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BW Businessworld

Business Class

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They were nervous. The ties were loosely knotted on the young men. The young ladies were a bit self-conscious. They fidgeted with the laptops to set up their business plan presentation. They handed out the hard copy of the presentation, a bit apologetic about the hurriedly photocopied pages bound in transparent plastic folder.

The presentation was enthusiastic but occasionally hesitant. The revenue figures, marketing plan and business idea were passionately articulated.

The questions to the would-be entrepreneurs were tough and penetrating. Had they considered the competitive space? Could they prevent another company from copying their business idea? How many potential customers had been surveyed to assess the market need?

The answers were confident on occasion and but sometimes the presenters struggled to respond.  They could be forgiven. For most were 14, some were 16 years old.

Five teams of school students were making presentations to jury as part of the TiE Young Entrepreneurs  business competition programme. This unique competition was launched in 2009 by TiE in the US and India. In 2011, the global finals were held in Boston with more than 400 students from different cities of US, UK and India. The winner got cash awards. And hopefully will get funding when they graduate.

This is a most welcome effort to bring in a glimpse of the real world to students who are usually confined to class room experiences.

The business plan they presented was the culmination of a six month programme where a TiE member entrepreneur mentored the team. Each team had a mentor who helped them discover and define the business idea. And then guided them to create a financial, marketing and sales plan. The mentor did not give any ideas, but only helped in identifying the processes that would lead to a strong team and a robust business plan.

I was part of the Indian jury in 2011 and 2012 and was impressed with the diligence with which the students approached their business idea. In fact some of the business ideas were so good and obvious that I wondered why many existing business had not thought of it. The ideas ranged from catering to finance to online commerce.

"The students have surprised us with their insights and understanding of complex business issues. The mentoring honed their instincts and allowed the children to realise that being an entrepreneur is an exciting career option," says Geetika Dayal, Executive Director, TiE Delhi/NCR.

Many of us have snacked on the drama of entrepreneurship oriented reality TV shows. But nothing comes close to the excitement and enthusiasm of young students untouched by management degrees.

Our education system and curriculum does not include such innovations. Schools should be encouraged to organise and participate in such programmes.

At the policy level the debate has shifted from rote learning to experiential learning. From collecting degrees to collecting skills.

It may not be enough for India to just educate and skill it's young. The government and industry will also have to nurture millions of entrepreneurs. Each of these will then create value and wealth for a growing society.

India doesn't just need skilled and educated employees. The country also needs many more employers. Hopefully we will see far more students make successful business presentations to idea hungry investors.

(Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer. He can be contacted at [email protected])