Entrepreneurs used to boast of the school of hard knocks but a British university is teaming up with Indian outsourcing outfit Zensar to develop a programme that combines technical skill with entrepreneurship. The first programme for Certified Technology and Entrepreneurship will be rolled out next year in partnership with the University of Essex.
The move follows the rollout of similar projects in Asia. Zensar's CEO Dr Ganesh Natarajan said that the first one was set up in India four years ago, with China following two years later. He said that the Asian intitiatives had proved to be very successful with about 30 percent of the 300 to 400 students going on to set up their own business. "Of the rest, 40 percent work for large organisations, while about 30 percent work for us," he said. "A year ago, we set up a programme in Australia and are now looking to the UK and the USA."
The programme has been designed to offer of courses in subjects such as business process and project management and technology services like infrastructure management, CRM, ERP and testing.
Dr Natarajan said that when the courses were first devised they focused heavily on software engineering but have now expanded to keep up to date with industry developments. Addressing the criticism that some academic courses can be lagging behind current trends, he said "The metaphor that I would use is the teaching hospital. Somewhere like Addenbrooke in Cambridge, which is a centre of excellence for medical teaching. The students there work with live patients, equipping them for the real world."
Professor Jay Mitra, head of the school of entrepreneurship and business at the University of Essex said that the idea that entrepreneurship couldn't be taught was a bit outmoded. "Entrepreneurship requires a lot of hard graft. It's the realisation that all business success can be built on land, labour and capital. Entrepreneurship is about producing value;it's learning about building a real market for products and service," he said.
As an example of the sort of thing that the course could teach, he highlighted business planning. "Anyone can write a business plan - It's the easiest piece of science fiction - but what's more important is the planning process. A business plan is a snapshot about what the market is, what the profits are going to be. The underlying processes are more important: to run a business, there's a lot of thinking that needs to be done and a lot of changes to be accommodated. Learning how to do that, learning how to network, learning how to get funding - that's part of the process."
Prof Mitra said that the course wasn't just for individuals who wanted to run their own businesses, people who worked for large organisations could benefit as well. "We need people with more creative mindsets to work within organiations, looking at new ways to manage things to think more creatively. For example, people who work in the NHS might have to work with a variety of people, not just managers within the NHS but other groups outside the NHS itself.
He stressed that this wasn't just for techies. "We're not training nerds to become entrepreneurs, we looking for a whole variety of people," Mitra said. The course will be available as a full-time course or under block release. The cost of the course hadn't yet been decided but it would be competitive, Prof Mitra said.
The UK is just the next stop. Dr Natarajan said that Zensar was already talking with community colleges on the east and west coast of the US and hoped to offer the course there shortly. He added that the company was also talking to a college in the middle-east too.