Saving the best until last, telecom pioneer Sam Pitroda impressed and delighted a capacity audience in the closing keynote address at TiEcon, the annual conference of The Indus Entrepreneurs Silicon Valley.
The conference, organized under the theme of “Connect, Innovate and Prosper,” was held May 18-19 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
In an interview with India-West and during his speech to TiEcon attendees, Pitroda backed not one inch away from the current coalition government’s vow to pursue 8-10 percent growth for the next 20 years, while at the same time improving conditions for the country’s 400 million poor and creating more jobs for 550 million people under the age of 25.
“We must all be focused on those at the bottom of the pyramid,” he told India-West. “Due to bureaucracy, these things take time. There is corruption everywhere in the world…India has a vibrant democracy. Don’t expect things to happen overnight.”
Attendance at the conference topped 3,000, according to TiE Silicon Valley president Vish Mishra and TiEcon co-convener Jai Rawat.
Keynote speakers included Dr. Deepak Chopra (see separate article this issue), SAP’s head of technology and innovation Vishal Sikka, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science Anant Agarwal (see image - above), and venture capitalist Tim Draper, the latter substituting for Cisco senior vice president Carlos Dominguez, who became ill.
The most well attended panels at the conference were focused squarely on entrepreneurship, including forums about youth and women entrepreneurs, and panels on how to impress and raise money from venture capitalists.
Other popular events were presentations by the TiE50 award winners (to be featured in an upcoming issue of India-West); the crowded booths in the exhibit hall; meeting and connecting prospective entrepreneurs with mentors and prospective investors; and parallel panels on mobile, cloud computing, energy and health/life sciences.
The Orissa-born Pitroda, advisor to the Prime Minister of India on public information infrastructure and innovations, spoke about his life and work and related anecdotes of his four-decades-long service to India.
He was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s point man on telecom and the first chairman of India’s Telecom Commission. People purchased plane tickets on flights when they knew Pitroda was flying just so they could lobby for the coveted phone connections. Several holy men paraded into his office once for a mysterious meeting, only to pull out a telephone application form to be signed, he recalled.
India, Pitroda said, “is not quite in tune with (the rest of the world) as an economic model.” It can’t be based on consumption like the U.S., he said. India needs more innovation, backed by the recruitment of better teachers, more colleges and vocational training, he added.
Asked earlier by India-West about Piramal Healthcare chairman Ajay Piramal’s recent statement to The Wall Street Journal that “There’s a little more socialism in the air” in India, Pitroda said he hadn’t seen the comment, but he opposed “putting that label” on India’s attempt to help those in need.
“If growth doesn’t reach down to the people, it will create tensions because of the disparity. We can’t just keep creating more and more millionaires,” he said bluntly.
MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science Anant Agarwal, president of edX and director of CSAIL, the largest interdepartmental lab at MIT with over 800 members and more than 80 principal investigators, said that computer models are unchanged in the last 50 years.
He urged a new era of “organic computing inspired by biology” instead of the procedural computing model. “Imagine a cell phone that the longer you talk, the cooler it gets.”
Computers can be designed to set “performance or energy goals,” such that a “computer meets those goals by adapting to changing conditions,” resulting in a “computer that learns,” the Indian American MIT professor said.
In other words, computers can be built which can cut power usage depending on the speed required to perform specific tasks.
A joint partnership between MIT and Harvard University, edX is offering online learning to people around the world.
One recent engineering course attracted 120,000 students, a number equal to all the current MIT alumni around the world. Agarwal later told India-West that about 20 percent of the online students for the course were from India and that other universities are in talks to join the edX program.
A highlight of the conference was the presentation by Tim Draper (see image - below), founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
He spoke about his early support for one then-unknown Indian American entrepreneur, who had the unheard of idea of “free Web-based e-mail.” The resulting success was Sabeer Bhatia’s Hotmail, which did pretty well for him and for the VC firm that backed him.
Draper opined that “Silicon Valley is still the central hub” for innovation. Every 14 months there is a new breakthrough.
The tech sector, Draper added, “is not in a bubble” and will do well for the next five to six years.”
He said the American Jobs Act could be a boon for the U.S. economy if the bureaucrats in Washington, in particular the SEC, don’t sit on their hands.
The tall, lanky venture capitalist concluded his talk by conveying a tip from his daughter, Jesse Draper, host of the online tech start-up show, “The Valley Girl,” about how to assume the proper Bollywood dance pose.
She told him to raise his right hand like he was screwing in a light bulb, scratch his stomach with the other hand, raise one foot and hop around the stage, which he then demonstrated to music.
SAP AG head of technology and innovation Vishal Sikka (see image - above) pointed out in his opening keynote speech that Thomas Paine’s theory of the “social contract” shows that “social networking was not invented by Facebook.”
He said that about 75 percent of the people in the American colonies had a printed copy of Paine’s social contract in their hands shortly after it was written, a ratio that dwarfs Facebook’s current reach.
Sikka said the world needs “600 million new jobs” and that the “understanding of software is still very primitive.” He said the SAP leadership delegated him to initiate an “intellectual renewal of SAP” as if he were creating a “40-year-old start-up.” SAP is “rethinking database management” because of the need to “analyze huge amounts of data.”
Like many of the speakers at the conference, including Deepak Chopra and Vinod Khosla, who spoke at a youth-focused panel, the SAP executive urged young people aspiring to be entrepreneurs to “look for a purpose” in their careers and follow the “undersubscribed notion of working hard, following your instincts and having fun.”