Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

India has all the characteristics that fuelled American entrepreneurship: Stanford's Jonathan Levin

Jonathan Levin, dean of Stanford Business School, says the country's deep capital markets, pool of innovators and improving digital infrastructure make it a perfect breeding ground for great businesses

Published: Jan 11, 2018 06:47:17 AM IST
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 11:54:19 AM IST


India has all the characteristics that fuelled American entrepreneurship: Stanford's Jonathan LevinJonathan Levin claims the Seed Transformation Program has trained and mentored 565 CEOs and senior staff

The Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB) recently launched its Seed Transformation Program (STP) in Chennai. An initiative of the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, the year-long programme led by Stanford GSB faculty includes eight months of immersive management training designed specifically for business owners which is supported by trained local facilitators. The STP aims to create and activate a detailed action plan to help entrepreneurs grow and scale their companies. In an interview to Forbes India, Jonathan Levin, 45, dean, Stanford GSB, speaks about the STP’s international impact and the rationale behind the entry into India. Edited excerpts:

Q. Tell us about the Seed Transformation Program. How does it enable innovators to formulate, develop and commercialise their ideas?

The STP was developed for leaders of small- and medium-sized companies in emerging economies. The motivating idea is that economic development requires management expertise—in particular, the ability to scale small businesses into large companies, which in turn boosts employment and economic growth—and the Stanford GSB faculty has the expertise to impart these skills. The programme was launched in West Africa (Ghana) in 2013 and in East Africa (Kenya) in 2016. This year, the STP has expanded to India and we will move to firms in southern Africa in January 2018.

We select companies based on their potential for growth and ability to create meaningful social impact. They participate in an intensive year-long programme. It includes four, week-long education sessions with the Stanford faculty. We send coaches, in many cases Stanford graduates, to work with the leadership teams of the Seed companies. The companies pay a fee to enrol for the programme, which is heavily subsidised by philanthropy.

Q. What prompted you to look outside the US?
If you had to pick the handful of places in the world where great businesses are going to be started in the next 20 years, India would be on anyone’s list. The size of the country, the demographics, the growth trajectory and the entrepreneurial spirit are all part of the equation.

Q. How far have you succeeded in developing economies?
Since we started, Seed has invested $9.6 million in research in 47 countries across Africa. The STP has trained and mentored 565 CEOs and senior staff of Seed companies with a significant majority of these firms seeing increased revenue and product lines. Participating companies have raised almost $11 million in funding. We are eager to see the impact of Seed on each new region that it enters.

Q. Why did Stanford Seed choose Chennai in India?
The programme is open to companies across India and our first cohort includes companies from Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad as well as Chennai and other cities. We run the four, one-week sessions in Chennai, and in between these sessions, the Seed facilitators travel to each company to work with the senior leadership.

Q. What does India lack specifically vis-à-vis the US when it comes to fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem and triggering job growth?
India has many strengths: A large market for new businesses, a young population, a workforce that is increasingly educated and an entrepreneurial culture. It also has an increasingly deep capital market to fund new ventures, an increasing pool of innovators and rapidly improving digital infrastructure—all characteristics that fuelled recent US entrepreneurship.

Q. Can management, entrepreneurship and innovation be taught? Is B-school education still relevant when young ideators seem competent enough to draw investors based on their ideas rather than experience or academic degrees?
Absolutely. Graduates of the Stanford GSB regularly go on to build highly successful companies. Students in our programmes become more strategic and analytical, and develop into more effective leaders and organisations. They develop a network of peers that they can rely on for guidance and input, both at the GSB and for the rest of their lives. People ask why it makes sense to spend a year or two studying in business school, but our current students will spend 50 years or more working. In the context of such a long career, a Stanford degree is a great investment.

Q Management education, especially in the US, can be expensive and exclusive. How can developing countries access the high-quality education that institutions like Stanford GSB offer?
There’s a pressing need to broaden access to higher education in many countries, specifically management education. One of the primary barriers to higher education is the lack of affordability. At Stanford, we offer fellowships and financial aid to ensure talented students have access to our programmes regardless of their background or circumstances. We are also expanding our online educational programmes to increase the reach and introducing programmes such as the Stanford Seed in India that are targeted at business leaders in emerging economies.

Q. Has the US government’s new immigration policies affected Indians seeking education and employment opportunities there? How do you plan to counter any adverse impact?

There is a significant discussion and debate in the US right now around the immigration policy. We are following it closely and taking the necessary steps to ensure that our students’ education is not hampered. Amidst all this, our philosophy has not changed. Stanford GSB is committed to attracting and admitting talented students from around the world. We have students at Stanford GSB from more than 60 countries. We are also committed to providing an inclusive educational environment that yields exceptional career prospects for our graduates, regardless of where their careers take them.

(This story appears in the 19 January, 2018 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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