mentoring, and coaching while offering them networking opportunities and seed capital funding. Incubators help evaluate the management capability of the entrepreneurs and assist them in finding management resources for these companies. Especially when the entrepreneur is a technologist lacking business skills, it is critical that the incubator assists the owner in finding managers who have the skills necessary to manage a successful entity and take it to the next level.

But On campus or Off, incubators are not always useful. Some do little more than provide free or cheap space and an open cafeteria. What entrepreneurs really need is guidance and like-minded peers. And what better mentorship can be offered by the alumni – including those in millions working overseas and looking to contribute to their motherland. Many alumni that are residents abroad mentor start-ups with a small equity, to widen the scope of the start-up into a larger ecosystem abroad early on.

If frugal innovation, as defined by the IT outsourcing pioneers can mean getting more engineers in India for the cost of one in Silicon Valley, Campus owned Technology Business Incubators in India could redefine the entire nature of knowledge capital and the business ecosystem around it.

In the fast evolving global economy of the future, India is not going to have jobs for our children in the numbers we need. So we need people who can create their own jobs. Making available the hands-on entreprunal experience to undergraduate students could deliver a better value proposition by the STEM focussed educational institutes of higher learning. With a little over 3,500 Engineering colleges in India alone, growth of such campus incubators could be the tipping point as an essential activity in creating local employment.


The author is the founder of National Organisation for Software and Technology Professionals (NOSTOPS)