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Ashok Jhunjhunwala’s many tenets

Posted by g.e. on March 10, 2007

Seattle Post Intelligencer ‘s full coverage of the Sam Pitroda of Today’s India is here.

Some snippets follow:
The professor created a business incubator called the Tenet Group to help foster technology startups. But, in a classic Indian twist, the mandate is quite different than what you might find on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road.

Rather than trying to build the next Yahoo or Google, hoping to serve the world, Tenet’s entrepreneurs are hoping to serve the needs of rural India.

As Jhunjhunwala put it: “We formed Tenet with the objective of taking IIT students to the next level. We also decided to focus on rural areas, where 700 million of India’s 1.1 billion people still live. We’re trying to show that innovation can happen in our own markets. In doing so, we’re coming up with new ideas to help the nation.”

Walking around the group’s offices, which are integrated into the IIT campus, one can see many examples of this “socially conscious entrepreneurship”:

# Midas Communications Ltd., one of the earliest Tenet companies, has grown to deliver telecom services to millions across India using breakthrough wireless routing. The company employs 600 in Chennai and does business in 25 other countries.
# Oops Private Ltd. is creating ways to bring video conferencing to remote villages, using the low-end technologies available. Oops has figured out a way to do video conferencing on bandwidth as low as 20 Kbps, allowing kids to attend classes with teachers hundreds of miles away.
# ReMeDi Ltd. is using similar bandwidth optimization technology to help villages that have no doctors. And they’re delivering the systems for the equivalent of $250.

The list goes on. Low-cost weather stations. Rural ATMs that cost about $1,200 compared with the usual $10,000 to $15,000. Thin-client computers that cost about $100. It’s all coming out of an IIT system once derided for a lack of innovation.

“India was dormant,” said Jhunjhunwala. “Now it’s growing. But the rural areas are being left behind.”


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Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy

Posted by g.e. on February 18, 2007

Thanks to Daily Reckoning, may never have read these bits on Dr G Venkataswamy:

The inspiration, Dr. V says, comes from McDonald’s. He first discovered the golden arches at the age of 55 and it changed his life.

“In America, there are powerful marketing devices to sell products like Coca-Cola and hamburgers,” he says. “All I want to sell is good eyesight, and there are millions of people who need it…If Coca-Cola can sell billions of sodas and McDonald’s can sell billions of burgers, why can’t Aravind sell millions of sight-restoring operations…? With sight, people could be freed from hunger, fear, and poverty.

“In the third world, a blind person is referred to as ‘a mouth without hands,’” says Dr. V. “He is detrimental to his family and to the whole village. But all he needs is a 10-minute operation. One week the bandages go on, the next week they go off. High bang for the buck. But people don’t realize that the surgery is available, or that they can afford it, because it’s free. We have to sell them first on the need.”

The hospital picks up the tab for those who can’t pay. Paying customers are charged 50 rupees (about $1) per consultation and have their choice of accommodations: “A-class” rooms ($3 per day), which are private; “B-class” rooms ($1.50 per day), in which a toilet is shared; or “C-class” rooms ($1 per day), essentially a mat on the floor. Paying customers choose between surgery with stitches ($110) and surgery without stitches ($120).

Since he began, his eye hospitals have restored the sight of more than one million people in India. Even with such tiny revenues per patient, Aravind makes a profit, with a gross margin of 40%. One operation is completed; another is begun right away. It is apparently a very efficient and productive enterprise.

Aravind now does more eye surgeries than any other provider in the world, though it accepts no government grants. The hospitals are totally self-supporting. Nor does Dr. V. try to hustle a profit from the enterprise for himself. He lives on a pension, taking no money out of Aravind.

Dr. V. is helping the poor in a big way. But he also helps them in a way very different from the typical world improver. He sees them as individuals.

“Consultants talk of ‘the poor,’” he says. “No one at Aravind does. ‘The poor’ is a vulgar term. Would you call Christ a poor man? To think of certain people as ‘the poor’ puts you in a superior position, blinds you to the ways in which you are poor – and in the West there are many such ways: emotionally and spiritually, for example. You have comforts in America, but you are afraid of each other.”

Dr. V set out only to do eye operations…quickly and cheaply. The world improvement came – as it always does – as a by-product of private action. In Tamil Nadu state, where his main hospital is located, the incidence of blindness is 20% below the rest of India.

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Gaurav Dhillon’s Second Act

Posted by g.e. on February 12, 2007

On BusinessWeek:

In the world of online movie distribution, Gaurav Dhillon, chief executive of startup Jaman.com, has an edge over a formidable leader, Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes Store. Jaman has 1,000 films available for download, four times as many as iTunes.

Jaman is a second act for Dhillon, who was founder and CEO of Informatica (INFA), a Redwood City (Calif.) software company that launched in 1992. After stepping down in 2004, he took a few years off to look for something new to do. “I had wanted to do something with photography, which is my hobby, but I realized I wasn’t going to change the world with that,” he says.

During that time, he traveled around the world and learned a surprising fact: Some 99% of the movies made globally will never be shown or distributed in the U.S., the biggest movie-watching market. So he teamed with Carlos Montalvo, a former vice-president at Apple, who was also general manager of the Quicktime group, Apple’s video and streaming media software division. He’s raised $4 million from his own Dhillon Capital and additional financing from unnamed “technical luminaries” in technology and entertainment. The company has negotiated the rights for movies from studios including Arc Light Films, a Taiwanese studio, and Celestial Pictures, with headquarters in Hong Kong, and is now looking for a second round of funding.

“There are 56 million people who live in the U.S. but who weren’t born here or who speak another language and who would like to see movies and TV shows from their native countries,” he says.

While in big cities there are often local retailers who import movies from around the world, that’s not always an option elsewhere, says Dhillon, a brain surgeon originally from India now living in Topeka, Kan. His target customer: “He’s got a job he loves and likes where he lives, but he can’t get movies from India at the corner video store,” he says. “This is for someone like him.”

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Jignesh Shah of Financial Technologies

Posted by g.e. on November 19, 2006

Rediff reports:
Financial Technologies India Ltd on Thursday said its group chairman and chief executive officer of Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX), Jignesh Shah will be conferred the US India Business Leadership Award (2005-2006).

Shah is honoured for his “outstanding contribution as a serial entrepreneur to integrate rural India with global markets” and the award is a global recognition of his efforts at integrating rural India with the global markets, it said.

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Desi action in PE space

Posted by g.e. on October 7, 2006

Find Vinod Manahta’s other articles here.  A nice round up of Desi action in Private Equity here.

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Abhay Ashtekar

Posted by g.e. on September 30, 2006

Was reading this article on The Economist and was delighted to see that one of the two ideas being advanced for the “general theory of everything” has a Indian brain behind it.  See some bits on Loop Quantum Gravity and the man, Abhay Ashtekar, behind it.

No clue whats all this, to reproduce from The Economist:
Loop quantum gravity, as this rival is known, was dreamed up in 1986 by Abhay Ashtekar, of Pennsylvania State University. He rewrote the equations of general relativity to make them compatible with quantum mechanics. It really took off as an alternative to string theory, though, when it was picked up by Lee Smolin, now of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, and Carlo Rovelli, of the Université de la Méditerranée in France. Together, they developed Dr Ashtekar’s idea to show that it implies that space and time are not smooth, as general relativity requires, but come in tiny, distinct chunks.

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Who stole my revolution

Posted by g.e. on September 18, 2006

A nice bit on Indian-Americans by JOANNA YEO in HPR:
As far back as 1985, President Reagan identified the Indian-American diaspora as India’s “most precious gift” to the United States, and an embodiment of the two nations’ friendship.

Indian-Americans, for instance, pre-empted the late-1990s surge of service-sector outsourcing. Recent research by Devesh Kapur, associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, shows that Indian-American-led firms like Selectica, NetGuru and Computer Associates International sparked this trend in the early 1990s.

Susan Shirk, former deputy assistant secretary of state for China, Taiwan and Hong Kong and professor at the University of California at San Diego, explained in an interview with the HPR that the India lobby is presently “really formidable and … quite effective” in pushing its agenda on Capitol Hill.

In an interview with the HPR, Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna emphasized that Indian-Americans are much wealthier today than they were in the early 1980s. There are now many more Indian-Americans in leadership positions in the United States. Increasing wealth and prominence in society have contributed not just to their favorable position in America, Khanna argued, but also to the Indian government’s increasingly explicit efforts to reach out to the Indian-American community over the past five years.

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Munjal Shah of Andale

Posted by g.e. on September 18, 2006

If i have to pick one company in the web-era that was as smart as i2 Technologies or Aspect Development was in the client-server era, it would be Andale.

Very appealing to me because of the niche they are in, which is providing market intelligence tools for eBay merchant community, and the general appeal it will evenutally have in auction management. Like Umang Gupta’s Keynote Systems, it offers something very offbeat.

What of Web2.0? Checkout some nice insights into his new startup – the visual search pioneer – Riya from his interview to nPost here:

Riya is made up of about six, seven PhD’s in face recognition. It’s a pretty technology-oriented bunch that set out to do something very different. The face recognition technology’s been there, but what we’re using is actually quite different from traditional face recognition, and it’s led to significantly higher accuracy rates than you’d get with traditional face recognition. So, that was my second thing, and the third is, just realizing that you want to then create a long-term barrier from your competitors, which in our case – if you think about it – it’s those visual signatures. Once our system has a million trained visual signatures, even if a service that copies us launches, you’re gonna come and put your photos with us, because all of your friends will be recognized without your doing any work, right? So going to a new service, you have to do all the work from scratch. It’s kind of like a social network in the sense that the more people that are in it, the more valuable it is for a newcomer, and for that, we’ll grow and grow and grow. I kind of recognized those three things that we gotta make sure we have. And the last part is that we kind of shower our guys – we just try to take the best care of them, the best machines, the best things, the best toys in the office in terms of their productivity and their work environment and just try to take care of them. You’ll see me blog about them a lot in the blog and in some cases, in a very detailed way. That’s part of being authentic.

We ask each person to answer one question, and they have to be able to answer it to get the job. We said, “What’s the thing you’re better at than anybody else in the world?” which is a pretty bold question, actually.

They all stumbled for a while because it’s a very hard question to answer, but in most cases, for the guys that we brought on initially, it was things like, “Look, I know how to make a photo site scale to handle ten million users or one hundred billion users. I know how to do that better than anybody, or at least there’s maybe ten guys in the world who can probably do this.” In the case of the face recognition guy, one of the professors at Berkeley who had given me a list and said, “Look, what you’re doing is achievable, but I think there are only about twenty people who can really pull this off.” We got about five of those people on our team.

Find the NYTimes coverage of Like.com here.
Like.com represents a fall-back plan of sorts for Mr. Shah, who originally used the technology behind Like.com to create Riya, which helps users organize their digital photos. That service has been popular among users and investors, having attracted $19.5 million from venture capitalists including Bay Partners and Leapfrog Ventures, but Mr. Shah said it had a doomed business plan, because there were not enough ways to make money from it.

How good a search engine is Like.com? “It works good enough,” said Munjal Shah, Like.com’s chief executive. “We’ve found that this is an application where the failings of the technology can turn out to be an asset. People will look at an error and say, ‘I didn’t know there was another item that was close, but with a different design.’ ”

“So there’s a serendipity factor here,” Mr. Shah added. “And it’s also still orders of magnitude better than the alternative.”

“Trying to describe a pattern on a rug — that’s when you need this kind of search,” he said. In the future, users will also be able to upload photos of items they are looking for, and the service will search for matches.

Like.com earns a commission of 5 to 15 percent from Amazon, Ice.com, Zappos and other retailers each time a user clicks on something they see on Like and buys from that retailer. Mr. Shah said the site was limited to just a few product categories because those categories performed the best during early tests. Like.com will add clothing next, followed by home and garden items and other goods.

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Scientists of the Year

Posted by g.e. on September 8, 2006

BS reports:
Indian American Abhijit Mahalanobis, who developed vital ‘pattern recognition’ components in missile defence system for US Army, has been chosen as ‘Scientist of the Year’ by the prestigious Emerald Honors that recognises contributions by minority scientists.

Besides Mahalanobis, a Fellow of Lockheed Martin, several Indian American scientists would recieve the awards instituted by Science Spectrum magazine, to be given away on September 16 at Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland.

They include Ashok Kumar of the Army Corps of Engineers, Venkatesh Krishnan of Eli Lilly, Dharmendra Jani of Bausch and Lomb and Anil Duggal of GE Global Research Center.

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Home is where the excitement is these days

Posted by g.e. on September 2, 2006

Another article on Indians (or Vani Kola’s?) returning home:
Kola, at 42, is part of a fascinating diaspora. A couple of decades ago, Indian émigrés poured into Silicon Valley and played a significant role in shaping it. Vinod Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems and invested in dozens of other start-ups. Gururaj Deshpande launched Sycamore Networks. Suhas Patil started Cirrus Logic. The list is long. California estimates that the state is home to 3,000 companies owned by Indian entrepreneurs.

Along the way, Kola became friends with Vinod Dham. He had also left India for Silicon Valley. At Intel, Dham became a vice president and will forever be known as the “father of the Pentium processor.” Dham put the idea into Kola’s head about maybe moving back to India.

To see if she’d want to go, Kola spent a month in India. “I spent random time meeting entrepreneurs, going to companies, meeting random people,” Kola says. “I’d be (out) until 1 a.m. talking to people.”

As you can see, two words often used to describe Kola are “driven” and “focused.”

“I came away feeling that I have to be part of this,” she says, “if I can bring my knowledge and in some way play a small role in the global impact India is going to have. This moment in time comes, and you either take advantage of it or not.”

She adds: “In the next decade, I see technology, innovation, global brands and internationally respected companies coming out of India. It’s too interesting a possibility. I had to find a way to participate.”

Kola decided to move her family to Bangalore, a city the Indian press has dubbed “Silicon Valley with potholes.”

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