Can student entrepreneurship be the answer to India’s jobless-growth problem?Vallabh Rao
Of the nearly 8,00,000 engineering graduates India produces every year, a whopping 60 percent remain unemployed, according to the All India Council for Technical Education. Jobless growth has been the focus of national discourse of late, as the growth in GDP is not translating to a growth in jobs. In a country that has one of the youngest populations among major world economies, job creation is an important tool for equitable growth.
The problem seems to be not only the shortage of jobs but also the lack of employability among students entering the job market, because of the lack of right skills.
In such a scenario, does encouraging student entrepreneurship achieve the two-fold result of creating jobs as well as upskilling students? Bengaluru-based Startup Village Collective (SV.CO), an online-first learning platform for first-time founders, seems to think so.
SV.CO has an ambitious vision of supporting 1,000 student startups every year by 2022. This would roughly translate to creating three new student startups every day. At present, over 50 teams or approximately 200 students are part of SV.CO. These include students who are in the second, third, and fourth years as well as alumni.
Students who go through the programmes at SV.CO not only get hands-on experience of running a startup but also improve their skills, which helps them in the job market if they choose not to work on their startup.
We caught up with Sanjay Vijayakumar, CEO, SV.CO, to understand more about the need to support student entrepreneurship to create jobs, and how SV.CO intends to go about it.
Matching learning to the pace of changing technology
Sanjay: Everything we see in the world around us is on its way to being connected to the internet. This rapid change is making old technologies outdated as new technologies take their place. The only way to stay relevant in this market—to have better-lasting job prospects—is by continuously updating themselves to the latest technologies that are driving the industry forward.
The traditional way of absorbing this knowledge was to go to an engineering college and learn but the pace of change of technology has become so fast that this is not possible anymore. For example, take the case of an emerging technology area like augmented or virtual reality. By the time our traditional model of university education is able to gather enough books on the subject, prepare a syllabus, set question papers, and train faculty to teach, the version in the books would be long outdated.
The best way to learn new technologies is to start working on them by building a startup.
"India needs a new generation of youth who are risk takers and willing to chart out their own path. Creating a startup along with engineering education is a great way to gain industry exposure, knowledge, and skills. This will help students to decide whether they want to pursue the path of being an entrepreneur or use the experience to get good jobs in the industry" - Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder, Infosys.
Learning by practice
Sanjay: SV.CO is on a mission to create a world-class platform for students to build internet startups. We provide an online platform that allows students to form a team, select an idea, build a prototype, and launch it to early customers.
In the process of this journey, students pick up many real-world skills that are required in a real job. By working in a team, students understand how to develop a vision, have endurance, experiment with creativity, and what the terms empathy, loyalty, and compassion really mean.
Sanjay: SV.CO's #StartInCollege programme is completely online, and students learn at their own pace. We have seen maximum engagement post 11 pm as that's when students get a stretch of time to think without many distractions.
Students learn using a new method called action learning where theory is 20 percent and practical work is 80 percent.
The faculty gives constant feedback on the work so teams can quickly improve when they make mistakes.
The traditional model of online learning is to watch videos and then do a small project at the end of the course. At SV.CO, we dive straight into the three goals of selecting a business idea, building a prototype, and launching it to early customers.
Through an innovative level-based approach, we have split these three goals into 56 micro-targets. Teams can ‘level up’ from selecting an idea level to a higher level of building a prototype by completing all the targets in the idea stage, the targets being—finding potential early customers, figuring out the value proposition, scoping the market size for the idea, etc. Each progressive level gets exponentially harder and needs greater knowledge and skills to complete.
All students fail in the first final test: getting a real customer
Sanjay: Unlike failure in theory examinations, this first big practical failure is where the real learning—how the world works—begins for engineering students. This first failure is when most students realise that writing code that ‘works’ and writing code that ‘works for real users’ and which solves their problems are completely different.
The support we provide at this time is one of the most crucial aspects of the programme as we help student pivot to new ideas and have a go at building a prototype and getting a customer once again. Students are smart enough to avoid the same mistakes they made the first time, usually to realise there are new lessons awaiting them as they try to build a product in the real world.
At SV.CO, our experience is that students who work on at least three–four ideas pick up real-world experiences, knowledge, and skills. They have really becomes miles ahead of other students in their batch and have a world of opportunities in front of them, from getting funding to getting great jobs.
Upskilling technical skills based on industry needs
Sanjay: The learning programme at SV.CO is designed to have three tracks—engineering, product, and UI/UX design. The various targets that are spread through the levels ensure that the students pick up expertise both in the track they specialise in and in the broader narrative of how to build a startup.
The technology stack the students work with are the latest industry-vetted frontend, backend, and mobile development stacks including Ruby/Rails, Python/Django, NodeJS, and React, Angular, and modern Android and iOS development frameworks.
These skills are in demand in the industry, so student founders have the option to join any of our hiring startup partners once the programme duration is over.
While the SV.CO model of encouraging student entrepreneurship seems promising, we have to keep in mind that it is a one-of-a-kind experiment, which even if it achieves the stated vision, will barely make a dent in the number of unemployed graduates in India. What would be desirable is academia working with industry in updating the curriculum while making practical on-the-job experiences like internships and projects more rewarding for students.