Unicorn firms are disruptive by nature. They have terrific speed and a dizzying sense of scaling up. From zero to $ 1 billion in valuation in around 24 months is a standard signature trait of unicorns. India is home to more than 105 unicorns, the world’s 3rd largest billion-dollar startup ecosystem. This has been due to the coming together of a digital payment ecosystem, a large and growing smartphone market, growing e-commerce and digital-first business models.
Not surprisingly, technology companies are leading the charge, with many unicorns being led by individuals who are domain experts rather than general management experts. And this is a wake-up call for Business Schools. Indian B-Schools are designed to tread the more traditional path with legacy systems still not oriented to a startup culture. Though entrepreneurship is offered, there have been few takers due to a risk-averse culture, pursuit of job security, and a middle-class view of the uncertain economy. The unicorn world needs a bunch of radically new skills and mindsets, which will have an impact on management education.
First, a view of the new world from a B-school perspective:
Appreciating the speed differential: The rate at which the startup ecosystem has developed is far higher than the rate at which change is being made in the curriculum. This is only becoming more visible with time.
Developing market scanning expertise: B-School curriculum builders need to be true market scanners and develop the expertise of the market and social trend spotting.
Performing Risk Analysis: Next comes early fact-based ‘truth-seeking’ decision-making such as which new trends should be followed and risks mitigated.
Avoiding errors: First is the error of incorporating a trend with limited future possibilities into the curriculum. The second error to be avoided is ignoring a trend that could be a future source of strength.
Developing soft skills: B-Schools need to refocus on the development of soft skills along with the hard skills of analytics-based decision-making. Students need to be less emotionally fragile and more comfortable with failure and should not fear a new world where change is rapid.
From a student perspective, unicorns have resulted in the following requirements from management education:
Explore new horizons: New worlds are emerging beyond FMCG, CPG, BFSI and IT. Marketplace modelling, new-age logistics, Direct to Consumer (D2C) businesses, Healthcare, Software as a Service (SaaS), Foodtech, Edtech and cybersecurity management are the usual unicorn domains in which career options should be explored.
More hands-on learning: Though classroom learning has become more practical, experiential learning must be increased significantly. “Discovery” (which is student-driven) rather than “teaching” (which is faculty-driven) should be become the norm.
Increased decision-making opportunities: Students must have ‘agency’ to run things, make mistakes and learn. The ability to ‘fail fast’ and be an ‘entrepreneur’ are must-have skills.
Knowledge about funding sources: Management students should know about new sources of funding suitable for the unicorn world such as crowdfunding, venture debt, bank loans and revenue-based financing.
Commercially creative skills: B-Schools must drive idea-generating forces that create growth, as students demand to learn more about targets, data and analytics.
Quick decision-making skills: In a hyper-competitive unicorn world, procrastination is fatal. Students need to learn how to be quick decision-makers, not the ‘best’ decision-makers.
Strong multi-tasking skills: B-Schools have to design curricula and experiences that put students through multi-tasking situations under time pressure.
The writer is a Professor, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon.