Bootstrapping Technology Startups in Academic Institutions

Instilling a culture of technology entrepreneurship in an academic institution has many benefits. Both faculty and students benefit from this activity. It helps faculty/student teams to work together. A single faculty member can guide several student groups. They can work together on brainstorming ideas, building prototypes and interacting with industry. This activity lowers the communication barriers between students and teachers. Students get to appreciate teachers knowledge and teachers tend to enjoy working with students on practical problems.

Institutions may benefit from innovations in teaching, learning and solving real life problems. Even applying a small part of their learning towards solving problems gives them an appreciation of why they need to learn.

Bootstrapping Technology Startups in Academic Insitutions

Teacher benefits. We have noticed that students who participate in innovative initiatives tend to be more serious about learning and more curious. Teachers who spend a lot of time with students outside the classroom have a better appreciation of students problems.

Industry benefits. They get bright minds working on some of their problems. They get to know the institutions. They may even fund some of the prototyping activity and help find initial users for the products.

Here is a way to bootstrap such an initiative in your institution

Start an Innovation and Entrepreneurship development activity. Find a couple of good mentors from the industry. Involve your nearest TiE/NASSCOM/NEN/CII chapters. Have each mentor adopt a few projects. They can teach students how to generate ideas, build demonstrable prototypes, find initial users and validate ideas. Pick simple ideas that benefit people or industry. Encourage projects with an element of social innovation.

Adopt a Lean Start-up methodology. The concept of a lean start-up is to build early prototypes and validate product/service ideas. There is a great free course on Udacity on building Lean Start-ups.

Create a set of student start-ups (have a goal of doing 10- 20 start-ups in every batch). Associate a faculty member and an industry expert with each group. Create a plan for brainstorming ideas, building prototypes to test the feasibility.

Impart students with skills on creating user-centric design, communicating with potential customers, validating ideas. They can start in the Second Year of college

Give course credit to innovation and entrepreneurship activity. Kerala government is doing this and it is a great idea to adopt the same in your institution

Focus on finding at least 5-10 customers/users for each Start-up, in the first year of entrepreneurship. Every following year, try to raise that number by a factor of 10.

About the Author

Dorai Thodla helps companies with technology strategies specifically leveraging emerging technologies for building new products. 

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