How to internalise entrepreneurial thinking and build skills to innovate for today’s market

By Dola Samanta & Sindhu MV|26th Oct 2016
Clap Icon0 claps
  • +0
    Clap Icon
Share on
Clap Icon0 claps
  • +0
    Clap Icon
Share on
Share on

This article is sponsored by Institute of Product Leadership.

With nearly two decades of working in the software industry, which included a nine-year stint in a startup way back in 1994, (much before working for startups was considered cool), Anita Chandran decided she wanted to accelerate her career.

She decided on pursuing an Executive MBA in Product Leadership (EMBA) at the Institute of Product Leadership (IPL) in May 2015. She says, “I chose IPL because it had a similar format to my Masters programme at Johns Hopkins University in the US. It was aimed at working professionals, and the concept of learning by doing was ingrained in the programme, right from the beginning.”

It was here that she began working on a product idea – a unified digital platform for diabetes management. Called Glukocare, it aims to bridge the gap between diabetes patients and their doctors, making diabetes care more personalised and effective. It is being designed to primarily benefit professionals who are diabetic or are involved in managing diabetes of family members.

From logging activities such as medication, food, and exercise, to sending reminders, enabling anytime-anywhere access to health records, or facilitating close monitoring of high-risk patients, and proactive management of patients’ health remotely, the platform offers a number of benefits.

This idea has been incubated at IPL’s Product Labs, which is the name given to the specially designed experiential learning process of the IPL curriculum. At Product Labs, every IPL participant builds a product and business plan around an identified challenge. It focuses on building real products or business plans for real world problems.


“So what are these real world problems?”

These are typically the problems that top the $100 test during the first session of Product Labs. At the beginning of the course, participants share their ideas in an idea box. After this the class votes on which ideas they would hypothetically spend $100 that they deem to have the potential to be nurtured into products. The best/most popular ideas bubble up through this voting system. Students then distribute themselves into product groups to work on the ideas they chose from the list. Alternatively, people who are passionate about starting up and want to validate their own idea, either work alone or pitch to other students to join their startup team.

The Product Labs serve as an idea incubator for the participants to implement the learnings of the IPL MBA programme. Anita says, “For almost every subject of our curriculum, we had Product Lab goals to meet. For me and my team, that meant we were required to apply the learnings to Glukocare. For example, after the sessions on customer insight and market discovery, we conducted interviews with diabetologists, and an online survey for patients with diabetes to validate some assumptions and hypothesis on the ground.”

Anita says that the IPL programme guided the team when it came to refining their idea and helped them pivot several times to reach the current version, which is now good enough to enter the market.

The Glukocare idea pitch was among the five first prize winners at the Karnataka State Level ‘My Dream Product Idea’ contest organised by PES University Business Incubator in April 2016. Anita and her team are now gearing up for the Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises incubation funding screen presentation.

Glukocare is among the scores of product ideas which have been successfully incubated at IPL. Another interesting product idea which has been incubated is Swapps by Fuuchsia –convertible footwear for women which can be customised on demand to fit the needs of numerous occasions and dresses.

A feature that makes the Product Labs concept unique is that each of the final project outputs in every batch is reviewed by a jury drawn from the industry – product practitioners and industry leaders. At the final pitch, the participants have to respond to critical questions on the feature of the solution that would compel people to switch, their monetisation strategy and operational plans for starting the business among others. This helps them get a near-real experience of what it is to pitch to the investor community, and refine their pitch.

The Product Labs feature is just one among the many reasons why professionals who are looking to accelerate their career or are keen on starting up value the IPL experience. Other factors include the fact that the institute has been built by product practitioners who have themselves launched many products, and best understand the needs, the gaps, and the potential of the industry. Other hallmarks of IPL’s EMBA program are the close industry connect from Day 1 of the programme, the industry immersions and a very relevant curriculum that enables students to be industry-ready from the get-go.

IPL was formed in conjunction with the Executive Product Industry Council (EPIC). EPIC is composed of captains of Indian industry who share a common vision of creating 10K Product Leaders; and includes such luminaries as Amit Phadnis, Senior Vice President and Head of Engineering, Cisco India; Sanjeev Kumar, VP Engineering, EMC; Ram Narayanan, GM Product Development, EBay; Anshu Gaur, MD, SVP, Amdocs; Ashutosh Parasnis, MD, QLogic; Ganesh Krishnan, Sr. Director (Engineering), LinkedIn; Vimal Solanki, SVP, GM, McAfee/Intel; Nitin Deshpande, President, AllScripts; Gopalkrishnan, VP (Corporate Technology), IBM; and Srini Sunderrajan, Head of Engineering, Alcatel-Lucent.

Watch the video to see what industry experts have to say about the IPL programme.

Talking about how industry connect is a pivotal part of the programme, Prof. Pinkesh Shah, Board Member, IPL, and part of the faculty at the institute, says, “Most B-Schools bring the industry into their programmes when it’s time for recruitments. In contrast, IPL ensures students have a close industry connect from Day 1. Many Product Labs ideas are driven through industry collaboration. IPL’s monthly Industry Connect events (master classes, webinars, in-person events) feature innovators, senior product executives and thought leaders from India and the Silicon Valley. This close connect also ensures that those IPL students looking to move up or out of their current role have instant access to a large network of hiring managers and senior executives in the technology industry.”

“By aligning closely with industry – industry veterans are involved in curriculum/course design, they teach as faculty and they hire from our cohorts – IPL ensures our programs and curricula are always relevant. We literally have our ear to the ground,” sums up Prof. Shah.

IPL’s courses are also structured to align with the busy lifestyles of working professionals, with the EMBA classes held on alternate weekends at one of their two campuses in Bangalore. Prof. Shah says,

“The classroom experience is critical for the cohort bond and make personal connections with each other – invaluable networks are formed with other mid-career professionals and leaders working in the top companies of Bangalore and beyond. In fact, we have several students who commute from other cities to attend their weekend classroom sessions.”

Besides the EMBA program, IPL offers an MBA in Technology Management (TMBA), the International Post Graduate Certificate Program in Product Management & Marketing (ICPM), and Product Management Workshops.

The EMBA is a specialised MBA program for mid-career senior professionals who are looking for product leadership and executive skills to help them accelerate their careers in their chosen path. It is an 18-month part-time program.

The TMBA, a 24-month programme where students meet on alternative weekends, is designed for professionals who are looking to transition from purely technical career tracks to new-age careers such as Data Analytics Manager, Architect, Engineering Manager, Strategy Consultant, Growth Hacker or Product Marketing Manager.

The coursework is augmented by Harvard and Ivy League cases, simulations, and hands-on field assignments and industry internships. As Prof. Shah says, “These materials are very important to a complete B-school education to train students to acquire a global perspective of real world cases, situations and responses. Participants get acquainted with key management concepts as they go through the programme, with a combination of case-study analysis and hands on real-world product and business experience.”

We ask Rahul Abhyankar, Co-founder and Director of Programmes and Faculty at IPL, what the been the biggest contribution of IPL has been to the industry and the participants who enrol? Prof. Abhyankar first talks about the shift in business model transitioning from an outsourced services-oriented ecosystem to a platform and product ecosystem.

“Large multinational companies such as Cisco, eBay, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and many others have large numbers of product development professionals in India. In addition, many startups in the area of online retail, social, mobile, and data analytics, have emerged to create new value innovation. A shift of this nature creates skill set gaps and hence huge opportunities for professionals in the industry.”

IPL has been at the forefront of recognising this shift and creating relevant and experiential educational programmes to build the necessary skillsets and mindsets - from code facing to customer facing, from project thinking to product thinking. “Thousands of participants have participated in various IPL programmes to gain a deeper understanding of the key decisions that product leaders make across the end-to-end product lifecycle, and also learn industry field practices.”

In short, that is how IPL is helping many participants transition into new career paths, and also accelerate to senior and executive roles. As for the IPL experience, Anita sums it up best, says, “IPL has been a great experience. It has been a lot more work than I anticipated, but I learnt a lot.”