Skip to main content

Role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as Catalysts in Promotion of Entrepreneurship

Role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as Catalysts in Promotion of Entrepreneurship

Naman Agrawal(Innovation Lead, AIM, NITI Aayog), Himanshu Agrawal(Young Professional, AIM, NITI Aayog), Mallika Bhasin(Young Professional, AIM, NITI Aayog)


Teaching entrepreneurship to students enrolled in the undergraduate or postgraduate courses is widely debated, especially for the students who choose to pursue branches of engineering or management as their major. The constant debate academicians and practitioners on whether ‘’Entrepreneurship can be taught’’ has never reached an agreement. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) continue to train students and help them accumulate the required skill set and abilities which are often either under-utilized or over-utilized. Activities such as Intellectual Property (IP) protection including Technology Transfer/Commercialization and Technological Innovations are being supported, promoted and widely recognized across the nation. This article tries to focus on how academics are affecting the ability of first-gen entrepreneurs to devise innovations and frame unique business models. The article also discusses (i) the need to build the culture of innovation amongst students and (ii) the efforts required to sustain entrepreneurial ecosystem amongst HEIs.


Amongst the various disciplines, engineering and management are fast becoming the first choice of students for their higher studies. Many students taking up these subjects wish to work in allied fields and sectors and very few consider building their own business. This is despite the promising framework conditions, encouraging government policies and favorable cultural attitude.

Nowadays, HEIs which are a splendid source of nurturing qualified workforce have also started to promote an entrepreneurial spirit amongst students. Patents, Technology Transfers and Technology Incubation are speedily becoming an alternate source of revenue, other than the government grants and academic fees. Their firsthand role in promoting entrepreneurship and empowering society is now being widely recognized across the nation. Quite a few HEIs now offer postgraduate courses where entrepreneurship is the key subject intending to dwell the feeling of being a ‘’job creator’’ rather than a ‘’job seeker’’ in students. The HEIs are focusing not only on the academic front but also provide an exposure to the abilities that an entrepreneur needs. Practicality being the key to this innovative and attractive world, entrepreneurs need to plan everything, from ‘where they are at present’ to ‘where they wish to be’ and most importantly ‘when?’. The ability to overcome hindrances and the stimulus to achieve is also a desirable quality of an entrepreneur. The capability to turn wild innovation to useful solutions, team work, decision-making, openness to change and acceptance of failure are also few amongst the umpteen skills that are taught through various assessments to a budding entrepreneur.

However, the question, whether entrepreneurial skills can be taught or honed, remains.

Various developments in businesses and industries have paved way for new avenues. Interestingly, even though entrepreneurial spirit has historically focused majorly on product development, emerging industries are now inclining towards delivering new services. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is an excellent example that shows new trends of rapid growth both qualitatively and quantitatively. As the service industry is becoming an integral part of the new economy, the underlying focus on land, labor and capital has significantly reduced because of the ideas that yield results. Nowadays, work can be outsourced as many startups offer multiple remote services and hence, the origin of new businesses is not limited to the actual location of economic activity. Due to the increasing demand, it is now possible for startups to offer their quality services at competitive prices.

Why is entrepreneurship so trending these days? Is it just a phase or is this trend here to stay?

As India is a developing country, path breaking innovations have a scope in this territory. Whether it is a new product or a new solution or even a marginal improvement in an existing process, it is considered as an innovation. Interestingly, many entrepreneurs are working towards social aspects, trying to create an impact on the society. The benefits from being associated with an innovator are reaped by all, whether a semi-skilled construction worker or a highly qualified program director. Thus entrepreneurship enables benefits across a broad spectrum of the economy.

This article discusses entrepreneurship as a subject followed by how the transformation in education economies is driving entrepreneurial activity and finally deliberating the role of HEIs in promoting an entrepreneurial mindset. The article also lists few examples to highlight real-life solutions about the challenges faced in this ecosystem along with the changes that are a need of the hour.


While the conventional view in the entrepreneurship study is that opportunities are exogenous, the most prevalent theory of innovation in the economics literature suggests that opportunities are, in fact endogenous. The model of the knowledge production function, formalized by Griliches (1979), assumes that firms exist exogenously and then engage in the pursuit of new economic knowledge as an input into the process of generating innovative endogenous activities. They operate more actively in some sectors of the economy than others, and so there are particular characteristics that tend to be associated with sectors- such as high-tech industries - where opportunities are found. High-technology opportunity is more, not less, prevalent than low-technology opportunity. Most innovations take place in high technology opportunity industries compared to the low technology opportunity industries. The extent to which the results of innovation can be appropriated by parent industries also varies amongst industries.

In a research paper, Witt and Zellner (2004) have elaborated on the process of transferring knowledge from academic institutions to entrepreneurial ventures.

In the context of knowledge-based entrepreneurship, the key role is played by those scientifically trained researchers who are about to migrate from academia to the commercial sphere. As one alternative, they are offered (non-entrepreneurial) employee positions, preferably in Research and Development (R&D), as catalysts of the knowledge transfer. As another alternative, these migrating researchers can, by using their technological knowledge and capabilities, develop their own business conception and consider realizing it as entrepreneurship. In this case, they would find their own technology-oriented start-up enterprise and try to attract complementary resources. Hence, two ways of organizing the transfer are - (i) start-up firms run by former scientists as entrepreneurs and (ii) large, incumbent firm organizations with specialized R&D staff. They both compete for the human resources that are needed to realize the knowledge transfer. On one hand, the start-up firms have to uncover measures to cope up with the decay of the founder’s knowledge as time elapses, and on the other hand, the large, incumbent firms have to design ways to make migrating scientists decide in favor of becoming employees and to stabilize at later stages. Therefore, an essential part of entrepreneurial activity here is the organization of the knowledge transfer from the academic research till the commercial production and following marketing activities.

Peterson (2003) reports that the criteria developed by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) of USA, can be followed in promoting the entrepreneurial spirit. This criterion includes the following qualities to be developed midst the Entrepreneurial Engineer:

  • An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering
  • An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
  • An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs
  • An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams
  • An ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems
  • An understanding of professional and ethically responsible engineer
  • An ability to communicate effectively
  • The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context
  • A recognition of the need for and also an ability to engage in lifelong learning
  • A knowledge of contemporary issues
  • An ability to use the techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice

Thus, it should be possible for the institutions to develop comprehensive course content to facilitate these desirable characteristics. Despite of having a wide-reaching history of entrepreneurship, India is trying hard to reach the desired equilibrium between job seekers and job creators.

Having discussed this, is it still enough to support the debate on whether entrepreneurial skill can be groomed by HEIs?


In the HEIs, a number of academic activities regularly take place catalyzing students’ interests in various fields. These activities help in generating the periodic reports to help study and analyze the trends. These reports are usually reviewed under mandatory conditions and some maybe converted to research papers and academic curriculars. The study and the subsequent utilization of this passive knowledge is an essential part of the knowledge transfer as many ideas that are brainstormed can be successfully applied, commercially. Exercises such as follows may be continued to keep students on the feet:

  • Developing a Business Plan
  • Conducting a Field Survey
  • Conducting Market Survey
  • Conducting and Analyzing Feasibility Studies
  • Exploring Sponsorship Opportunities

As HEIs promote such activities, students might understand the potential benefits of these. The hope of at-least one student launching his/her research to form a company is what keeps the process going. The trends disclose that one success encourages many, but one failure provokes even more to take it from there. In addition to the above-mentioned activities, the HEIs need to develop courses on Patent Law and Intellectual Property Law, Venture Capital, Joint Ventures, Foreign Investments and similar subjects to keep students interested in the space of entrepreneurship.

In addition to the usual R&D institutions and other government agencies, teachers, individuals, budding entrepreneurs, innovators and other aspirants constantly need to communicate directly with the HEIs to stay updated on the potential opportunities related to entrepreneurship. These opportunities may appear in forms of consumer and market requirements, competitions, government grants and supporting government policies and frameworks. The opportunities promote and foster the culture of innovation and keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in the minds of young people.


The decisions about leveraging entrepreneurship and new business creations and set ups, specifically amongst students through HEIs are yet to be studied and finalized. The need for hour is the decision in favour of these HEIs as they would be the firsthand experience for students who wish to imbibe the culture of entrepreneurship in them. These favorable decisions will not only relieve the pressure on the labour market, but also enhance the employment statistics and create a whole new spectrum of opportunities for people to explore in India. These measures might lead to maintaining a high growth rate while achieving a stabilized economy.

As discussed above, the HEIs must and would play a vital role in promoting, fostering, developing and nurturing the role of entrepreneurship in India. Government Organizations such as National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship and Development Department under the Ministry of Science and Technology has been set up to support the development of knowledge-based institutions through Higher Science Institutions. Similarly, Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), under the aegis of NITI Aayog, has been set up as the innovation cell of the country, primarily focusing on developing and promoting innovations in India majorly through educational institutes, both at the school level and at the higher education level. AIM is working to set up more than hundred incubators in various academic and private institutions to encourage startups from all backgrounds to enter this ecosystem.

These measures have and will continue to build the following aspects in order to promote entrepreneurship in India -

  1. Improve the Ease of Doing Business
  2. Build a Strong Business Foundation
  3. Improve the Financial Support and Aid
  4. Redirecting Surpluses to R&D Sectors
  5. Utility from an Improved Quality of Life
  6. Satisfaction of Creating a Social Impact

and many more.

As of today, majority of the youth is unsure about its dreams and still doesn’t know what they wish to pursue after their studies. A focused approach and dedicated subjects might stimulate them to think about their career and life choices. This doesn’t seem like a bad start, does it?


  1. Griliches, Zvi, (1979). "Sibling Models and Data in Economics: Beginnings of a Survey," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages S37-64, October
  2. Peterson, George. (2003) "The Role of ABET Criteria in Creating the Entrepreneurial Engineer" in "Teaching Entrepreneurship to Engineering Students", Eleanor Baum and Carl McHargue Eds, ECI Symposium Series, Volume P2 (2003).
  3. Witt, Ulrich and Zellner , Christian. (2004) “Knowledge-based Entrepreneurship: The Organizational Side of Technology Commercialization”, Papers on Economics and Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Research into Economic Systems Evolutionary Economics Group, Germany.