Management degree essential for start-ups

Management education nurtures entrepreneurs and facilitates exposure that helps a start-up founder gain many skills.

Entrepreneurship is gaining traction in the country as a career choice with many freshly minted graduates and experienced executives taking the start-up route. The trend is no doubt fed by the rise of many Indian unicorns.

While technology is a natural destination for many entrepreneurs given the country’s large talent base in this area, the entrepreneurship bug is by no means restricted only to this community.

Anyone who has undertaken this journey will vouch for the fact that it is nowhere near easy. The ambiguities, the stress, the cash-flow pressures, the pressing need to succeed — all of these add up to a difficult scenario. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of a start-up founder’s life is the need to manage many fronts.

360-degree view

At times, it may seem like the founder must be a leader, a master marketer, a finance whiz, an operations expert, and even a competent coffee maker! Is it humanly possible for one person to be all of these? Clearly not. But the founder needs to have a 360-degree view of all these aspects of the business and provide direction on all of them to his subordinates and co-workers. This knowledge can be gained through experience, but that means investing a lot of time in gaining it and the cost of making the inevitable mistakes that will come with it.

Management education nurtures entrepreneurs, and it is not without reason. The primary reason is that it facilitates exposure that helps a start-up founder to gain many or all of the above skills in a structured environment. If we look at the structure of a conventional two-year MBA programme, what does it cover? The first year is spent on core courses that span all of the domains critical to any business: marketing, operations, HRM, leadership, communication, finance, and marketing. All of these are taught with an experiential focus, which helps to keep learning relevant.

After gaining an overview of all of these areas, the student makes a choice of
specialisation. Increasingly, institutes are offering students the choice of dual
specialisation, which enables them to develop deeper expertise in two chosen domains.

Technical specialisation

So, one can opt for technical specialisation in a particular domain plus look to specialise in, say, Finance, the knowledge of which is essential for every entrepreneur.

Thus, at the end of two years, the student graduates get a broad but relevant overview of every aspect that affects business and also specific domain knowledge in chosen areas. While this does not make one an ‘entrepreneur’, it certainly provides an edge in terms of having gained formal exposure in preparation for the volatile journey ahead.

The experience is enhanced through other ancillary aspects of the programme. The first is the practical industry exposure gained through summer internships. Students pick their domain, industry, and role to get their first taste of real-world business environment. Beyond this, the programme emphasises teamwork. Students collaborate on case studies, projects, and competitions, at times in teams that are incompatible and where members have friction and disagreements. This also prepares students for the entrepreneurial journey where such issues invariably arise.

A third valuable aspect is exposure gained by being around real-life entrepreneurs. Interaction with guest lecturers, visiting faculty members, and at times faculty members who have been entrepreneurs help get a first-hand account of the journey, besides aiding networking. A fourth aspect, which has been gaining some ground lately, is the advantage of accessing incubators and accelerators on campus.

These help to nurture a start-up in its infancy by providing access to experts, infrastructure, academicians, and, in some cases, even capital. Most of all, the experience of constantly challenging oneself through new situations, problems, teams helps build a certain resilience in an individual which is the mainstay of an entrepreneur.

(The writer is director, FORE School of Management, New Delhi)

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