“Think big. Solve the problems of humanity”- Interview with Vivek Wadhwa, author, ‘The Immigrant Exodus’

vivek_wadhwaVivek Wadhwa is director of research at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialisation and executive in residence at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University. He is also vice president of innovation and strategy at Singularity University, and fellow at Stanford University and Emory University. Wadhwa is a regular columnist for the Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and Forbes.com. He is a frequent speaker at entrepreneurship events in India, and is the author of the acclaimed book, “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent” (see my book review here). Wadhwa joins us in this exclusive YourStory interview on entrepreneurship trends in the US and India.

by Madanmohan Rao

Q. What has been the reaction to your book in the US and other countries? Are there steps being taken to implement some of your immigration recommendations?

I have been blown away with the attention that it has received. It has been widely discussed in policy circles and major publications have cited it and praised the book. There is no doubt that it has positively influenced the debate.

How this translates into legislation is a different matter. Politics trumps common sense in Capitol Hill—as in other places—sadly.

Q. Other innovation experts argue that the real solution to the talent crisis is to fix the US education system so that it can create more home-grown entrepreneurs. What edge would you say immigrant entrepreneurs bring to the US that home-grown entrepreneurs may not have?

Yes, we need to fix the education system so that more American children study science and engineering. But even if this was overhauled today, it would take a decade to benefit from the investment. The US can’t wait—it needs these skilled immigrants today.

Immigrants who take the risk of migrating to the US are natural entrepreneurs. They left it all behind to bet on the unknown, didn’t they? That is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Q. Instead of an “America v/s the Rest” scenario, what can be done to team up entrepreneurs in other countries (eg China, India) with American entrepreneurs in the US, so that they can work together but from their own home-bases?

Yes, the returnees in particular are forging such ties. There are positives from the reverse brain-drain, and this is one of them.

Q. How do countries such as the UK, Finland and Japan compare to the US in terms of attracting entrepreneurs?

UK accepts entrepreneurs from all over the world. There are some political issues there, but the country has been quite welcoming. Finland and Japan are closed, homogenous societies. Not good for the long term.

Q: What steps do you suggest to the governments and companies of China and India to open up to immigrant entrepreneurs from other parts of the world, and help globalise their startups?

Right now, Indians and Chinese need to focus on their own markets. These are growing rapidly. Internet penetration is way behind in India — which means that the big opportunities lie ahead.

Q: What is your next book about?

I am doing two books. One on the dearth of women in technology: what is the problem and how do you fix it. The other book focuses on prescriptions for the US to keep its competitive edge.

Q: What are your parting words of advice to the startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?

Think big. Solve the problems of humanity. You can get rich while doing good for the world!

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Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao

Madanmohan Rao is research director at YourStory Media and editor of five book series (http://amzn.to/NpHAoE). His interests include creativity, innovation, knowledge management, and digital media. Madan is also a DJ and writer on world music and jazz. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao