“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates
India is ready to embrace Industry 4.0 revolution, these words from Bill Gates should resonate with those who are looking to make a difference through entrepreneurship. It’s the grand vision behind 45+ entrepreneurs, corporates and business leaders across five countries coming together to develop India’s tech future through education and training.
That’s the foundation of Plaksha University, a technology university with a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.
According to cofounder and trustee, Vineet Gupta entrepreneurs who want to have an impact on the startup ecosystem in India not only need the right network and mentors but also need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset which comes from developing a risk-taking ability, leadership skills and an ability to connect the dots across disciplines.
“In recent years, the Indian startup and tech ecosystem has been in the growth phase, most of it attributable to new-age technology. The resources and skill sets required by the ecosystem have also grown proportionately. However, to fulfil this demand technology education needs to innovate and change rapidly. Organisations and businesses need employees with the right combination of technical depth and ability to solve real-world problems,” he added.
With names like Srikanth Velamakanni, Alok Mittal, Ambarish Raghuvanshi, Pallav Nadhani, Ritesh Malik, Neeraj Aggarwal, Sumita Ambasta, among others, added to the list of founding members, Plaksha University will be officially launched in 2021. The founders have so far raised INR 4 Bn and are in the process of raising INR 20 Bn.
One of its pillars is the Tech Leaders Fellowship, a one-year residential postgraduate programme in Gurugram.
“The Tech Leaders programme is different from other masters programs as it has a technology core – artificial intelligence and machine learning – filtered through larger context of human-centred design to ethics to systems thinking,” said Dr Arvind Raman, a faculty at Purdue University and a member of the Academic Advisory Board in Plaksha University. Raman added that it would be a combination of social science, technical content and learning by doing.
Tech Leaders Fellowship:
Why India Needs Such Programme
India has more than 39K active tech startups (as per Inc42 Datalabs estimate) operating now with lakhs of engineers. Not every engineer is a founder, yet startups expect them to think and execute tasks from the perspective of leaders and entrepreneurs.
However, only a fraction of the 1.5 Mn engineering graduates who graduate in India every year come from top engineering colleges such as IITs. While the quality of engineering education in India is debatable, the curriculum is certainly not in keeping with the latest standards and often does not focus on modern deeptech subjects such as artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML).
Most such courses are short term and mainly focus on upskilling employees, and for recruitment. HRtech startups such as HackerRank, HackerEarth, Codility as well as edtech startups such as Udemy, Coursera, upGrad are some of the notable names moving to upskill India’s engineers and entry-level workers.
Still, there are no degree courses in India that prepare engineers to tackle new-age challenges of data science, robotics, AI, ML, or any other similar roles.
As Gupta explains, engineering education such as the Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship has to encourage and enable students to use technology to create real solutions and not be limited by theory. This requires students to understand technology in a holistic manner, with society, people and context in mind. Technical depth alone is not enough.
According to him, an education in engineering should:
- Develop graduates able to leverage technology to solve big challenges and create impact
- Deliver holistic and interdisciplinary learning
- Enable students to build things, not just imbibe theory
The Tech Leaders Fellowship is built on this foundation of design and systems thinking with a strong emphasis on the project work component which would focus on solving real-world problems. The broader goal is to graduate engineers who understand society and context as a whole and are willing to go beyond their comfort zone to take on big challenges. The goal is also to develop tech leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset, not just engineers or managers.
“An ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ does not necessarily have to translate into a startup. It could be equally applicable for people going into corporates where they would be “intrapreneurs” or change agents or leaders, or researchers who invent products or solutions for the world,” said Gupta.
What Is The Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship?
Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship is a 12-week programme, which will be delivered in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley and Purdue University. The first batch would have 60 students, with full scholarships for 20 and part-scholarships for the rest. Undergraduates in the fields of engineering, science or math, as well as those with under 5 years of work experience in programming, can apply.
The selected candidates will be given access to the founders and faculty of Plaksha University, comprising over 60 business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, academicians and innovators.
The leadership development component delves into self-reflection, learning to work in teams, dealing with failure, learning to listen and developing your emotional quotient.
“Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship not only focuses on technical depth, social context and experiential learning but also helps graduates engage with mentors and facilitates the creation of a deep and valuable network,” Gupta added.
What’s In Store For Students?
The one-year fellowship is divided into 8 academic terms of 6 weeks. There will be 20-24 courses over the year at an average of 2 to 3 courses per term. Courses are a combination of a classroom environment and project work both on campus and in organisations and companies where students work.
Each student would be placed with a company, business or faculty in their area of interest. The projects will be AI and ML centric and supervised by a capstone committee along with the company providing the project. They will work in teams of 3 to 5.
Students would also be taken through a lecture series laying out the grand challenges facing the world in ecology, agriculture, health and finance. These lectures would be delivered by practitioners and faculty from academia, government and industry.
Perhaps the most intriguing component of the course is the Challenge Lab which simulates real-world problem and students are urged to identify a problem, validate a product or service, build it, go to the market and test it with customers.
“In effect, it covers the entire entrepreneurial journey including pitching the product or service to investors, customers and business leaders,” Gupta said.
The last date to apply for Plaksha Tech Leaders Fellowship programme is May 20.