“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to build their dreams,” Sanjeeva Shivesh, co-founder, iSEED

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Sanjeeva Shivesh is the co-founder of the brand new Indian School for Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Development (iSEED www.iseed.edu.in) in Gurgaon. He has donned many hats - a mid-career retired civil servant, strategy consultant, private equity fund manager before turning into an entrepreneur and formal teaching. Sanjeeva has founded four start-ups (Smart Wave Education, Smart Wave Consulting, LMR Connect, Idea HillTop) and taught innovation and entrepreneurship at MDI Gurgaon. He is a graduate from IIT Delhi and an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Sanjeeva joins us in this exclusive interview on the opportunities ahead for entrepreneur education, lifecycles of entrepreneurs, and role models for entrepreneurs.

YS: What was the vision behind the founding of iSEED? A: The Indian School for Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Development (iSEED) is an educational institution dedicated to the cause of entrepreneurship. Our goal is to nurture courageous and committed individuals aspiring to become entrepreneurs embodying new age ideas. The founders of iSEED believe that if India has to prosper, we need to instill and build the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in its citizens.

The question that our founding team asked was when will India produce a story like Apple, Google, Microsoft, AirBnB and so on. These are extraordinary companies founded by people coming from ordinary backgrounds, who had deep belief in their idea and the entrepreneurship ecosystem rallied to support these ideas. One question led to several other questions and we realized that one of the pieces missing in this puzzle is near absence of a dedicated institutional platform. The innovation cluster in Silicon Valley is supported by Stanford University. The innovation crescent in the UK is around Oxford and Cambridge.

We believe that a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem should be supported by education platforms and we see ourselves as one such educational institution. My personal belief is that India needs several such institutions.

YS: What key roles do academics and educational institutes play in the entrepreneurship ecosystem?

A: We believe that education is essential for most of the things in life including entrepreneurship.

I have taught entrepreneurship at some of the best institutes in India and saw that nothing much comes out of those one or two elective courses. We generate interest and then leave students in between, No wonder, all positive energy fizzles out. Really speaking, there is no dedicated platform in education space which can carefully nurture aspiring and budding entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a complex art and science, therefore, it requires a much deeper education.

YS: Will you be partnering with other institutions also?

A: iSEED is committed to provide world class education in entrepreneurship. This means collaborating with globally recognized institutions, successful entrepreneurs and seed investors who are enthusiastic about education. We already have commitments from a few professors from some top universities in India, US and Europe. In addition, we have developed the iSEED Mentoring Network of experienced entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts. We are also partnering with angel networks and venture capital funds who will attend “Student Idea Days” and “Demo Days”.

YS: Which are the best international schools for start-ups and entrepreneurs?

A: There are several schools with excellent entrepreneurship programs. We all know very much about Babson College, Stanford University, MIT, Ross School of Business at Michigan, Kenan Flagler, Wharton, Chicago GSB etc.

Similarly, Europe has excellent programs in entrepreneurship at Insead, EM Lyon, Cranfield, London Business School. Personally, I have met a lot of entrepreneurs and as a matter of pure coincidence; a lot of these guys are alumni of Insead.

In the US, there are several magazines -- such as Business Week, USA Today, Forbes -- who publish various educational program rankings. Each of these rankings has its own criteria.

YS: What is the profile of the iSEED founding team and faculty, and the kind of students you are looking for?

A: iSEED is unique in terms of its founding team. Our founders include professors, entrepreneurs, consultants and people from professional backgrounds.

The core of iSEED consists of Dr. Harsh Mishra, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at MDI, Gurgaon, and previously with State University of New York; Dr. Anil Misra, Professor of Finance at MDI, Gurgaon, and myself. All of us had humble beginnings but are deeply passionate about entrepreneurship. Our shared belief is to help build the entrepreneurship ecosystem through education.

iSEED promotes entrepreneurship which is essentially built on diverse skills like liberal arts, culture, creativity, engineering, fashion, science and technology. We are looking for talented candidates from all backgrounds. Their passion for new ideas, entrepreneurial drive, educational and work experience all matter to us. We want students who will challenge us and their classmates, people who know their own mind and strive for both personal and team success.

YS: Is there such a thing as the ideal age for an entrepreneur, or can the start-up bug strike you at any time?

A: We know that entrepreneurship is complex phenomenon. Since there is an aura around the concept of an entrepreneur, there are several myths surrounding this term such as age, money needed, what sector to choose and so on.

From observations, we know that start-up bug can strike people at any age or time. There are examples of people starting up after retirement and making it big. Ray Kroc, Capt. Nair, T.A Pai, Jagdish Khattar -- all fall under this category and they are all successful.

But, from several anecdotes and my own interpretation of human life, starting late has its difficulties in terms of energy levels of a human being, investment intensity and effort required by the entrepreneur, all of which can be compensated by his experience and probably accumulated savings. Youngsters bring in fresh energy, agility and can quickly bootstrap. I am a believer of “start early, fail fast, adapt quickly, and succeed soon.”

YS: Who would you say are the successful entrepreneurs that India has produced recently?

A: Entrepreneurship is complex and measuring entrepreneurial success is complicated!

We all know about the success of Naukri, Make My Trip, Indigo Airlines, Cafe Coffee Day, and so on. All these ventures were founded by very successful entrepreneurs. But these are not start-ups anymore.

In the last five years, we have some very successful ventures like FlipKart, Glocal Healthcare Cocoberry, Redbus, EKO Financials, Vyome Biosciences, MuSigma and many more are coming up.

We also believe that there is a general tendency to simplify success in terms of dollar sales, investments, valuations, etc. We prefer the impact model of success. For example, we have some outstanding ventures like Goonj, Super 30, Basix and Reva who have been doing amazing work.

YS: Who are some of the entrepreneurs you admire the most?

A: I am not a believer of a single role model, but get inspired by a few stand-out qualities of different people. We all love Steve Jobs and get inspired by him. His quotes are all over and he is the most exciting role model for the current generation.

But there are several others: Herb Kelleher of South West, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Mark Zuckerburg, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Ingvar Kamprad, Jack Ma.

In India we had some really exciting entrepreneurs like N. R. Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji, Rahul Bhatia, Kiran Majumdar Shaw, Rana Kapoor, Subroto Bagchi.

I usually would consider three things to consider anyone great. These are impact (monetary, economic and influencing the overall thinking of society) they have made to the world through their venture, the distance they have covered in their life, and the overall concern they show for the society.

YS: What do you see as the three biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs in India?

A: There are several opportunities in India across all economic segments. While we are growing, the bottom of pyramid is still very large with some 700 million people. The economic pressures are forcing these families to live differently. There are huge opportunities in this ‘value seeking’ segment.

In terms of sectors of economic activity, I believe education, healthcare and renewable energy are at the cusp of transformation. Several entrepreneurs are trying different models which should show results. Over the next 10 years, there are huge opportunities in transportation, food and energy.

YS: What are the main challenges facing entrepreneurs in India?

A: Indian entrepreneurs face several challenges on a day to day basis. I would like to categorise these challenges separately for aspiring entrepreneurs and actual entrepreneurs.

For aspiring entrepreneurs the real challenge is the absence of risk taking culture which comes from the absence of recognition of entrepreneurship in family and society, the belief that the only end of an education is marks and jobs, and the complete absence of entrepreneurship ecosystem beyond metros. These are difficult obstacles to get over.

For the people who have taken the plunge, life poses very different challenges in India. The regulatory and financial system imposes several hurdles in the form of approvals, clearance, variety of taxes and documentation; there are no incentives for job creators and there is very little risk capital available. Despite these handicaps, the entrepreneurial output of India is growing rapidly.

Dr. Harsh Mishra, president, iSEED says: “If India can build its entrepreneurship ecosystem equivalent to 10% of Silicon Valley, Indian entrepreneurs have the potential and propensity to deliver more.”

YS: What are your next steps going to be for this year and the next?

A: For us, this is the year of build-up – internally as well as externally. Internally we are building our team. We are in discussion with globally some of the most exciting academicians in the area of entrepreneurship. We are engaging with entrepreneurs and investors who have a passion for teaching entrepreneurship and mentoring entrepreneurs. In addition, we are preparing courseware, and writing Indian case studies on different challenges of entrepreneurship.

We have also started a three-month program on entrepreneurship (weekend mode) for working professionals. In September this year, we will launch a unique program for experienced entrepreneurs titled “Scale up your start-up”. Subsequently, other programs are lined up on themes such as Women entrepreneurship, Family Business and Social Entrepreneurship.

The next year (2014) is an exciting year for us, when we start the one-year full-time Post Graduate Program in Entrepreneurship. Our unique curriculum and innovative pedagogy will take a student on the journey ‘From Idea to Launch.’ For students, our goal is rather simple: if you have an idea and care about it, iSEED provides the necessary education and ecosystem to make that idea happen.

YS: What is your parting message to the start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs in our audience?

A: I see life as a beautiful gift. It is full of opportunities and this gift can be enjoyed only by people who dream it, want to try it and take the first step to do it. Often when people think of starting-up, they hesitate because they several questions to ask but do not know what to do and where to get credible advice.

For people who have started up, the challenges are different, but even they have similar issues. So, anyone aspiring to be an entrepreneur or in a start-up, if ever you are stuck in your entrepreneurial journey, give us a shout and we will give you our best!

Lastly, let me share this quote from a poster that I came across recently: “If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to build their dreams.”

[Follow YourStory.in’s research director Madanmohan Rao at http://twitter.com/MadanRao]

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