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Entrepreneur Mela: A Look at TiEcon 2014

When TiE holds its annual conference known as TiEcon in Silicon Valley, the technology world way beyond just the South Asian diaspora notices. This year was no different as over 4,000 people attended TiEcon 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center, May 16-17, with many of the heavyweights in the technology arena present, writes Ras H. Siddiqui.

(Above): Attendees networking at the TiEcon 2014. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) organization was founded in 1992 by a group of successful South Asians anchored in Silicon Valley technology industry. This group’s presence has now mushroomed way beyond its original roots as it now boasts over 14,000 members in many chapters across the globe including India and Pakistan. TiE Silicon Valley can now be referred to as “The Mother Ship” of this organization because it all started here.

Those who were slated to present grand keynotes included Steve Mollenkopf (CEO Qualcomm), Michael Rhodin and Manoj Saxena (IBM), Steve Lucas (president SAP), Romesh Wadhwani  (chairman & CEO Symphony Technology Group), Sanjay Poonen (EVP and GM of VMware) and Shahid Khan, president of Flex-N-Gate and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL football team.

(Above): Corporations of various sizes had set up shop to share their ideas and products. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

TiEcon 2014 was a two-day affair with the first day presenting three tracks under the subject headers of “Internet of Things,” “Big Data” and “Cloud Infrastructure” which each featured their own keynotes, panel discussions and fireside chats by venture capitalists, and new idea start-ups. The second day concentrated on Healthcare IT, Entrepreneurship and the futuristic NexGen Tech Service before lunch and continued on with Entrepreneurship, Energy: Oil and Impact Investing in the afternoon. There is a lot more that could be added here including the TiE50 start-ups awards program but for the purpose of this report we will concentrate on just a slice of the closing of Day 2.

Before approaching that finale some observations on the exhibitor company booths and entertainment. The San Jose State University Lucas School of Business was there along with the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund. The Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services was also present as well as Belgian Tech Startups and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (again just to name a few) along with many more companies just trying to get their foot in the door or to establish a stronger presence. A notable new was the RANG booth displaying ethnic Indian fashion wear for women, and then there was Mahindra displaying their sleek bike.

(Above): Winners of TiE50 receiving their awards. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

A part of the entertainment line up which this scribe could witness on Saturday night included the amazingly funny Sunil Thakkar who pushed the envelope of ethnic humor sparing no Punjabis, Gujaratis etc. in the audience.  Shekhar Rahate of haute couture gowns fame lit up the stage with eye-catching models displaying his impressive clothing line during the fashion show segment. Something more traditional was added with the Kathak dance performance by Shambhavi Dandekar and her co-performers plus some fine music by Robin John: The Band which livened things up for everyone.

The two grand keynote speeches that closed the business side of TiEcon 2014 earlier were delivered by Sanjay Poonen and Shahid Khan respectively. An observation first and then some detail. One commonality that exists in these leaders of large corporations and success stories in the business world who happen to be South Asian is that they are all great communicators. Both Sanjay and Shahid proved that theory correct. And incidentally, they reflected many of our own immigrant experiences when we arrived in the U.S. with just a few dollars in our pockets. The only difference is that a few became multi-millionaires and billionaires after many years of struggle in this country.

(Above): Crowd cheer TiE50 winners; a technology session in progress; speakers at this year’s TiEcon; Fremont, Calif.-based Canvas offered training and job placement opportunities for IT professionals. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

Poonen described his journey when he landed in this country and took the bus to cold Dartmouth with just $50 in his pocket. If you are willing to work hard, anything is possible, he said. But cultural adjustment is necessary he added. He charted his career path through tech companies including at Apple. He also shared his love of playing the piano. Poonen elaborated on innovation today and what needs to be focused on namely product, processes and people and the advantage that his company VMware has to offer. He ended his talk with quotes from Rabindranath Tagore and Nelson Mandela.

The richest South Asian in America today on the Forbes billionaires list (nearing a 4 Billion Dollar net worth), Lahore-born Shahid Khan delivered the final grand keynote at TiEcon 2014. It seemed somewhat fitting that the Santa Clara Convention Center venue of this conference is located right next door to the beautiful under-construction Levi’s Stadium which is to be the new home of the San Francisco 49ERS Football Team this coming August. Shahid Khan is the only South Asian to own an NFL football team in America, and along with Vivek Ranadive the only (majority) owner of a NBA basketball team (Sacramento Kings) the two are heroes for sports fans from India and Pakistan here, as they are members of a select club and we desis are sure proud of them.

Introduced by Sohaib Abbasi, CEO of Informatica, Shahid Khan is an amazing American success story one which has been featured in a CBS 60 Minutes television show (that film clip was shown here) during which his mother in Lahore was also interviewed. He arrived in Chicago, Ill., in late 1960’s to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne during a blizzard and spent his first night in a $2 room at a local YMCA (to which he later donated a sum of money) and his first job paid very low wages. He worked for Flex-N-Gate while attending university, was hired by it after graduation and later bought the company. Shahid started off with a short speech. He said that two great things about South Asians here which were significant: One, we were born in a culture, very nurturing with our parents that put the right values like education in us and two, when you take that and transpose it here in the U.S. and it is absolutely a 1-2 punch, a combination for success.

He said that he hoped we were here because we wanted to make a difference (and a few bucks). He added that IT is a good business but there is a big world outside IT and that health care and the automobile industry were bigger businesses.

(Above): The Levi’s Stadium is just across the street from the venue of this year’s TiEcon. It is the new home of the 49ERS Football Team. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

Khan said that he was coming to Silicon Valley from a very different background in entrepreneurship with another approach that we might look at. He later joined Abbasi in a casual chat during which Khan’s survival struggle and his eventual success in the automobile business world as a newcomer-outsider were discussed. Adaptability to change appeared to be his secret to success. His successful utilization of Japanese speaking graduate students to make his pitch to the auto industry in Japan should certainly be worthy of note in any business school textbook or class.

(Above): Seen at the TiEcon 2014: Seshan Rammohan, (walking on the right), is a veteran IITian. [Amar D. Gupta | Siliconeer]

On the subject of winning in football he thought that predicting wins is a very dangerous thing. In sports or business one has to find the best people and empower them, he said. A great deal more was talked about including his unique mustache which Khan partially attributed to his Punjabi identity or pride and his quest to emulate his grandfather.

To conclude, TiE (Silicon Valley) delivered another huge success with TiEcon 2014. It was good to be back here after a number of years and to see that this annual conference is still going strong.

Ras Hafiz Siddiqui is a South Asian American writer. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.


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