The idea of business persons striking a relationship and partnering with those who complement their skill sets is one of the key building blocks of a system of entrepreneurship at all levels.

By TARUN KHANNA: — Professor at Harvard Business School and Director at SAI, Harvard University.

I am used to hearing of power couples in Washington political circles, or in New York City in financial circles or Silicon Valley start-up circles, but I came across a much more useful notion of power coupling recently. Sigve Brekke, CEO of the Norwegian telecom giant Telenor, posted something a while back discussing the Oslo Innovation Week which bore the moniker power couples. That got me thinking.

In conventional usage, power couples are“a relationship between two people who areequally as cool as each other” (Urban Dictionary).But really the essence seems to be thateach member of the couple, other than havinghis or her individual attributes, enhances theother member’s as well.

That same idea of complementarity is one of the key building blocks of a system of entrepreneurship, at all levels. Here’s what I mean.


Good entrepreneurs recognise the need to partner with those who complement their skill sets. Many investors stay away from sole founders, and prefer to rely on a founding team partly for this reason.

The pairing (or more than pairing) might be in particular areas of technical expertise— for example, a design specialist might partnerwith someone good at writing soft warein making a consumer oriented device-onthe-cloud — or more generic, as in a vision aperson might partner with a micro-managing detail-oriented person. These are all power couplings at the level of individual ventures.


Coupling of insights is evident in so many industries. Well-run hospitals, the work horses of healthcare systems worldwide, for example, find much to learn from the services industry, in particular hotels. So there is an increasing role for forums at the levels of agglomerations of companies to share ideas — think Business Round table in the US, or the industry associations in India —Confederation of Indian Industry, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India.


Finally, there is room for power coupling at the level of institutions within anational system geared towards entrepreneurship.Consider the Small BusinessAdministration in the US that is agovernment entity meant to represent theinterests of this community and particularlyfacilitates loans to small businesses.Its working is inevitably enhanced by thepresence of a system of community colleges(and of course mainstream colleges and universities)where people can acquire appropriateskills. That is, there is a complementaritybetween the loans and the skilling parts of the

institutional fabric.

I spend a lot of time diving into entrepreneurialsystems around the world, of coursemy local Boston based healthcare ecosystem,the Silicon Valley locus for entrepreneurs writlarge, the Bangalore system that’s close to myheart, Shenzhen, Tel Aviv, etcetera. So, here’swhere I see the need for more attention to begiven to power coupling. Individual venturesneed least attention, not because they are un-important, but it’s in the interests of entrepreneursto seek out those who ‘fill them out’ andgenerally they’ll stumble onto this realisationwilly-nilly, unaided.


The industry side gets some attentionthrough forums that already exist. Perhapsthe forums need better governance andoccasional outside scrutiny, but by andlarge competition between multiple contenderswill keep them honest, I feel.

The national system is where themost attention is needed. It’s becauseindividual well-intentioned institutionstend to gravitate to workingin their own silo-like realities. Inertia,ennui, and self-serving behaviourset in, manifest in thingslike so-called NIH syndrome(not-invented-here syndrome,where things we didn’t invent can’tpossibly be any good).

India affords an interesting casein point, since it’s a country in rapidtransition, with a pro-entrepreneurshipmindset. The Atal Innovation Mission isa coordinating entity set up precisely to

facilitate national-system-level power coupling.It’s had a great start — launching socalledtinkering labs in schools, sorting outcredible incubators from the hundreds in thecountry that aren’t pulling their weight andfunneling capital to the former, launching newincubators, initiating the idea of prizes to directattention to pressing problems, etc. Thekey is to hold its organisational feet to the fireto make sure it delivers, and to ensure that itworks well with other branches of government

that are also pushing related policy initiatives.


So, power couple away!