Partnering on Entrepreneurship in India

Lehigh has a new strategic focus for international engagement—India. The world’s largest democracy and one of its fastest growing economies, India is a young country (more than 60 percent of citizens are under 35), and it’s experiencing major growth in entrepreneurship. 

The university is exploring an initiative that builds on its expertise in programs in entrepreneurship and innovation. It will expand its new partnership with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a nonprofit that educates and connects the entrepreneurial community. 

Lehigh is the center’s exclusive Academic in Residence partner, and the two organizations have created Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, a campus extension for Lehigh students based in San Francisco, one of the most active startup scenes in the world. The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, Lehigh’s platform for building new enterprises, coordinates the collaboration.

This winter, the Baker Institute partnered with the center on the Milestone Makers Program, which helps beginning entrepreneurs meet milestones in their businesses with the help of coaches, mentors and classes. Students in the LehighSiliconValley program worked with the entrepreneurs as virtual interns or apprentices. 

Pratheek Palanethra, Richard Verma and Justin Jacobs at a farewell party for the former ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in India. Palanethra and Jacobs founded Freebowler, to help cricket teams practice batting.

Now the center is expanding the Milestone Makers program to India. The Lehigh@NasdaqCenter partnership will expand there as well in the near future and is looking to add Ashoka University in Haryana, India to the initiative. Founded in 2011, Ashoka brings a new, multidisciplinary model of higher education to India, combining the liberal arts and sciences to respond to industry need. In other words, it’s a lot like Lehigh.

“As the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center establishes itself in India and we’re looking at partnerships in India as well, we can imagine Lehigh students and Ashoka students partnering up to do internships with the Milestone Makers,” says Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute.

“We are looking for ways that Lehigh can add value,” she says. “Our perspective is that innovation is a way of thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset brings success, and that’s something that Ashoka is teaching as well.”

According to Getzler, the initiative might also include a project to prepare students for the Indian entrepreneurial experience and teach them about the cultural differences between the two countries. For example, India has strict regulations that make it hard for new businesses to attract startup funding. 

Getzler and Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international education, traveled to India in January to speak with partners about this and other opportunities for engagement. This new venture will strengthen Lehigh’s existing alumni ties with the country. 

In India, they celebrated Richard Verma ’90, whose successful tenure as U.S. Ambassador to India just ended, and met with alumni like Pratheek Palanethra, a graduate of Lehigh’s technical entrepreneurship master’s degree who created a company called FreeBowler with classmate Justin Jacobs. They’ve developed a portable, affordable bowling machine that allows cricket teams to conveniently practice batting. In addition, alumni and partners in India host Iacocca International Interns at their businesses every summer. In 2017, five Lehigh students will spend several weeks living and working there.

"India is the third largest market for higher education in the world, and presents tremendous partnership opportunities for Lehigh,” says Matherly. “We are excited to explore ways in which our students and scholars can engage deeply on issues that connect the US and India.”