Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and for 28-year-old Nitin Bhalla, a graduate from BITS Pilani Dubai, it is a way of life.
Bhalla launched two start-ups, Navigate Dreams and iDoodle, while pursuing B.E. in Electronics and Communications at BITS Pilani and co-founded another start-up, Aura, just after graduating from the university.
Currently, he is busy running Kregzo, a company he established a couple of years ago to help early-stage entrepreneurs build better solutions that can become investible and scalable in the future. “Kregzo is committed to supporting student entrepreneurs and helping them build start-ups in a post-pandemic world,” says its founder and CEO.
Two life experiences encouraged Bhalla to start his latest venture.
“While at the university, I saw the student community spending hours writing innovative research papers, winning pitch competitions and hackathons and creating cool apps,” Bhalla tells GN Focus. “However, at the end of it, nothing actually came on the market. This made me wonder how we could turn an ingenious idea into reality. Later, while working at a multinational company, I realised there was a massive disconnect between industry and academia. The industry has resources and manpower, but they lack creative solutions. While on the other hand, young entrepreneurs have creative solutions but they lack access to resources.”
Kregzo is committed to supporting student entrepreneurs and helping them build start-ups in a post-pandemic world.
These experiences helped him understand the need for an ecosystem that would not only act as a hub for innovative solutions from universities but also as a bridge between key stakeholders in the start-up ecosystem.
“We launched our prototype in 2019 and got an amazing response from multinational corporations, universities and students,” he adds. “Post 2020, Kregzo has launched an exclusive University Ecosystem Plan that’s free for all partnered university students.”
Bhalla gives much credit to BITS Pilani Dubai for his success, which offers a wide range of support mechanisms to encourage student entrepreneurship.
“Thanks to BITS Pilani Dubai, I was able to get the exposure I needed from the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), a university entrepreneurial association that I later became the president of,” says Bhalla. “This enabled me to network with industry leaders, conduct TEDx for the first time, and even explore other university ecosystems first-hand. All in all, it gave me the freedom to create an extensive student entrepreneurship community that is going strong even today.”
Empowering an entrepreneurial mindset
Entrepreneurship education plays a significant role in supporting the UAE’s ambition to become an innovation hub. Universities in the UAE are working proactively to foster a strong culture where creative thinking is inspired and nurtured, ensuring that students can pursue entrepreneurship as both a career as well as a way a life.
Universities can make students market-ready with hands-on learning and change the stereotypic mindset towards entrepreneurship.
Dubai has also announced in its Fifty-Year Charter that national and private universities will be announced free zones where students can carry out their economic and creative businesses and this will be part of the educational system. Integrated creative and economic zones will be established next to universities to support students in education, research and finance while setting up their businesses.
“Universities can make students market-ready with hands-on learning and change the stereotypic mindset towards entrepreneurship,” says Trupti Gokhale, Associate Professor, Department of Biotechnology, and Faculty in-Charge, Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship Dubai (CIIED), BITS Pilani Dubai.
“Creative thinking is key to innovation and entrepreneurship, which could be inculcated from the early years at the university, whereas industry connect, networking, funding support and technical hand-holding would help student start-ups plunge into entrepreneurship,” explains Gokhale.
BITS Pilani’s CIIED encourages students towards creative thinking and innovative ideas. An innovation laboratory with latest equipment supports the transformation of ideas to working prototypes.
“Our business incubator powered by Hamdan Innovation Incubator (Hi2) has widened the possibilities of networking and investments for student start-ups. Courses such as Entrepreneurship, New Venture Creation, Business Communication, and a minor programme in Entrepreneurship provide the necessary hand-holding for budding entrepreneurs,” says Gokhale.
Initiatives to drive business ideas
There are several successful initiatives and programmes in UAE universities that connect student entrepreneurs to basic start-up resources such as funding for student-led projects, communication tools, coaching and mentoring platforms, and learning opportunities. They have also taken a variety of intra- and extracurricular approaches to engage students in entrepreneurship education, developing an entrepreneurial mindset in them and increasing interest in entrepreneurship among students.
“Building a culture of entrepreneurship requires that entrepreneurial training and support activities are both ubiquitous and targeted,” says Dr James Trotter, Dean and Academic President, Murdoch University Dubai.
“They must be woven into all aspects of university life but they also must be targeted to reach those who want to be entrepreneurs. The university fosters entrepreneurship by ensuring that students have access to support and development opportunities both within the curriculum and in a range of co-curricular activities.”
Building a culture of entrepreneurship requires that entrepreneurial training and support activities are both ubiquitous and targeted.
Murdoch University has the Career Learning Spine integrated into all its undergraduate degree courses. Students take units as part of their course curriculum that focus on career development.
“Not every student wants to be an entrepreneur, so the early units in the Career Learning Spine have a dual focus so that students can choose career support appropriate to their desired outcomes,” Trotter says. “In later years of their degree course, students can select units that fit their goals.”
Students who aspire to be entrepreneurs can choose a specific unit on consulting and freelancing that will teach them skills about company formation and start-up management.
Murdoch University also runs an annual entrepreneurship competition across its campuses in Perth, Dubai and Singapore. “All of the teams receive training and mentorship to develop their ideas, with the winning team from across all of the campuses receiving support to develop the proposal to a start-up,” Trotter adds.
Teaching crucial life skills
Educators suggest that there are pedagogical reasons to incorporate entrepreneurship education in the university experience and students can immensely benefit from such an exposure, regardless of whether they launch their own companies or pursue careers as employees.
Demand for intrapreneurs, who have the skills to integrate risk management and innovation and develop a project or a venture like an entrepreneur within an established company set-up, is steadily gaining traction.
We focus on making our students future-ready, whether it’s for the corporate world or venturing into start-ups.
Developing entrepreneurial mindsets and skills can help students build rewarding careers in business and become leaders who can plan for and successfully execute changes in any organisations.
Westford University College (WUC) provides the right infrastructure, facilities and talent that promote student entrepreneurship and innovation. “We focus on making our students future-ready, whether it’s for the corporate world or venturing into start-ups,” says Hanil Haridas, Executive Director, WUC. “We achieve these goals through our initiatives and programmes such as Youth Business Leadership Programme, which is exclusively designed to nurture leadership skills among the youth; WEConnect with Business Leaders – a platform where the executive leaders of the industry connect with our students over an engaging talk; and we also have the Westford Incubator to support students to become an entrepreneur.”
Westford has also embedded employability skills into the curriculum and has built productive relationships with the industry, using these resources to enable its students to be the leaders of tomorrow. ■