TiECON Chennai 2011 seizes the entrepreneurial moments

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TiECON Chennai 2011 got off to a wet start. You still wonder if you can call it monsoon rain. At the fag end of November a furious downpour punctuated by a light drizzle. Like a toddler unwilling to let go of that little dirty teddy bear, the rains have sought to linger a little longer in the city which goes haywire in little ponds of water during monsoon. But little did the rain dampen the spirit of more than 1500 delegates in attendance. The annual flagship event of TiE Chennai got off to the traditional start with TiECON Awards and Gopal Srinivasan, Chairman of the Awards Committee (also CMD, TVS Capital), in conversation with the lifetime achievement award winner Suresh Krishna of Sundaram Fasteners. “Trust cannot be legislated or mandated, it has to be earned” were words of wisdom from Suresh Krishna, veteran entrepreneur of 40 years and he is right in saying so because the company he has steered has not seen an industrial strike in 40 years of his tenure. He said, “a great workforce drives organizations.” Later in his keynote speech, he elaborated on dharma and practicing ethics as an entrepreneur.The award winners ascended on the podium to receive their awards. Dr. Ashok Jhunjunwala, professor at IIT-Madras who brought the rural side of the economy with a missionary zeal into focus and thereby created an army of entrepreneurs to found social enterprises and head of RTBI (a rural technology incubator part of IIT-Madras), walked away with the inaugural Dhronacharya Award. The other winners are:

  • Dr. Arun, Vasan Healthcare – Entrepreneur of the Year
  • B.G. Raghupathy, BGR Energy Systems – Extreme Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Sridhar Vembu, ZOHO – Serial Entrepreneur of the Year
  • L. Ganesh, Rane Group – Distinguished Family Entrepreneur
  • Dr. Kamala Selvaraj, GG Hospital – Woman Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Dr. Srinivas, Jeevan Blood Bank – Social Impact of the Year
  • Vinod Harith, CMO Axis – Startup Entrepreneur of the Year

In a cross-fire with Govindaraj Ethiraj of Bloomberg UTV, the winners shared their perspectives. Dr. Ashok Jhunjunwala said, “willingness to fail a number of times and keep it going despite failure” are the traits he looks for in prospective entrepreneurs and he always catches them young. That shows remarkable aptitude in bringing 45 ventures to life.

Lakshmi Pratury, Curator of INK Conference (which is done in partnership with TED), was in a “millionaires of moments” conversation with iconic woman entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of Biocon, and V. Sumantran, Executive Vice Chairman of Hinduja Automotive that owns Ashok Leyland. “If you are risk-averse, it is difficult to stay with that idea,” said Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Sumantran betted on positive thinking to carry on. Lakshmi asked both the veterans to list their shock moments and Sumantran narrated how Jaguar went under down after a first-page flash of Tata’s partnership with it on Nano. Eventually, Tatas bought Jaguar. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw sought mentors to impress upon youngsters to understand that nothing can be built overnight. Sumantran felt young people have enormous opportunities with liberalization of the Indian economy. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw also wanted governance to be on track in India where rhetoric rarely matches action. “In India, we still haven’t understood the importance of giving back to society,” lamented Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Lakshmi ended up saying, “it is not the moments that you breathe that count but the moments that took your breath away.”

Panel discussions on the road less travelled, catalyzing market through capital, opportunities abound, enablers of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and opportunities to turn up trumps, and a keynote on NSE SME Exchange by Chitra Ramakrishna filled the day. A Tamil panel discussion involving Bharat Matrimony’s Murugavel Janakiraman and filmmaker Sharadha moderated by actor Mohan Ram is the vernacular addition to otherwise English content filling the conference. A skit by Anandram, popular TV actor, entertained the audience. Pitch to VC sessions saw active entrepreneur participation.

The enormous success of TiE Chennai as an ecosystem enabler can be attributed to some tradition that existed in Chennai maybe a couple of generations ago but might still exist only in a pinch now. When someone initiates a new journey (like starting up or studying abroad) but lacks the financial strength to do it, the network of friends, family and well wishers all will support it in some form. TiE Chennai has such a vast network - of entrepreneurs, mentors and well wishers, and commanded by people who have sought to renew the tradition of community coming forward to help the larger entrepreneurial initiatives.

– Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist