CIIE - Over the Years
Evolution of CIIE
When a faculty group at IIMA initiated an experiment by creating CIIE, the had neither thought through the ‘protocols’ of the experiment nor defined the ‘benchmarks’ to assess its outcomes! The fact that this unique experiment continues with dynamic, ever-evolving protocols and benchmarks, reflects the fecundity of the original seed and of the institutional soil that has nurtured it.
While serendipity has played a role and the Centre has responded to internal and external stimuli, it has often created interesting strategic opportunities for growth. Continuous experimentation has been its response to ambiguities that it faced. In the process, CIIE has not only responded to the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country but also tried to shape it.
The experimentation effectively began when a faculty group from IIMA, which had initially come together in 1998 to undertake inter-disciplinary research in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship, bought into the idea of incubating technological innovation-driven startups.
In 2001, CIIE started its operations in the proverbial ‘garage’- a room in Dorm 18 of IIMA campus- and moved to its own physical facility only in April 2007. However, the larger question was ‘how does one get access to such startups in a school of management?’ The obvious answer was to look outside. The incubation journey began in 2002 with Anveshan- a nationwide search to identify hi-tech and mass impact innovations with potential for commercialisation. While the methods of search have changed, the focus on hi-tech and or mass impact technologies has stayed.
The idea to synergistically combine activities around incubation and ecosystem building with research and teaching at IIMA is at the core of CIIE. This is unique. CIIE’s incubation support is open access, not restricted to IIMA community, and is also provided remotely or virtually to the startups at any location in the country. This is rare too for an incubator in a higher education institution (HEI). Incubation across locations is the logic for having CIIE’s presence across Ahmedabad, Pune, Jaipur and Bangalore.
CIIE came into existence when incubation was in its infancy, the idea of formal mentoring was largely unknown, seed-funding had just been initiated, angel investors were virtually non-existent and Venture Capitalists (VC) behaved like private equity players, generally averse to early-stage investments. Moreover, very few of the technologies developed in HEI’s were commercialized, even less so through the entrepreneurial route. The Centre responded to these challenges through multiple initiatives.
As incubation matured in the country, CIIE was the first to experiment with accelerators in 2008 and that too with commendable success. In the same year, setting up of CIIE Initiatives, a non-for-profit entity, further expanded our horizons.
Innovation search mechanisms were scaled up dramatically in the form of The Power of Ideas- undertaken for the first time in 2010 in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (GoI) and the Economic Times. Sector specific searches were also undertaken in collaboration with corporates and state agencies. A mentoring network, MentorEdge, was created in 2009, which now has about 400 mentors across India. One of the most impactful initiatives to evangelize entrepreneurship in India has been our publication of the best seller Stay Hungry Stay Foolish.
CIIE has been at the forefront of bridging risk capital gap in India with over 100 equity investments and 250 grants. INFUSE is probably the most interesting experiment in new venture funding and as a policy instrument to kick-start startup funding in sectors characterised by long gestation periods, uncertainties, and market failures. In 2011, CIIE persuaded the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), GoI to seed a fund for startups in clean energy and initiated a unique public-private- academia partnership. Enthused by the success of INFUSE, CIIE has now embarked on another similar partnership to raise a larger fund for sectors that suffer from a variety of market failures including healthcare, agriculture, industrial Internet of Things (IoT), and enterprise technology.
India lacks the ecosystem for innovation- driven entrepreneurship that large multi-disciplinary universities in the West are able to provide. In such universities, cross discipline work is a natural outcome of bumping into people with various backgrounds and freedom to take courses across departments.
Unfortunately, we do not have such institutions in India. Recognising that HEIs in the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar cluster have the potential to stimulate such a multi-disciplinary environment in 2015, CIIE initiated the creation of A-League — a consortium of 14 HEIs in the cluster. These institutions encompass diverse disciplines- management, design, technology, humanities, science, social sciences, media, communications, and law. The hope is that coming together of these institutions would foster creation of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in the cluster. The creation of Ideapad (2013) in the CIIE building to connect with local entrepreneurs supplemented this effort to create an ecosystem in the region through A-League.
As CIIE intensified its efforts to contribute to the ecosystem building at the national and regional levels, initiatives were taken in parallel to strengthen the ecosystem within the IIMA campus. IIMAvericks fellowships were launched in 2013 with the help of alumni to support IIMA graduates who wished to strike out on the path less travelled. IIMA was the first institute to provide a placement deferment for two years. Graduates who wanted to take the entrepreneurial path could come back for placement to the Institute, in case they chose to change their career path.
CIIE’s incubation and related activities have created significant learning opportunities for the faculty and students on IIMA campus. Project courses with incubatees expose IIMA students to live startup situations. Seed-funds and business plan competitions facilitate simulation of VC firm scenarios. The presence of CIIE on campus has also enriched many other courses at IIMA on entrepreneurship and venture capital.
Several cases on startups have been written. Data collected as a part of nationwide searches for startups are being mined to explore questions on issues of entrepreneurial trends, role of incubation and mentoring, emerging policy needs to foster entrepreneurship and so on.
CIIE provides a unique model for incubators in HEIs. Through a series of experiments CIIE is trying to achieve an ‘optimal’ mix of activities that will not only make it financially sustainable but organizationally valuable as well. For that, funds and learning opportunities will need to grow together. As experimentation goes on and the Centre continues to learn from what is happening elsewhere in the world, the ‘protocols’ and ‘benchmarks’ will continue to change. One hopes that the Centre would deal successfully with all these ambiguities, remain dynamically capable and not worry even if timelines of the experiment remain fuzzy. Amen!