John Hoffmire: Please tell me about the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (CIED) at Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH).

Abha Rishi: John, the central mission of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (CIED) is to prepare men and women to lead, innovate, and think entrepreneurially in business, as well as in public and social service, to be job creators, and role models. Whether it is the individual entrepreneur, or an ‘intrapreneurial’ professional employee who provides the innovative ideas needed to grow an existing company, or someone in governmental leadership, it is the ability to envision a future, to be driven by a mission, to think innovatively about the mundane, and to move forward with self-confidence that India needs to retain its greatness.

John: Is there is an incubation center that is associated with CIED?

Abha: Yes, in 2017 we received a government grant from the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), to create the Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) at BIMTECH. The center is a partnership with academia and government, with high-class incubation facilities and suitable infrastructure in terms of capital equipment and operating facilities.

AIC-BIMTECH has divided their startup program into three categories according to the stages of a start-up, and has developed each program specific to the needs, requirements, and support for that stage of the enterprise. The first program is KHOJ, which works on the proper molding of a newly hatched idea into a feasible business plan. The GURUKUL program focuses on building a company around the idea and finally, the UDAAN program exists to help the company scale up into different markets or an adjacent offering, helping to extend the roots of the company so it can further develop and grow. The three names, Khoj, Gurukul and Udaan are Hindi words which mean Search, School and Soar, respectively.

Each program is carefully customized and tweaked regularly to keep up with the current requirements of the startups. AIC-BIMTECH also offers a co-living facility to the incubated startups, which provides them access to the residential infrastructure akin to the students of BIMTECH.

John: What do you find most rewarding working with CIED and the Atal Incubation Center?

Abha: There are so many things that it’s a hard question to answer. I would have to say that combining the education component of CIED with the hands-on experience at the Atal Incubation Centre has been particularly exciting to be involved with. In three years, the incubation centre has received more than 1500 direct applications and has supported 81 startups since its operations began in January 2018. AIC-BIMTECH has created 331 jobs via the incubated startups that have also received 14 awards. It has also initiated 77 partnerships, brought in 33 mentors, and has seen 11 incubates raise funds to the tune of INR 9.29 crores (approx. $1.2 million USD). This has been due to the focus on the partnerships created within the ecosystem. AIC-BIMTECH not only brings aboard partners from all spheres to provide support structure for the incubated startups, but there are many international partners in place for creating a market access network to broaden their horizon. We also partner with academic institutes to encourage budding entrepreneurs and equip them with the right tools and mindset required for the tedious entrepreneurial journey. These partnerships have helped us in offering our incubatees free benefits to the tune of INR 8.63 crores (approx. $1.1 million USD).

This success has further inspired us at BIMTECH to keep building an ecosystem to encourage high quality research, innovation and entrepreneurship. We consider ourselves to be an evolving, innovative organization that initiates, facilitates and empowers entrepreneurship development.

John: Tell me about your time with the Chevening Research, Science and Innovation Leadership Fellowship (CRISP) program.

Abha: In 2014, I was awarded a Chevening (UK) scholarship to study as a fellow of the CRISP program at Oxford University. Back then the program was affiliated with Oxford’s SAID Business School and was a ten-week program that focused on science, innovation, leadership and management, as well as wider issues including global challenges, politics, and international relations. It was tremendously helpful in preparing me for the work I’m doing now with the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development and the Atal Incubation Centre at the International Business at Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH).

John: You have always been interested in social and community work and impact. So how do you balance your work with your interest in social work?

Abha: John, where there is a will, there is always a way! I am also the Treasurer for the BIMTECH Foundation. The Institute runs a number of voluntary outreach programmes to create a positive influence in the community and the society at large. I am personally involved in two projects, Project Chiraiya[1] and Project Uthan[2] . Project Chiraiya is run in villages for adolescent girls. Project Uthan is for the inmates of 11 prisons across the state. Both the projects are fuelled by more than 10,000 hours of voluntary work by the students, faculty and staff, led by Dr Rishi Tiwari.

The biggest and foremost benefit for the girls has been the social acceptance and change in the mind-set of the village community. The understanding that girls can lead developmental change, be able to earn accolades (from people like Sh. Venkaiah Naidu, Vice President of India & other national level dignitaries), be social and health agents and earn a decent livelihood has led to a perceptible change in the social hierarchy of women and girls in the Neemka village.

In the prison project, the main impact is measured in two areas, viz., the number of suicides being reduced due to the inmates coming regularly to the library and workshops and the number of people who are going in for education certifications like secondary, senior secondary, graduation etc. The main idea is to educate and skill the men and women prison inmates, so that recidivism is reduced. Women, especially, have no recourse to a dignified life of labour and have to either resort to prostitution or revert back to crime to earn a livelihood. By educating and skilling them through various workshops conducted in the libraries, these women can be brought back into the mainstream.

Both our projects help in the empowerment of the underprivileged sections of society. Project Chiraiya is completely dedicated to the up-liftment of rural adolescent girls (who are at the most vulnerable age due to social demands of marriage and dropping out of schools). The prison project gives equal opportunities to female and male inmates to access the libraries and attend workshops, but the focus is on helping the women inmates in creating microenterprises.

John: It’s exciting to see the great work a CRISP alum is doing and I congratulate you on the success of CIED, the Atal Incubation Center, as well as the projects in the village and the prisons.

Abha: Thank you, John.

Dr. Abha Rishi is the Chairperson for the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development, and CEO of the Atal Incubation Centre at BIMTECH. She is also an alum of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Fellowship (CRISP) program at Oxford University (2014)

Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business

[1] ‘Chiraiya’ means a small female sparrow in Hindi

[2] ‘Uthan’ means regeneration or creating a new development