Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Eye on startups: IIMB has cutting-edge lessons in entrepreneurship for company founders

IIM Bangalore has geared up to give company founders a lesson in cutting-edge entrepreneurship

Published: Oct 19, 2016 06:56:57 AM IST
Updated: Oct 20, 2016 08:28:17 AM IST
Professor Sourav Mukherji, dean of academic programmes at IIM Bangalore
Professor Sourav Mukherji, dean of academic programmes at IIM Bangalore

Rajiv Srivatsa, co-founder and chief operating officer of online furniture retailer Urban Ladder, holds an MBA degree from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. Part of the institute’s 2002-2004 batch of approximately 200 students, Srivatsa was awarded the gold medal as the best all-round student when he graduated. Over the last 12 years, much has changed for both Srivatsa and IIMB, which was founded in 1973.

“Of course, there are double the number of students,” says Srivatsa, whose four-year-old startup has raised about $77 million in venture capital funding and counts Tata Sons’ Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata as an investor. Startups have become an integral part of the Indian business ecosystem, and the focus of management education also seems to be veering in that direction.

“There is a lot more focus on entrepreneurship—talks by entrepreneurs, guest lectures and also merging this into the management festivals,” says Srivatsa, who visits his alma mater at least twice a year, either for an event or as a guest speaker. Even job offers from startups, he adds, are being viewed on par with offers from traditional multinational companies. “It is crucial that this aspect has changed.” More so, because a number of startup entrepreneurs are taking time off to get themselves an MBA degree.

Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys and member of the board of IIMB, says that entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship, is gaining a place in all management programmes. That apart, the programmes keep up with the current business environment with courses in technology management, corporate governance, digital economy, social networks, society, etc, adds Gopalakrishnan.

The curriculum for management education was once skill-oriented. “Then, international schools, like Harvard, Stanford and the others, said, ‘Look it is not just about skills; there has to be a much deeper knowledge-base.’ It was important to have courses that were well-structured with a strong foundation in knowledge,” says Sourav Mukherji, dean of academic programmes at IIMB.
Besides, says Mukherji, IIMs across the country were “born” and “structured” with the philosophy that any course taught had to have a strong theoretical foundation. Hence, it was fine if students did not have any work experience; once they got their MBA degree they were considered to be well-equipped to handle work life. But, over the years, it was seen that the IIMs accorded too much emphasis to theory. “Management is an application-oriented field where problems have to be solved. Our students are problem-solvers,” says Mukherji.

While decades back, it was believed that for organisations, maximising profits was of paramount importance, the core of modern business has changed substantially, bringing in perspectives that are holistic and inclusive. “The business has to care about the environment,” says Mukherji.

“IIMB offers innovative courses where part of the knowledge is in class and part is practice,” Mukherji adds. One way of approaching the ‘practice’ part is through the case method of teaching. “We choose to use the case method because we want to put our students in decision-making scenarios; we want to expose them to unstructured scenarios.” In such a scenario, the instructor is more of a facilitator of discussions rather than a giver of knowledge. Over and above the case method, IIMB has simulations, trading, real-life projects for organisations and also provides startup experience for courses in entrepreneurship.

IIMB has an open incubation centre, NSRCEL, that incubates business ideas. It has incubated close to 70 successful startups, including Student Run Ventures, Graduate Run Ventures and MeshLabs Software. The last one was acquired by Nasdaq-listed Pegasystems Inc in 2014. More recently, the centre has set up a non-profit incubator, supported by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which aims to incubate at least five new non-profit startups in education, financial inclusion, jobs and livelihoods, and child health. Taking forward the focus on entrepreneurship, IIMB has also started ‘placement holidays’, where students completing their two-year Post Graduate Programme in Management can defer placements to pursue their entrepreneurial ventures.

Besides, the IIMB programmes have a focus on skilling students on specific skill sets such as communication and how to be effective team players. But, as a potential on-campus recruiter, Srivatsa believes that MBA students still need to be taught something as basic as presentation skills, either for a business plan or communicating to a group. “I don’t think it’s addressed well enough yet by any programme,” he says.

While IIMB has been tweaking and fine-tuning its programmes to adjust to the needs of the industry, Mukherji does admit that the future of management education would be a lot different. For one, technology will disrupt the way education is designed and delivered. Take IIMBx, for instance, a programme that offers around 20 courses in management accessible online through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Besides, new-age learning will also allow students to tailor study modules to suit their needs. “Students are usually allowed to take a particular course only after they clear another. Now they will be allowed to set their own pace,” Mukherji says. “How students learn will be driven by students themselves rather than the conventional top-down model.”

(This story appears in the 28 October, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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