Entrepreneurship: Startup Weekend in Chennai

Ever wondered what it takes to be an entrepreneur? The professional and personal challenges, the high and lows, the failures and the success?

Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 1800 past events in 120 countries around the world in 2014. Today we speak to Mr. Nivas Ravichandran, an IEEE volunteer at heart of this program.

Big Picture

Nivas, tell us a little about yourself and your IEEE involvement.

I am Nivas Ravichandran and I work as a Growth Specialist at a startup called Frilp. I have been an IEEE Volunteer for the past 6 years and have organized more than 150+ events under IEEE. I belong to IEEE Madras Section and I volunteer with IEEE Region 10 as a member of the Electronics Communication and Information Management (ECIM) committee. I am also a part of the IEEE India Strategic Initiative in the Entrepreneurship Wing to foster Entrepreneurship amongst IEEE members across India. I am very passionate towards IEEE and love to give back to the society. A Social Media savvy person too.

Mr. Nivas Ravichandran

Mr. Nivas Ravichandran, IEEE Young Professional driving Entrepreneurship

What is Startup Weekend Chennai, how did it come about and what role does an IEEE volunteer such as you play in this?

Startup Weekend is a three day event during which groups of developers, business folks, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists, aspiring entrepreneurs and many others pitch ideas for new products, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by the evening of the third day. Startup Weekend Chennai was started in 2014 and this is the 4th Edition with a specific focus theme on Finance Technology. Finance Technology encompasses organizations and applications that provide financial services through the engagement of technology. During the three days, ideas were validated, user research was conducted and a minimum viable product was built over a period of 54 hours.  I was an organizer of the Startup Weekend Chennai and IEEE Madras Section Young Professionals also partnered with Startup Weekend Chennai to help reach out to Students and Young Professionals across cities. IEEE members were provided an exclusive discount to be a part of the event.

Demo Pitch 1

Whether entrepreneurs found companies, find a cofounder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside their usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups.

Who are the participants of the startup weekend? 

The participants comprised predominantly of three categories – Hustlers (Business folks), Hackers and Designers. There were 110 participants from industry and academia from various parts of India in the age group of 17 – 55. It must be said that a majority of them were in their the early 20s. In total we had 36 Pitches and 15 Teams formed during the FinTech Edition.

Who are the mentors and coaches in the program? Can you highlight a few of the key personnel?

The program had 7 mentors, 2 speakers and 5 judges for the event. The mentors included Ashwini Asokan (CEO, Mad Street Den – An Artificial Intelligence and Computer Vision based Startup), Deepak Natarajan (AVP Growth, Freecharge – An Online Recharge Application), Vijay Babu (Founder – India Operations, Altiscale), Krish Subramanian (Co-Founder & CEO, Chargebee Subscription Billing), Alladi Ram, CR Venkatesh & Ramanathan RV. As it is a Hackathon format of an event, there were not many speaker sessions. We hosted 2 lightning talks from Harshal Deo (VP Data Technology – Paypal) and Anupam Pahuja (GM APAC Technology Paypal). The judges comprised of senior folk in the FinTech space from Chennai and a few Angel Investors.

Interaction and Mentoring

Interaction and Mentoring

Can you tell us about some of most impressive ideas you have had a chance to hear about this weekend? 

There were 36 ideas pitched out of which 15 were short listed based on voting by the participants. A few of the interesting ideas were

  • PaysnapA system that optimizes your online transactions while maximizing returns
  • Loan SenseHelps monitor your loans against new loan schemes in financial market
  • SmartpayAn app that enables local merchant who do micro transactions to accept digital payments
  • PrepayRA platform to help SMEs sell their Account Receivables to Banks and increase profits.

Demo Pitch 2

The IEEE Young Professionals group has started to focus on Entrepreneurship as one of its key projects. In your view how can the IEEE Young Professionals help IEEE members with entrepreneurship?

I believe it is the right time for IEEE Young Professionals to start focusing on Entrepreneurship. IEEE YP could play a very crucial role in encouraging IEEE Student and other members to pursue Entrepreneurship. We could organize Section Level or Country Level meet-ups, talks and Hackathons for members to come up with ideas, interact and find the right talent to form teams. If we start setting the stage for young professionals to meet and share ideas in the right platforms we could automatically foster Entrepreneurship among the members. In India (Under the IEEE India Strategic Initiative), we are also working on an Entrepreneurship Development Program, which prepares IEEE Student and Young Professional Members across multiple cities. We recently piloted the program in one of the cities and had an amazing response and reach. In a few months, we are expected to launch the same program across multiple cities in India.

Ideation and Validation

Ideation and Validation

The IEEE GOLDRush team thanks Nivas Ravichandran for his contribution to today’s article which should serve as an inspiration to all IEEE members. We look forward to hearing more about the great ideas and initiatives as a result of the startup weekend.

Interview conducted by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, GOLDRush

Who am I? Qualcomm, Motorola, IEEE and San Diego

Today we have the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Xun Luo, a research staff member at Qualcomm Inc, an adjunct faculty member at the University of California, San Diego, and a distinguished guest professor at Tianjin University of Technology, China.

Dr. Luo is also a Program Evaluator for the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET. In 2014, Dr. Luo co-founded the IEEE San Diego SIGHT group – Connected Universal Experiences Labs, which dedicates itself to breaking the geographical, cultural and lingual barriers between volunteers and people in need. Connected Universal Experience Labs has now evolved into a multi-national, multi-society incubator of for-public benefit projects.

Dr Luo with some of his students

Dr Luo with some of his students

Dr Luo can briefly tell us a little about yourself and the work that you do at Qualcomm.

Well, I grew up in China and I came to the US for my graduate studies. I got my Masters in Mathematics, out of my hobby, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I got fond of Commodity Pricing. While my PhD research was in very topical fields of Pervasive Computing and Visualization. I worked with a professor of finance for a year and published a report on crude oil price prediction and I am still receiving hundreds of requests these days for the model source code. After graduation, I was lucky enough to get into the mobile communication industry, first at Motorola Labs and then at Qualcomm. I worked at the research institutes of these two companies.

At Qualcomm I conduct connectivity research, which spans from radio networks to local area networks.In layman terms, you can say 3G/4G, WiFi and Bluetooth technology. In the past few years, I was have been researching these technologies and I have several numerous research papers and  8 patents.

In my part time, I serve as an adjunct faculty member at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and a distinguished guest professor at Tianjin University of Technology, China.

How did you get involved with IEEE?

That is a very interesting story. San Diego has a very vibrant IEEE community and every year they hold about 50-60 technical meetings. Many attendees are attracted by the interesting topics of these meetings. Back in 2008, I had just started my career and all the topics seemed very exciting to me and they were delivered by volunteers who were experts in their field. For example, one of the local meeting was able to invite Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Qualcomm’s founder as a panellist. This clearly says a lot for the San Diego IEEE community. I was impressed by the dedication and passion of the local IEEE volunteers and eventually I decided to join. I started as the chair of Computer Chapter and ran approximately 40 meetings a year. I became the section chair In 2012 and had the honour of leading the IEEE San Diego Section to win the “Outstanding Section Award of Region 6”.

“The IEEE volunteering experience is very rewarding. I have had the pleasure of working with passionate and bright people, grew my leadership capabilities and was able to to embrace multi-national team work.” 

 

Dr Luo receiving the award for Outstanding Section in 2011

Dr Luo receiving the award for Outstanding Section in 2011

How have you personally benefited from being an IEEE member?

IEEE has helped me in so many ways that it is hard to summarise in short. However the three key area that I would like to highlight are:

  • Technical: Contributions in the form of the IEEE Digital Library proceedings, literature and talks delivered by the individuals/teams who are leading the industry.
  • Leadership: Through volunteering, I was able to developed great organisational skills and to work as a team in order to achieve bigger goals. Several initiatives today are going to impact tens of thousands of IEEE members’ lives; for instance, the IEEE SIGHT initiative.
  • Friendship: I made friends and visited some of the most unexpected places in the world. I have been to several Indian cities and rebellion-controlled areas of Colombia to name a few. What is most exciting is that no matter what people’s political views may be, all engineers love technology and the idea of exchanging information with their peers takes precedence. I have undertaken adventures with friends to some very intriguing parts of our planet and hope to continue doing so.

What advice can you provide to IEEE Young Professionals who are wanting to pursue in highly prestigious companies, like Qualcomm?

First of all, IEEE is a technical institution, not a university; it provides great networking opportunities. My suggestion is make good use of the IEEE network and try to get in touch with professional members in various disciplines. The second thing is grow your leadership capabilities. We live in an age of innovation, more or less of entrepreneurship. Even if you work at a company, you are still required to have the capability and mindset to start a job from scratch. So, innovation, leadership and technical capability are some things that you definitely need to further develop while you study.

qualcomm-office

Another important point is that you need to ensure that you work with the most passionate and bright people. I would say that the IEEE is a vehicle to enable this for young professionals. Ensure that you work in teams and feed of each others knowledge. This team will help you in achieving many things. Firstly, it will help you to establish yourself technically. Secondly, it will provide the network for you to get noticed. You could be a great engineer but not noticed, you could be noticed but are not a good engineer. You need to have talent and you need someone to discover your talent. So, you need to prepare yourself for this and you need to work with people because at the end of the day, you need to do something big, something innovative, something that is by itself of high quality, that is self-contained, where you can prove yourself. Without a team, that is not possible. So, connect with people and make the best use of your connections.

Interview conducted by Neha Dawar, Assistant Editor, GOLDRush

Article edited by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, GOLDRush

Uganda: Community Projects for Economic Growth

Today we are highlighting some very exciting Young Professional activity in Uganda with Mr. Ezabo Baron who has been driving the Engineering Projects in Community Service program (EPICS).

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Can you please briefly describe the IEEE community in Uganda?

The IEEE Uganda Subsection was formed in 2013. In the last 2 years the section has worked closely with the IEEE Kenya Section. As engineers we had to realize that we have big roles to play in our community development. We needed to get our people involved as a way of addressing the needs of the society.  There was also a need for us to unite our engineers and to take part in standards development for our country’s engineering products.

We have over 40 active members abd are continuously working to recruit more. Our members meet at the beginning of each year to set activity strategies. We are actively engaging them in the Teacher In-Service Program (TISP) and Engineering Projects in Community Service program (EPICS). Some of our student members have participated in the Mobile Application Development Contests (MadC). A large portion of our effort is in raising IEEE awareness in universities, government bodies, schools and industry.

The IEEE culture in Uganda is alive. From our observations, a vast proportion of the professional community is aware of the IEEE and our subsection has been able to  help them learn more about its benefits and how working with the IEEE can be beneficial. We are yet to form student branches, the effort is to recruit more students in major academic institutions and help them establish their own branches. This is amongst the top priorities.

IEEE Members at the TISP Training, Nairobi 2014

IEEE Members at the TISP Training, Nairobi 2014

Tell us about your personal IEEE journey and what has been your major achievements to date

I got to know about the IEEE in 2008 through a friend who gave me one of the magazines to read. I was fascinated by the diversity within IEEE. Upon joining the IEEE, I was elected as publicity secretary for the Uganda Subsection. Recently, the IEEE Ad Hoc Committee for Activities in Africa appointed me to serve as the Community Moderator for IEEE Collabratec Kampala Uganda Community. I publicize IEEE activities in Uganda, mobilize members for meetings and events. I am also active in the creation of promotional materials for our local subsection. I have participated numerous times in IEEE trainings in East Africa and am one of the Subsection TISP Champions currently working with members in Uganda to develop a web-based solution for technology innovation management. This has been possible with generous support from EPICS in the IEEE Committee.

What are goals of IEEE EPICS for 2015-2016? 

In 2012 the government of Uganda developed a new framework for Science, Technology and Innovation development, empowering various stakeholder organizations to take active roles in implementing the STI development plan. In line with this, we have engaged university and high school students from Makerere, Kyambogo University and Entebbe Secondary School to work with Humanitarian Innovation Technical Institute (not-for-profit innovation structure) and IEEE Uganda Subsection members to develop a web-based solution for Science, Technology and Innovation Management. This will be used  to collaboratively generate, identify and select innovative community projects for further development as a way of uplifting the population from absolute poverty.

High School Students Make Robots During National Robitcs Challange Cup at Makerere University

High School Students Make Robots During National Robotics Challenge Cup at Makerere University

How will the EPICS projects really impact and change the overall condition of Uganda?

The EPICS projects will help to strengthen Uganda’s invention, innovation and entrepreneurship base by:

  • Enhancing research activities in science and technology
  • Improving awareness of community inventions and innovations
  • Providing an environment for intellectual property protection
  • Leading to the achievement of financial stability through arrangement of partnership with investors, donors
  • Creating employment opportunities and promoting industrial development

How can the overall IEEE community assist the IEEE Uganda and the EPICS project during this time?

IEEE Uganda recognizes that there are a number of communities out there who need similar platforms. We look forward to partnering with various organizations and technologists in establishing more of these innovation platforms in various IEEE countries. Visibility of such a valuable solution is possible through various publications and we are looking for organizations that can help in raising awareness of what we are doing.

Ezabo Baron and Lwanga Herbert Introducing IEEE to Students in Makerere University

Ezabo Baron and Lwanga Herbert Introducing IEEE to Students in Makerere University

We have also scheduled entrepreneurship training for scientists and engineers in Uganda where members will be trained in the processes of innovation and inventions.

Interview conducted by Sarang Shaikh, Senior Assistant Editor, GOLDRush

Article edited by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, GOLDRush

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Today’s story is about a group of talented IEEE Young Professionals from the Technical College of Kirkuk (Iraq), who, amidst all the instability, invested their attention to developing future leaders. IEEE Senior Member Hussein Al-Bayati along with the Member Development Officer Ahmad Alaiady and the Deputy Chairman of Iraq Sections Dr. Sattar Sadkhan delivered an inspirational and interactive lecture on ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.

IEEE Senior member Hussein Al-Bayati delivering the lecture

IEEE Senior member Hussein Al-Bayati delivering the lecture

 

Although motivation for Young Professionals around the world to tackle global problems is not lacking, they are not always equipped with the knowledge they need. They must take initiative in developing the skills and attributes to succeed in life. This was the intent behind organizing a lecture on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

It is commendable, something most of us may never fully comprehend, that the IEEE Young Professionals team in Iraq is striving to produce future leaders, better leaders to lead their nation towards a conflict free country. The lecture was based on the famous Dr. Stephen Covey’s book – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Dr. Stephen Covey is a well-known author who has inspired millions around the world to lead a life of principles. His message for leading a meaningful and successful life is woven in the 7 habits of highly effective people. As David Starr Jordon, the Founding President of Stanford University, states in the very first lines of the book that there is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living. And that is how the author sets out to attempt to change our deepest paradigms.

Dr. Stephen Covey

Dr. Stephen Covey

“Most people’s lives run on auto-pilot and there is no self-awareness about their daily habits. This results in the absence of a plan for life, and that they do not get the opportunity to lead their lives. Most people’s lives are affected by external factors like the environment, community, family and friends” says Hussein Al-Bayati.

HABIT 1: Be proactive – Because we are humans, we have the ability to see ourselves, our attitudes and behaviours as though we were someone else. This ability called ‘self-awareness’ has helped us advance as a race in the most significant ways. As long as we are self-aware, we can see the consequences of our words and actions and say and do the right things, we can choose. In the words of the author, our basic nature is to act and not be acted upon. Each of the 6 habits depends on the ability of being proactive. It assists in creating a balance between P(Production) and PC (Production Capacity).

HABIT 2: Start with the end in mind – The most fundamental application of this habit is to imagine the end of your life as a reference against which all life’s experience will be marked. This helps to significantly contribute daily to our lives. To start with the end in mind also means clearly knowing the destination for without that knowledge, one is lost. We either design our lives or we operate in the default mode. The most effective way to start the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement. In essence, habit 1 lets you be the creator and habit 2 is your final creation.

HABIT 3: Put first things first – Contrary to belief, the third habit points that the key is not to prioritize what’s on schedule, but to schedule your priorities. The first step towards developing habit 3 is to make a list of roles that you play, say, in a week. Once the roles are defined, goals need to be defined and then each goal must be translated into a task. Prioritizing activities even before knowing if they will help achieve your personal mission is disastrous as you might prioritize and achieve goals which you never needed. Using a computer metaphor, habit 1 says “You are the program”, habit 2 says “Write the program” and habit 3 says “Run the program”.

HABIT 4: Think Win-Win – Win-Win is a mindset which constantly seeks to mutual benefit for all parties involved. In the words of the author, win-win sees life as a cooperative, not a competitive arena. Win-Win is a paradigm based on the fundamental principle that there is enough for everyone in this world. There are three character traits essential to the win-win paradigm which is Integrity, Maturity and the Abundance mentality.

HABIT 5: Seek First to Understand and then to be understood – Trying to understand other people’s points of views is very important as it assists us in being empathetic towards them. Not all emotions can be heard in words and hence trying to first understand other people gives us the reference we need to make them understand our point of view. This is a powerful habit of interdependence.

HABIT 6: Synergize – The exercise of all the above habits help in the habit of synergy. In the words of the author, Synergy is the essence of Principle centred leadership. It catalyses, unifies and unleashes the greatest power in people. The definition of synergy is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you plant two plants close together, their roots will combine and make the soil fertile so as to benefit both the plants. The whole is better than its parts or one plus one equals three or more.

HABIT 7: Sharpen the Saw – Habit 7 is the principle of balanced self-renewal. In the words of the author, habit 7 is taking the time to sharpen the saw instead of wasting time and energy sawing with an unsharpened saw. It’s enhancing the greatest asset we have – us. We need to replenish our body, our soul, and our minds to ensure we work effectively. Daily exercises for the physical body, nourishment for the soul by doing things we love and our minds by self-analysing daily can be powerful tools to sharpen the saw.

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The lecture on the 7 habits of highly effective people saw a very good turnout which is just proof of the direction in which positive minded IEEE Young Professionals in Iraq are moving towards.

Lastly, the IEEE GOLDRush team would like to congratulate the IEEE Young Professionals team in Iraq for organizing some outstanding events amidst such unrest. We are proud to present this article to the world in the hope that Iraq can be seen in new light, in the light of hope and courage and a strong willingness to create better future leaders.

Article edited by Sneha Kangralkar, Assistant Editor, GOLDRush