I happened to teach a group of engineering students at IIT Madras this semester on business design. Helping technocrats commercialize their innovations is always fun. They are so much rooted in their product designs and the technical feasibility, that it takes a lot to make them appreciate the so called soft side of business. Absolutely – for technical entrepreneurs, business design is like learning soft skills.
Its always the soft that is hard!
But in a short set of interactions I was happy to be able to get them thinking about their business and look at commercial feasibility as well. The best part was that they were able to pick and choose the elements that mattered most to them based on their products. I am very positive that when they get to the stage of actually kicking-off their businesses, they would explore the softer side of the business in much more depth and detail.
While there is a lot spoken on the difficulty of getting engineers to think business, it is still a lot better than getting pure business oriented people to think products. In the former the problem is getting them to cross the technical aspects and make them see the customer and the market side of things; but in the latter, it is much tougher to pick up technical skills. There is a huge need for technology entrepreneurs in India – no, I’m not referring to technology enabled entrepreneurs. We need more product companies and they are bound to come from application of fundamental sciences. The area of biotechnology, bioinformatics, knowledge management, farm mechanization, etc are all green field areas for budding entrepreneurs.
However difficult it may be I don’t see MBA as an alternative to teaching engineers, entrepreneurship. It is better to convert them into entrepreneurs right after engineering education rather than having them move on to do an MBA. Because in most cases after an MBA, the engineer is almost always lost…
So that’s why I enjoy teaching engineers business and entrepreneurship, however daunting the challenge may be. I wish all the students of the current batch who underwent the course at IITM the very best to take their products, convert them into commercially viable business and kick-start their enterprises as soon as they complete their courses. India needs a lot more job creators and they are all sitting in colleges today.