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Institute Distinguished Lecture on "The Global Opportunity For Indian Institutions and Entrepreneurs"

Institute Distinguished Lecture on "The Global Opportunity For Indian Institutions and Entrepreneurs" 

The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay organized it’s  Distinguished Lecture on January 12, 2017.

Title:  “The Global Opportunity for Indian Institutions and Entrepreneurs”

Speaker: Dr Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande

President and Chairman of Sparta Group LLC,

Chairman of Tejas Networks


While the world is faced with growing challenges that may seem daunting, this is a unique opportunity for Indian Institutions to address these issues and lead the way. Increasingly institutes like IIT B, IIT M and others are being recognized as technology leaders in education.The entrepreneurial landscape in India is thriving and many graduates are choosing to take the startup plunge. Many of the Indian based solutions, like ecommerce, address the needs of the growing middle class but the real opportunity lies in unlocking the potential in the rest of India. More importantly, the scale and diversity of India’s population challenges one to think  outside the box and many of these new solutions have global impact and opportunity.

The Talk:

In the lecture, Dr, Deshpande stressed on how India has huge entrepreneurial talent and an edge in innovative solutions because of its population strength and cost advantage, and because “we are not scared of numbers” and can manage low-cost and scalable innovation. He stated that according to a UN study, the world economy will transition to an innovation-based one in a decade. Globally, 70 million entrepreneurs would be required, of which India should contribute 10 million, which is a long way from the 10,000 India has today.

Emphasising the opportunity for India, he cited the Akshay Patra Foundation (which is backed by theSandbox), which feeds 1.6 million children every day in government schools at a cost of just 12¢ cents a day. He shared with us an interesting anecdote of the time when Bill Clinton visited the foundation in 2014. The former US President was thoroughly amazed and said “ He was proud that Haiti had a facility of running 1000 meals a day, [but] here, one place was feeding 1,85,000 children at a time.” While Haiti has no scope for creating global capacity, India does, Dr. Deshpande claimed.

He continued further, pointing out that in an innovation-deprived cycle, the problems of impoverished communities become chronic, and eventually deadlocked. Embittered, communities complain, and expect the government and others to help them out. Dr. Deshpande says it is possible to help them transition from complaining to problem-solving: As another example, he said the Agastya International Foundation, after determining the volume of water sufficient to irrigate a specific stretch of land, had helped dig 100x100x50 feet farm ponds at five-acre intervals. Indian farm productivity is a dismal one-eighth of global standards, he said, because while farmers know what is to be done, they run short on execution capability.

He also spoke of the importance of relevance, without which “any thinking environment becomes clubby,” with people working only to impress peers. If there is relevance, he said, the group is more likely to pick on an idea that could have an impact. Relatedly, the ability to see problems and develop compassion is integral to social innovation. For potential innovators, his message was, “You do not make a sacrifice; you do it because you want to.” Passion, he said repeatedly, in his talk and in replies to audience questions, is the driving force behind innovation. There are no short cuts to innovation, he asserted.

In the end, he encouraged student innovators to take up philanthropy early. “When you care for others, you see how hard it is for them, and you appreciate all you have.”, he said.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande is an Indian-American venture capitalist and entrepreneur. He is involved either as the founder, a founding investor or chairman of several companies including Cascade Communications, Sycamore Networks, Coral Networks, Tejas Networks, Cimaron, Webdialogs, Airvana, Sandstone Capital, A123 Systems and Curata.  Dr. Deshpande lives in Boston and serves as a life-member of the MIT Corporation, and his support has made possible MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.

Dr. Deshpande holds a B. Tech. in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, an M.E. from the University of New Brunswick in Canada, and Ph.D from Queens University in Canada.

Dr. Deshpande was the co-chair of the National Council to support President Obama's innovation and entrepreneurship strategy.