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TiECON 2014 Awards showcase the heart of business in Chennai

Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy
posted on 5th November 2014
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For a careful observer, the TiECON 2014 Awards kept up its tradition though with a slight departure from its past. The core focus of the awards in the past was on what we would call new-age entrepreneurship, largely related to technology, media, and processing industries, with occasional recognition of other industries as well. In some ways, TiECON 2014 awards endeavoured to look deep, and fished out innovations in family businesses and businesses that every Chenniiate interacts with.

Entrepreneur-Award
From L-R: The TiECON CHENNAI 2014. Entrepreneur Award Nite winners:
Entrepreneur of the Year – Uvaraj and Kanni Uvaraj, Poorvika Mobiles; Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2 – Dr Sailakshmi, Ekam Foundation; Extraordinary Entrepreneur of the Year – Vellayan Subbiah, Cholamandalam Finance; Lifetime Achievement Award – G Rajendran, GRT group; Start-up Entrepreneur of the Year – Radha Daga, Triguni Foods; Best TiE Associate Member Entrepreneur of the Year – Raja Varatharaju, Syona Cosmetics; Next Generation Entrepreneur of the Year – R. Dinesh, TVS Logistics; Social Entrepreneur of the Year 1 – Dr Jayashree Vencatesan, CareEarth Trust.

But for visionary entrepreneurs, none of the big names associated with family-owned business groups in Madras would have grown to their sizes today – the Amalgamations group, the TVS group, the Rane group, the TTK group, and Sanmar, to quote a few examples, which have been recognized by TiECON. While Mallika Srinivasan, Vice Chairman of the Amalgamations group, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award last year, N. Srinivasan, Managing Director of India Cements, received the award in 2009 followed by N. Sankar, Chairman of Sanmar group, in 2010.

The man with the midas touch, G. Rajendran, who in 1964 started GRT Jewellers, a name associated with tradition, auspicious beginnings, festivity, celebration, and goodwill, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award this year. More than jewels, the good augury is counted as one of the greatest assets of GRT Jewellers, and Rajendran, not quite satisfied with scaling golden heights, has diversified into hospitality and education sectors. His humble demeanor and attributing the success to his team belied the Herculean effort that lay behind his enterprise.

Dr. S.S. Badrinath, Chairman of Medical Research Foundation, a lifetime achievement awardee himself, presented the award to Rajendran and revealed that the latter has donated Rs. 2 crore to Sankara Nethralaya, an eye hospital with heart and social conscience founded by the former.

Lakshmi Narayanan, President of TiE Chennai, said that many entrepreneurs were not willing to nominate themselves unlike in the other parts of the country where a flood of nominations are usually received for the awards of this nature. They shy away saying they are too small or that an evil eye will be cast on them if they embrace the spotlight! The heart of business in Chennai is family businesses engaged in manufacturing. TiECON 2014 gave due recognition to this aspect of entrepreneurship. While R. Dinesh of TVS Logistics sought to tread his own path in logistics by seeking private equity very early in the business, Vellayan Subbiah of Cholamandalam Finance revived the fortunes of Cholamandalam Finance from near-death to create a behemoth of an enterprise in finance. Dinesh was awarded the Next-Gen Entrepreneur of the Year while Vellayan was honoured with Extraordinary Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Normally, the daring and risk appetite of business owners in family enterprises remains less known and it is laudable that TiECON Awards Committee went slightly deep to unearth the inspiring contributions of these two entrepreneurs, or may we call them family business intrapreneurs.

The social face of the awards recognized activist efforts of two extraordinary women. Dr. Sai Lakshmi of Ekam Foundation and Dr. JayashreeVencatesan of CareEarth Trust were jointly awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year. Dr. Sai Lakshmi is engaged in health care of orphaned girls aged 0 to 19 years by partnering with health care institutions to provide them the necessary medical care that would normally be denied to them for lack of money. She also finds resources to fund these efforts. Dr. Jayashree is engaged in the preservation of ecology through CareEarth Trust. The Pallikaranai Marsh in Chennai, the Nilgristahr, the black buck in the IIT campus in Chennai are some of the focus areas of this organization. Preservation of water bodies in wild life sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu is also undertaken by CareEarth Trust.

There could be no better source of inspiration than Radha Daga of Triguni Foods. Her startup was awarded Startup of the Year. Aged 73 years, she is engaged in catering which she started a decade ago. Beware, entrepreneurs take flight at any age, and risk appetite is not restricted to those 20 or 30 somethings.

You wouldn’t have known this daring couple who borrowed Rs. 2 lakh from friends to start a small retail shop of 175 sq. ft.for selling mobile phones in the heart of Chennai. And that Poorvika mobiles, started by Uvaraj and Kanni Uvaraj, is worth Rs. 1100 crore today with 220 outlets in Tamil Nadu. “Starting the second shop was difficult and we could get only Rs. 5 lakhs from the banks based on our balance sheet,” said Uvaraj but that seemed only a hiccup in their extraordinary rise to stardom. The couple simply conveyed the message “dare to dream to make it big.”

Skin care is a fragmented market and that’s where Raja Varatharaju stepped in to make a difference. Quitting a high-paying corporate job, he started Synova Cosmetics with two other partners. He said, “You will enjoy a lot in this journey though you may not earn a lot of money.” He was awarded TiE Associate Member of the Year.

Probably to pep up the weary travelers in the startup journey, to provide adrenalin rush to the daring, and to say nothing is impossible, Padma Chandrasekaran, Co-chair of TiECON 2014 Awards Committee, brought in Chetan Korada, a double-leg amputee with artificial legs who is a F3 race car driver. Losing legs as an infant, Chetan found a new passion in cars when he was 16. Celebrated by the Press today, he was no doubt a darling of the evening.

The Chair of TiECON 2014 Committee, Chandu Nair, was at his elegant best, quoting the Bible, Churchill, and Shultz, et al. with effortless ease to make it a livelier evening, which started with a band of college boys and girls regaling the audience with Tamil hits of the year.

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