In cities throughout India, would-be entrepreneurs unsure of their first steps are finding their way with the help of Embark — an easily accessed online program developed by Stanford Graduate School of Business that helps them navigate the potentially dream-crushing hurdles they face every day.
Busy mid- to senior-level executives — like Bangalore’s Parth Saxena, founder of the travel technology platform MobiBoats — are learning advanced business strategies at their own pace through LEAD, a year-long online certificate program taught by Stanford GSB faculty.
Scores of established business leaders from multiple Indian states are receiving on-the-ground management training, personal coaching, and networking support through the year-long Stanford Seed Transformation Program. The expertise they gain will be used to grow and scale their businesses, and to lead their regions to greater prosperity.
Over the past three years, Stanford GSB has extended its reach beyond MBA and MSx degree candidates by expanding its non-degree offerings — online programs, experiential learning activities, and on-the-ground teaching — to increasingly connect with people and organizations across the world. The Embark, LEAD, and Stanford Seed Transformation programs – along with a robust Global Study Trip program for degree students – are at the forefront of those efforts to expand the impact of the school both locally and globally. In few places is the school’s effort more evident than in India, where the interest in entrepreneurship has surged in the past decade.
“In 2007 I did some work on how to deepen and broaden the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India, which was a major thrust of the Indian government. What I discovered was that not many people wanted to get into entrepreneurship,” recalls Baba Shiv, the Sanwa Bank, Limited, Professor of Marketing. “But that’s changing dramatically. Between about 2007 and 2015, as I was going to different campuses in India, speaking to the top 10 percent of university students, almost every one of them said they wanted to become an entrepreneur. Their aspirations have changed, and this is a trend we’ve been seeing not just in India but in other countries.”
India’s aspirational shift comes at a time when the school is focused on the school’s global outreach, a move that reflects its increasing diversity. The school recently welcomed MBA and MSx students from more than 300 different organizations and 70 countries, creating one of the most globally diverse communities in the school’s history. Of the 5,200 people participating in Stanford GSB’s executive education-related programs last year, almost half lived outside the U.S. In addition to students, nearly 8,000 Stanford GSB alumni live and work outside the U.S. in more than 120 countries, where they engage with students and faculty, lead Stanford GSB chapters, meet with prospects, and give their time and ideas to the school.
The Embark program, launched this past June, serves as an online toolkit or “virtual companion” for very-early-stage entrepreneurs. It provides users with videos, modules, and interactive tools to create personalized roadmaps as they progress through various stages of their venture. Indian entrepreneurs are among the top users of Embark.
The program was developed by Shiv, along with James Lattin, the Robert A. Magowan Professor of Marketing, and Stefanos Zenios, The Investment Group of Santa Barbara Professor of Entrepreneurship and professor of operations, information, and technology. The trio consolidated their combined experience in multiple programs — Stanford’s Startup Garage, Seed, Ignite India, and the LEAD program — to create something new and scalable.
“The idea was that this would take a new approach, and was an initiative led by Dean Jonathan Levin,” Shiv says. “We want to target people who have an idea, but have not moved to the next step.”
Embark continues to evolve; Shiv and his team hope the program will soon allow users to connect with other leaders and founders around the world to pose questions, and share answers and insights.
“Developing a community is the most critical piece we’re working on,” Shiv says. “We want to have a long-term relationship with entrepreneurs around the world. If this has to be at scale, building a community of Embark alumni is key.”
Online Offerings Fuel Aspiring Entrepreneurs
The one-year online LEAD certificate program allows participants to select elective courses, interact with faculty, and virtually engage with a global cohort of peers — on their own schedule. Program participants come from more than 60 countries, with India being among the program’s top three international markets. LEAD was the perfect option for Parth Saxena, who founded MobiBoats, based in Bangalore.
“I wanted to accelerate my leadership and innovation and learn from the best faculty and most experienced professionals in the world,” says Saxena, who entered the program at the age of 26 and received his certificate in 2016. “I realized I had to complement my passion and hard work with substantial education and training. LEAD gave me the mindset, skills, and structure I needed to work better with successful people in my industry.”
Saxena conceived MobiBoats during his LEAD training, and has since successfully bootstrapped the project, with his beta program being positively received by users in more than 40 countries. He’s exploring new technologies and learning about the angel investment and venture capital industries, and he’s a global fellow of the Kairos Society, an international community of young leaders working to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
On-the-Ground Presence Drives Growth of Businesses
Among the school’s programs on the ground in India is the Stanford Seed Transformation Program, which brings Stanford GSB faculty and coaches on site to provide management training, one-on-one support, and networking opportunities to high-potential leaders. The one-year program helps CEOs and founders assess their company’s vision, redefine strategies, and make changes that can drive growth and help them lead their regions to increased prosperity. Last summer, 61 students from Stanford, including five from Stanford GSB, completed internships to support companies’ expansion efforts in Africa and India.
Seed’s third India cohort will begin this month, with 59 senior executives from more than 10 industry sectors in 12 Indian states. Faculty members including Shiv; Jesper Sorensen, the Robert A. and Elizabeth R. Jeffe Professor and professor of organizational behavior; and Joseph Piotroski, the Robert K. Jaedicke Professor of Accounting, will hold classes at the Infosys offices in Chennai, with in-company workshops taking place at each participating firm’s place of business.
Sabine Castagnet, MBA ’02, recently returned from a year in India volunteering as a Seed coach, assisting leaders in implementing their transformation plans. An engineer by training, she’s the former COO of Data Physics, and an independent executive board member and advisor.
“You live in country and work with a team and company face-to-face, usually five to six companies at a time,” she says. “I love that it’s academic and applied, and that this is only the beginning of a process — the idea that you teach people how to fish. I was amazed by how much they embraced the opportunity.”
Castagnet says participants particularly appreciate networking with other cohort members and being exposed to cutting-edge information.
“It brings our experience to places and to people who otherwise wouldn’t get that exposure,” she says. “And exposure and access opens your mind to possibilities.”
Experiential Learning Broadens Students’ Perspectives
For Stanford MBA students, India’s market dynamics are an opportunity to apply principles learned in the classroom to a range of industry sectors. Groups of second-year MBA students will lead two global study trips to India this winter. The first will explore how legacy firms in India innovate and compete against disruptors in the digital age. The second group will examine the country’s unequal access to financial services, and study whether the reallocation of capital to the underbanked population from the corporate sector will help or limit India’s growth rate.
Second-year MBA student and trip leader Veni Dhir says the 29 students studying India’s banking system in Mumbai and Jaipur will hear speakers including bankers, policymakers, government officials, and journalists — along with average citizens trying to access capital while making the transition from being unbanked to banked.
“There is not necessarily a viewpoint we want students to subscribe to,” Dhir says. “How this incremental knowledge is going to alter their viewpoint is what we’re interested in. The ideal case is that it alters it in a way that makes the country they’re visiting more accessible, and a place they hope and wish to stay connected to, or do business with, in some form or capacity.”
Global Study Trips to India — as elsewhere — benefit both students and their hosts, Dhir says.
“These trips do an incredible job of making the Stanford presence known,” she says. “We have speakers who are extremely enthusiastic because they’ve met Stanford GSB students before from similar trips, and they feel the questions are intriguing, and they’re excited about meeting students who could be potential leaders. Oftentimes some participants end up working with some of the leaders in fields they may be interested in. So it’s definitely a mutually beneficial program.”