Why skilling non-IIT talent is essential for India’s startup boom

With a country as skilled and talented as India, we need to channel our resources to skill upcoming engineering talent who are outside the elite colleges—which would subsequently be key to revitalising innovation and entrepreneurship in the country.

Why skilling non-IIT talent is essential for India’s startup boom

Friday July 28, 2023,

5 min Read

When thinking of entrepreneurship, both students and parents think of the alumni of IITs and IIMs. In 2023, 8.22 lakh candidates appeared for the IIT JEE Main January session exam. Of these, only less than the top 2% of students were admitted. This cream overwhelmingly dominates the state of startups in India.

Not all successful entrepreneurs stem from the likes of IITs, IIMs and the Ivy League but the reality is that at present, we disproportionately provide more avenues to those who do. A huge talent pool is available from the other categories of institutes beyond these elites and can complement and augment the Indian entrepreneurial landscape. Through a planned and structured nurturing process, the country could possibly germinate a larger base of innovative startup ideas.

India currently ranks 40th among 132 countries in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2022 rankings by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Countries of much smaller scale and population, like South Korea, have reached the top 10 in the index, with even Slovenia, Malta, and Estonia ranking higher than India.

With a country as skilled and talented as India, we need to channel our resources to skill upcoming engineering talent who are outside the elite colleges—which would subsequently be key to revitalising innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. If we don’t build a cohesive skilling ecosystem that ties talent irrespective of their pedigree, we may find ourselves stagnated in research and entrepreneurship in our country.

This is also reflected in the funding ecosystem where little prominence is placed on how capable or high potential the business idea is and more on where they got their education from. There is little doubt that being part of the elite institutions helps in networking, making connections, getting noticed, and getting a competitive advantage in the fight to get funded. This especially applies to early-stage funding rounds where venture capitalists overwhelmingly look at people with a pedigree as pass-outs of IITs and IIMs. Therefore, it is high time we shed light on a parallel top-tech talent base rising from other top-tier colleges, which are not premium institutes but work together to create a startup ecosystem that is inclusive to all.

While entrepreneurship is not restricted to predefined parameters, regular interaction with industry and other leading figures at the forefront of innovation is necessary for students interested in entrepreneurship. Up-and-coming talent in the startup world needs acceptance and support in the form of a skilling ecosystem that appreciates the experimental mind and enhances their hard and soft skills.

But to create a cohesive startup ecosystem and to facilitate better connections and opportunities, there first needs to be more awareness. Increasingly, talent from eminent Indian private universities including VIT, SRM, and SRCC, among others. There needs to be better awareness and knowledge sharing in both the VC world and the tech industry about the scope and potential that lies in these graduates.

There has been some thrust from the government as well. The ‘National Innovation and Startup Policy 2019 for Students and Faculty’ was set up to promote startups and build an entrepreneurial mindset in India but we are still lagging behind other countries when it comes to research and entrepreneurship being a feasible career option. Hit by COVID-19 and the global recession in tandem, it is evident that Indian entrepreneurial development has witnessed stagnation in recent years.

Hence, another thing that would greatly support building a cohesive skilling ecosystem would be facilitating research and entrepreneurship for postgraduates of private colleges in India. Currently, most rely on employability and going abroad as the most feasible options and many lack the incentive to further pursue PhD programmes within the country.

While the government has undertaken various initiatives in the likes of Startup India Seed Fund, there needs to be more focus on skilling initiatives aimed at engineering colleges in Tier I, II, and III cities. There needs to be a progressive mindset change in the way the majority of these colleges promulgate technical education to students. Sadly, most engineering students are still taught to aspire to study for placements in high-paying MNC jobs in India and abroad.

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This mindset first needs to be systematically eradicated—being replaced with better learning outcomes as the ultimate aim of higher education. Practical skilling and teaching new-age technologies in accordance with industry demand forecast is the right way forward to foster high-calibre students to be ‘job creators’ rather than ‘job seekers.’

Some colleges have started partnering with third-party edtech companies in recent years to bring in experts from outside to skill students on competitive and new-age technologies, create self-starting entrepreneurs, and increase job outcomes. These collaborations also provide opportunities for mentorship and networking for skilled, entrepreneurial youth. A significant number of students that are going abroad can be then retained, enhancing the chances of a higher number and better-quality entrepreneurs from the country.

While entrepreneurship cannot be taught directly, a conducive ecosystem is key to reversing the existing tide. The environment is a major driver, and apart from the elites, the majority of engineering colleges in India do not value problem-solving and analytical thinking, leading to a lack of role models in research and entrepreneurship. Students need ‘learn by doing’ programmes, relevant industry-updated curricula, project-based assignments, and mentorship to help and guide them when they need it.

(Karun Tadepalli is the CEO and Co-founder of byteXL.)

Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)