SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This year’s TiEcon, the annual conference of The Indus Entrepreneurs, had a little of something for everyone.
The big names at the conference — including former GE CEO Jack Welch and his wife, business journalist Suzy Welch; Indian American serial pharmaceutical turnaround specialist John Kapoor; and Softtek CEO Blanca Trevino — provided the buzz at the conference with homespun advice on how entrepreneurs can succeed and prosper.
Welsh, who was a pioneer among U.S. multinationals in getting a foothold for GE in India decades ago, was particularly effusive in his praise of the talent coming from that country.
In a session moderated by Vivek Paul, former vice chairman of Wipro and a Welch protégé, the former GE chief executive said that he went to India looking for “low-cost and instead found high brains.”
“There is nothing like the Indian entrepreneurs. You’ve got the stuff,” he said. Paul pointed out that when he worked for Welch it was generally know that every “GE business had to have an India strategy.”
Suzy Welch told a standing-room only audience in the auditorium at the Santa Clara Convention Center that “the ultimate killer app begins and ends with a remarkable idea.”
Asked by Paul if he thinks about his legacy, Jack Welch responded, “Legacy is a bore.” He takes more pride in the fact that about 50 CEOs at U.S. corporations got their start under Welch at GE.
After the talk, there were long lines for the former GE chairman to sign copies of his new book, written with Suzy Welch, “The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career.”
TiE Silicon Valley president Venk Shukla told India-West that attendance broke all records for TiEcon this year, with nearly 4,700 signed up, many at the last minute as more speakers were being added to the jam-packed programs.
Tracks on cloud/security, data economy, Internet of Things, oil and gas, online education and social entrepreneurship were often standing-room only, as panels honed in on industry trends and strategies.
The diversity of speakers included San Francisco 49ers president Paraag Marathe, who delighted a packed crowd of youth with his insights at the TiE Youth Forum; Sacramento Kings owner and former Tibco CEO Vivek Ranadivé; White House data scientist D.J. Patil, the son of TiE co-founder and serial entrepreneur and investor Suhas Patil; and an update on Tesla Motors by chief information officer Jay Vijayan.
Unassuming and remarkably down-to-earth, Kapoor, the founder and chairman of Insys Therapeutics, was an inspiration to TiEcon attendees.
After coming to the U.S. with a degree from the University of Bombay and earning a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences at the University at Buffalo, he worked as a vice president of operations at a small pharmaceutical manufacturing plant.
After working there for six years, he became the general manager of a struggling pharmaceutical company, LyphoMed.
He reduced product losses at the company from 30% to the industry standard of 5%, thus ending a monthly hemorrhage of $50,000 to break even. He also convinced the owner of the company, Stone Container, to give him the first option to buy the company, even as he believed it might not be possible.
With a $10,000 investment, the Indian American entrepreneur acquired the company and it went public in 1983. He sold his stake in 1990 for about $100 million.
Listed on Forbes 2015 list of billionaires with $3.2 billion, the bulk of his wealth is concentrated in shares of Akorn Pharmaceuticals, an Illinois-based generics manufacturer that Kapoor has been involved with since the early 1990s, and Insys Therapeutics, a cancer-treatment maker that went public in May 2013.
Kapoor said he has two approaches as a serial entrepreneur. One is to take struggling companies and turn them around, and the other is to “get our own ideas and find an entrepreneur and build the company.”
His observation that cancer patients typically have periodic bouts of severe pain led his innovation of offering a spray, instead of the industry standard of pain-reducing lollipops and pills placed under the tongue. Pain relief came in two or three minutes instead of 30-40 minutes, an eternity for cancer sufferers, he said. The spray immediately carved out a market share approaching 50%.
His advice, “Stay humble and always listen to the marketplace.”
An entertaining afternoon session May 16 on the second day of the conference featured a talk by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara that went back and forth from serious to wry.
Introduced by software executive and investor MG Rangaswamy, who pointed out that, luckily for TiE attendees, Bharara has “no jurisdiction in California,” Bharara countered that he does have jurisdiction here and would investigate those who didn’t show up for his talk.
Also, the Indian American attorney added, that when he was told he would have to “wire up” before he spoke, he said, “you have it backwards,” referring obliquely to the wire taps he ordered that proved the undoing of hedge-fund trader Raj Rajaratnam.
On a serious note, the Indian American DA said all institutions “need to be risk-takers,” but the legal profession “has been quite slow to adopt innovation.”
He pointed out that terrorist groups have been using social media for recruitment purposes and prosecutors need entrepreneurs to approach government with ideas on new technology, such as a way to fight cybercrimes. “We need data to see where fraud is happening,” he added.
Other highlights of the afternoon session included an interview with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Arun Kumar, and a presentation by researcher and BusinessWeek columnist Vivek Wadhwa.
Kumar pointed out that his father encouraged him to devote time to public service and that government contracts provide entrepreneurs a way to “change the world” at a scale unequalled anywhere else.
Wadhwa followed up with a slick and thought-provoking presentation on cutting-edge developments in smartphones, robotics, medical technology and other fields.
Delegations came to TiEcon from India, Afghanistan, Brazil, Belgium and many other countries.
A panel on “Made in India” included high ranking officials from the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and the new state of Telangana.
One of the largest rounds of applause at any panel at the conference came when Jayesh Ranjan, Commissioner for Industries for the Telangana government, told the audience that, if projects with a intended investment of $30 million or more don’t get clearances by his state in 15 days, “you have a right to sue us.”
Al Kapoor, chairman of TiE Global, said that TiE now has chapters in 60 cities in 20 countries.