SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Thousands of business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors convened at the Santa Clara Convention Center here for the 26th annual The Indus Entrepreneurs conference, TiE Inflect 2018, May 4 and May 5.

The conference, re-branded to TiE Inflect from TiEcon, which is the moniker it held the first 25 years, focused on artificial intelligence and featured 15 tracks all centered on the human impact of artificial intelligence.

TiE Silicon Valley board member Manish Gupta explained the change of name at the onset of the event.

“The need for what TiE can do has changed, and the need to change the name is working towards the new entrepreneur to help inflect,” he said.

The two-day-long event, co-convened by Ravinder Paul Singh and Sandeep Vij and hosted by TiE Silicon Valley with a cohort of more than 350 volunteers, featured 275 speakers including several grand keynotes provided to the more than 5,000 event-goers, including many from the Indian American community.

Day 1, which featured tracks such as AI/Machine Learning, FinTech, Cybersecurity, GlobalConnect-Inbound, Blockchain Apps, Internet of Things and TiE Women, kicked off with a triumvirate of business big-wigs including Splunk chief executive Doug Merritt, former Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka and SymphonyAI Group and Wadhwani Foundation founder Romesh Wadhwani.

Merritt, the first speaker of the trio, touched on a number of items regarding AI, which he said began to draw interest from him during his childhood.

In citing his young life of moving 11 times by the time he was 13 years old, Merritt said he learned change is constant and led him to wonder how he could control the change.

“The ability to imagine, conceive … is the core foundation why I got into tech,” Merritt added.

In advising the entrepreneurs in the crowd, the Splunk CEO said there is a need to adopt a growth mindset.

“You’re either growing or you’re dying,” he said, insisting that success is predicated by an entrepreneur being “comfortable being uncomfortable” and to make constant adjustments.

He stressed that the current data revolution – Splunk is a company focused on data – is going to be one of the most impactful revolutions.

“Data is the foundation of the future of economy, and it’s still in its infancy.”

Sikka, the former head of Infosys, said he is now spending some much needed time with family, but said he has plans to re-enter the tech world in the not-too-distant future.

His speech focused on how AI, while it has grown leaps and bounds over the years, is still very far from being at a point where robots are superior to humans.

In order for AI to become more reliable – referencing an incident in which an Uber driverless car hit and killed a pedestrian – Sikka said there needs to be more balanced research, better policy-making and regulatory work, better education, easier to use tools, and lots more applications.

“We are either people that wait for people to tell us what to do, or we are people who use their imagination and see what isn’t there,” Sikka said. “(Our imagination) is the destiny that can keep us going in the long run.”

Wadhwani took the time to talk some sense into individuals who feel that AI and robots will take away jobs from humans.

“At the end of previous revolutions (highlighting the industrial revolution and others) the economy was better and society was much better,” he said. “The claims of doom and gloom … I’m not a believer. It’s just the normal evolution of time.”

The entrepreneur and philanthropist urged the investors and entrepreneurs in the crowd to try and use the AI revolution – one that he insists has been waiting to happen for decades – should be used to help underprivileged people across the globe.

“My strong believe is that the next 10 years will be the golden age in AI,” Wadhwani said, stressing the importance to be bold and shoot for scalable companies rather than settling for creating a small company with intentions to be bought out. “I believe AI can be much more beneficial to helping underprivileged people across the world – more so than helping businesses.”

Wadhwani, among the richest Indian-origin leaders across the globe, concluded his speech by inviting entrepreneurs to “Be bold. Be smart. Be generous.”

Among the morning panels at the conference on Day 1 included a panel discussing immigration options for entrepreneurs. The panel talked about the EB-5 visa, which allows would-be entrepreneurs a fast-track to a permanent green card.

RSA chief technology officer Zulfikar Ramzan and RSA president Rohit Ghai had a fireside chat in a panel titled “Challenges in Cybersecurity.” RSA helps organizations manage digital risk.

“AI, much like any technology, is a target and a weapon,” Ghai noted. “The biggest challenges are to translate cyber risks into business opportunities.”

Ramzan said that defending against AI threats is when it is in use, noting that security has done well protecting against AI at rest, and said that’s the focus that needs to be honed in on in the future.

The duo went on to discuss a number of hurtles with AI and cybersecurity and the cat-and-mouse game there is with threats and defending those breaches.

“I think AI will move the needle with cybersecurity,” Ramzan said, adding he’s not sure how much it will move. “But I think we should definitely take the opportunity to use it in cybersecurity.”

Three women – Madhura Konkar Belani, Shanthi Iyer and Julia Castro Abrams – in the “Road to Innovation Success: Journey, Advice and Collaboration Stories” session, discussed their careers to success.

Iyer has catapulted from an engineer early on to become vice president of information technology of Cisco; Belani become an executive at Danal Inc.; and Abrams serves as the chief executive and chair of How Women Lead. The panel was moderated by Team4Tech co-founder Julie Clugage.

The business leaders provided insights to the more than 100 women in the crowd into their path to success and recommendations on how to move up the chain in any given company.

“Make sure not to just have a mentor, but have an advocate,” Iyer said to the crowd, citing a story about an advocate who pushed her to stick with her current position. “I think that changes the game. If everyone did it for one or two people, imagine the impact we can have.”

Added Belani, “Reach out to senior exec women at major companies. You’d be amazed with the response you have.”

Inspiring speakers Ankit Jain, Nakul Mandan and Shilpa Gulati – alongside moderator Ashmeet Sidana – spoke to hundreds gathered in ballroom A1 to hear about startup opportunities in enterprise AI.

Jain is the founding partner at Gradient Ventures and director of engineering at Google; Mandan is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners; and Gulati is a software engineering team lead and roboticist at LinkedIn.

“Develop algorithms that don’t need much data,” Gulati said of startup opportunities, adding infrastructure would be a second opportunity. Healthcare, agriculture and robotics were other options.

Jain said, “I think we need data for certain kinds of AI,” but not all. He elaborated that opportunities could exist with startups to build algorithms with data regarding everyday things.

The key for Mandan is that “when the data comes through, you can actually act on it.”

Other panels included the evolution and future of AI platforms, combatting advanced cybersecurity threats, how to successful harness machine learning to combat fraud, and chat bots, among others.

More thought-provoking business executives spoke to kickstart Day 2 of the conference. Among the keynote speakers included Zscaler chief executive, chairman and founder Jay Chaudhry and Harness chief executive and co-founder Jyoti Bansal.

Chaudhry detailed his journey from growing up without running water or electricity to becoming a serial entrepreneur which led to founding Zscaler and going public with that company after a 10-year struggle.

“Don’t rush with your decisions,” Chaudhry, who provided six lessons to succeed, advised. “Think it through and make the right decision before going forward.” He added, “If you’re building a serious startup, build some serious technology.”

Bansal, who grew up in India and waited seven years to get a green card to start a business, said it was always his plan to found a startup.

“If you are passionate about something … there’s no rush,” the former head of App Dynamics said, adding for the entrepreneurs, that if they are truly passionate about something, they should have in their mind it will be a 10-year plan.

Bansal went on to provide invaluable advice for would-be entrepreneurs on the work ethic and methods to take to push their startups forward.

“Don’t overcomplicate things,” Bansal stressed. “(Another advice) for me to inspire people to work on your dream.”

The morning also featured a CFO Perspectives panel featuring Tesla chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja, Levi Strauss executive vice president and CFO Harmit Singh, Visa EVP and CFO Vasant Prabhu, and Sand Hill Group founder M.R. Rangaswami. The panelists talked about their respective journeys in the financial industry.

An intriguing track that ran the duration of Day 2 of TiE Inflect was Words of Wisdom. Among the panels within the track was VC Mythbusters, including Khosla Ventures venture partner Brian Byun, Streamlined Ventures founder Ullas Naik, and Menlo Ventures partner Venky Ganesan, moderated by Sidley Austin LLP partner Hank Barry.

“It’s a pretty exciting time to be an entrepreneur,” Ganesan said. “There’s been an explosion of seed funds … which means it is a better time to start a company.”

Added Naik, whose company provides early-stage funding, the best startups are the ones who are laser focused on their company’s plan for growth.

Across the board, Ganesan, Naik and Byun said that while the venture companies provide funds, the success rate of any startup is based solely on the passion of the entrepreneur to solve a genuine problem that affects that person’s life and can benefit many.

Later in the day, the TiE Youth track featured panels such as “Girls Power,” which highlighted Will Be There Foundation founder Aditi Bagepalli, CropDrop founder Anya Shrivastava, and 13-year-old Dang Capital chief executive officer Taarini Dang.

The TiE Youth track also featured speeches by Miss San Jose 2018 and Ivy Sister founder Jacqueline Wibowo, Sapien CEO and co-founder Ankit Bhatia, and Barn & Willow founder and CEO Trisha Roy, among others.

The complete list of tracks throughout Day 2 featured Health Tech, Emerging Tech, GlobalConnect-Outbound, DevOps and MarTech.

B.J. Arun, chief executive of July Systems, was also formally introduced as the president-elect of TiE Silicon Valley by current TiE SV president Ram Reddy in the opening moments of the conference.

“It’s a privilege to be able to give back as head of this organization after Ram,” Arun said at the conference. “I’m excited to leverage the work that has already been done.”

The TiE Inflect conference also featured an expo floor with dozens of startups and other companies which provided information to attendees. The conference wrapped May 5 evening with a gala event featuring entertainment.

More information about the conference can be found by visiting www.TiEinflect.org or by downloading the TiE Inflect app on Apple and Android devices.

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