Education system needs an overhaul for entrepreneurship to thrive like in the US: SmartPlay Tech CEO Pradeep Vajram


SmartPlay Technologies is an established design services company with expertise in digital, analog, wireless software and system design. With design centers in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Noida, San Jose, San Diego and Singapore, the company has emerged as one of the fastest growing technology services companies in the world.

Pradeep Vajram brings to SmartPlay over 20 years of semiconductor industry experience having executed at all levels of responsibilities in design and development of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) products. Prior to SmartPlay, Pradeep was the VP of Engineering at Qualcomm, heading the Indian semiconductor division in Bangalore. Under his leadership, Qualcomm Bangalore Design Center developed as a strong center of excellence and delivered multiple products successfully. Pradeep Vajram is a key member of Spike Acquisition team that helped setup the Bangalore Design Centre (India) for Qualcomm.

In Part 1we had discussed how SmartPlay Technologies thrived in the semiconductor industry during recession.

In Part 2, we will focus on topics like the startup scene in India and the US, challenges that hardware startups face, and more.

Here are excerpts from our conversation with Pradeep Vajram, President & CEO, SmartPlay Technologies.

Startup scene in India and the US

Considering the semiconductor industry, the US is at a much more advanced stage, about 50 years ahead of India but our country is catching up though. In the last 15 -20 years, infrastructure and talent in India have improved a great deal. Both software and hardware industries have improved and even the talent pool has evolved both in volume and quality.

The startup ecosystem is more advanced in the US though. Startups won’t happen just because of interest or funds. They happen because of the ecosystem in educational institutes, strong local market and engineering expertise.

Though India is improving, it is currently not at par with the US when it comes to research and support systems in educational institutes. India needs a stronger platform, where aspiring entrepreneurs can get support, mentorship and resources. All these things have to happen. There is a huge appetite for local consumption that is waiting to be tapped. VCs are also more open to investing now.

Education is still weak, though. There has to be a partnership between educational institutions and industries. This is one field where the US does very well. They have good tie ups between colleges and industries, which help students there start up more easily as they have access to funds and resources more easily. As we all know, many global companies initially started out in colleges or garages of college students, so there is a need to catch these talents when they are young.

The main focus in India right now is for engineers and other graduates to land jobs.

Educational institutes are not strong enough or don’t have the connectivity and outreach to support entrepreneurship at this stage.

In India, entrepreneurship comes more into the picture after a few years of working in the industry so that there is a financial cushion to fall back on in case of roadblocks later on. Many prefer to play it safe.

After achieving certain economic standards, many take the plunge and take up entrepreneurship. It is easier to starup now than a few decades ago, where one had to take care of other extended family members and other responsibilities as well. Now with nuclear families, youngsters’ have fewer burdens and have more opportunities and can take calculated risks.

Challenges for tech and hardware startups

In general all over the world, semi-conductor companies are few. This is because the amount of initial investment needed is high, at least half a billion dollar idea is needed to get funded. For these reasons, hardware startups are more difficult to start.

SmartPlay is self-funded. As Pradeep already had one exit in Spike Technologies, he knew the industry very well and felt that he could run a services company in this sector without any outside investment.

He felt that outside investment will help in accelerated growth, but he wanted to grow the company organically at a steady pace.

Roadblocks and overcoming them

Success does not come without failures. There are always certain things which do not go according to plan. In 2010, SmartPlay planned to build reference phone designs and put together a team to build phones from scratch in India to compete with the Chinese.

Indian companies like Micromax and Karbonn would look to China for chip designs and then rebrand them in India.

SmartPlay’s aim was to build the entire phone on Indian soil. So they allocated a 40-member team to work on it and burned about 1.5-2 million dollars on it. Though the idea was good, they realized that they had underestimated how strong China was in this field. To make things worse, they received no local support as well. Finally, the project has to be scrapped.

Timing is also very important. Pradeep felt that maybe they had entered too early in the field, which could also be one of the other factors for their failure.

But the entire process helped the company learn a lot about software components, which helped them grow their company on the software front. So in the end there was a silver lining for the entire episode.

" We sometimes made mistakes hiring at senior levels as well. If senior folks are not efficient it can have considerable impact on the company. But we corrected our mistakes quickly." said Pradeep about other mistakes they had committed.

On success

“Success is a matter of perspective. I do not consider myself to be extremely successful, I just love what I do and have been surrounded by great people who are passionate about what we are doing.”, said Pradeep.

One thing I feel really good about when I look at our 1000+ employees is that we have created an environment and provided employment to so many people.

On how to maintain a balance between corporate and personal life

Maintaining work-life balance is very important. Looking back, an entrepreneur should have wonderful memories of both aspects of his or her life. There is no magic to maintaining the balance, but having great team members by your side is important, so that one can delegate tasks, share successes and also sleep peacefully at night knowing there is a team to back you up in case of any adversities.

In the initial stages of your startup it is acceptable if an entrepreneur does not delegate effectively but as the company grows delegation becomes extremely important as the entrepreneur needs to focus on the big picture and cannot get involved in the nitty-gritties of everything as it can prove to be counter-productive.


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