Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught? (Yes, And Here’s What It Takes)

When UpGrad started up in March 2015, we knew that we wanted to do something in the area of entrepreneurship.

Back then, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India had been booming for a couple of years. International investors like Softbank or Tiger Global had created the unicorns across the country – Ola Cabs, Flipkart, Snapdeal and many more had entered their growth path.

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At the same time, ventures such as Indigo Airlines, Equitas in microfinance and the ongoing initiatives of the Government to promote and foster the entrepreneurial spirit in the country; left many budding and aspiring entrepreneurs with immense curiosity.

It was to recognize and encourage this curiosity and spirit that we at UpGrad decided to launch the UpGrad Entrepreneuship program. With many critics claiming that Entrepreneurship is not something that can be taught; rather it is a unique gift given to a lucky few or inherited from previous generations – we really saw this program as a challenge to prove that Entrepreneurship can be learnt and should be taught.

From day 1, we were clear about certain elements that should be included in the program to make it meaningful and tangible for entrepreneurs who want to start or scale their venture. These elements were driven by the belief that experience extracted from others, local networks, practical application and individual hand-holding are some of the cornerstones of entrepreneurial education:

The Indian Perspective

 

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One of the key elements that we knew would be extremely critical in order to make the program meaningful was the Indian perspective on the ecosystem.

Many programs that tried to help entrepreneurs came from the Silicon Valley and many of the concepts and examples taught had little relevance in an Indian environment. That’s why we roped in some of India’s top entrepreneurs to share their experiences across varied entrepreneurial journeys.

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Also Read: The Idea Called UpGrad

 

Concepts & Cases

 

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Particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship, we knew that a program can only be successful if it empowers individuals with tangible skill-sets rather than textbook knowledge.

That’s why we took a case-study driven approach which combines learnings of leading startups in India such as Snapdeal’s business model pivoting and Pepperfry‘s differentiation.

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Personal Feedback

 

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After learning new concepts from industry leaders, global academicians and through case-studies, UpGrad entrepreneurs have to apply this knowledge in the context of their own ventures.

The program requires students to answer a multitude of questions – once responses to these questions are submitted, industry experts give personal feedback to students consistently. In this way, the program exposes students to tough questions at the right time; forcing them to evaluate, introspect and assess the depth of their own business plans. This is done in order to give them more clarity regarding their ideas, ventures and thought-process.

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Networking

 

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One of the most important assets for any entrepreneur is his or her personal network. Which we at UpGrad recognized and wanted to leverage.

However, this would be especially challenging for us considering it was an online program, where individuals tend to stay anonymous.

We have solved for this through numerous Peer-to-Peer Sessions, Online Hangouts, an interactive discussion forum as well as regular offline events where people network with other entrepreneurs and industry experts, trying to build a network that lasts a long time.

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Also Read: What Do Investors Look For?

 

Investor Connect

 

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Finally, one of the most crucial parts of the program, for us, was connecting young entrepreneurs to investors who would potentially fund their startups. We brought this to life through the UpGrad Pitchday.

Throughout the program, students are mentored and given feedback on their business plan. Post completion of the program, students have 3 months to further work on their idea/business before they are exposed to a jury of early stage, venture capital funds such as Blume Ventures, IDG Ventures, India Quotient, Matrix Partners, Accel partners as well as Angel Investors from LetsVenture.

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These 5 elements – The Indian Perspective, Concept & Cases, Personal Feedback, Networking and Investor Connect became the corner stones of the UpGrad Entrepreneurship Program and empowered more than 400 entrepreneurs in their journey. 

One year after the first batch launched, we have seen significant impact with respect to their ventures:

  • The number of program participants who were able to successfully launch their venture increased by 50%
  • 88% of participants reported that they were able to pivot or improve their business model
  • 48% launched new products within 6 months of completion of the program
  • 54% significantly increased operational efficiency and 31% were able to increase their revenues more than 30%
  • 46% were able to find business development and partnership opportunities
  • 11% found co-founders or key employees in the program
  • 9% of students received funding through angels, institutional investors, incubators or accelerators
[Click Here To Download the UpGrad Entrepreneurship Impact Report]

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These numbers, one year after the launch of the program, make us confident that the elements we included in the program created meaningful impact for our ventures.

This gives us the strong belief that many more successful stories can be created and the program can help promote and foster many entrepreneurial journeys in the future. Entrepreneurship can be learnt and should be taught. In my next blog, I will deep dive into the 5 elements and some of our students’ experiences with the program. Stay tuned.

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Marius Westhoff

Marius Westhoff

Marius is a Vertical Head & part of the Founding Team at UpGrad. He heads multiple programs at UpGrad, overseeing product development, launch and P&L. Born and raised in Germany, Marius is an alumnus of UC Berkeley with 5+ years of experience in Corporate Development and Venture Capital at Bertelsmann India Investments in Germany and India.