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Creative Disruptions: The Indian Story of Entrepreneurship

During my summer internship in Rome, I was greeted with an email offering the opportunity to attend a new fellowship program at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) centered on entrepreneurship in India. I have a strong interest in entrepreneurship, having been involved in the Technology Commercialization Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and attended various local New Haven startup events. I have also always wanted to visit India, fueled by a strong interest in the work of Indian authors and insatiable wanderlust. I jumped at the sight of the email and applied, finding out with thrill some weeks later that I had been successful and would be attending the program in August.

Working in the IIMB classroom

We were told to expect four things from the program: perspectives on entrepreneurship in India from IIMB’s world-class faculty, entrepreneur speeches, company visits, and networking. The program lasted from August 23 to 28 and was attended by 36 students from 18 institutions representing countries including Australia, Japan, and China. I was joined in Bangalore by my fellow Yale SOM classmate Rahul Gupta, but to my surprise I also encountered two other familiar faces. In November 2014, I had traveled to Singapore to attend the final rounds of the NUS (National University of Singapore) Cerebration Case Competition. Two of the MBA students I met there, Jose and Sanat, also happened to be at the same program in Bangalore!

Rahul and I show off our certificates with Professors Suresh (second from left) and Chetan (third from left)

The course kicked off with Professor Chetan Subramanian delivering a lecture in macroeconomics. He highlighted fundamental reasons as to why India’s business environment is different from China’s. Many writers are quick to compare the Indian and Chinese economy because of similarities in their population size and fast rate of growth. However, Professor Subramanian showed that development in India is internally driven, with consumption the largest component of total expenditure. China’s growth is driven by investments and exports. Some other factors unique to India’s economy were highlighted, such as the fact that an agriculturally driven society shifted directly into being services-driven, without passing through industrial development. This means that a large proportion of the unskilled labor force is being under-utilized and has led to PM Modi’s “Make In India” campaign. This lecture was a fantastic introduction on the nature of doing business in India.

A special Keralan meal on banana leaf (Sadhya) was prepared at IIMB in honor of the Onam festival

 In addition to lectures delivered by IIMB’s stellar faculty, the program also highlighted the work done in IIMB’s in-house incubator, the Nadathur S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL). Over the course of the week, we were introduced to founders of startups incubated in NSRCEL, through panel discussions and presentations. These companies included BinBag, which aims to optimize the e-waste pick up and recycling process, and, a platform to enable habit forming. We had the opportunity to work in small groups to propose solutions to some of the issues faced by these companies.

Our minds were blown when we heard a talk by Bhaskan Subramanian, the cofounder of Amagi, which was also incubated at NSRCEL. Amagi is an incredible company that has revolutionised television advertising. It operates by breaking up pan-country advertising slots to the regional level, allowing advertisers to target markets through culturally relevant advertisements. Amagi creates and uses its own technologies, including its patented watermarking technology, which enables it to track and trace video advertisements. We couldn't stop asking Bhaskan questions all the way through our tea break!

A craftsman at work at Tharangini Studios

Bangalore is called India’s Silicon City, because of the concentration of startups there, especially those centered on technology. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to engage with two of the jewels in Bangalore’s digital crown: Infosys and InMobi. Infosys is India’s second largest IT services company, and was homegrown from one office in Pune, India, into the multi-national corporation it is today. We visited Infosys’s headquarters, which are located in Bangalore, and were given a campus tour and presentation. The campus was so big we needed golf buggies to get around, to everyone’s delight. InMobi was also born and grown in India, and is the third largest mobile ad company in the world, after Facebook and Google. Its cofounder, Abhay Singhal, came in to speak to us about his journey and the key lessons he had learned. One such lesson was to build an organization that would last forever rather than focusing on quick wins.

Our week was packed to the brim, and we covered themes as diverse as social entrepreneurship and regulation. Amazingly, the panel discussion on regulation managed to be entertaining, thanks to a comparison between the regulatory environment and the rules of cricket. We battled Bangalore’s notorious traffic to visit sites such as Cloud Nine, a maternity hospital, and Tharangini Studios, a blockprint studio. However, we were not exhausted, as we were given plenty of free time in the evenings to do our own explorations of Bangalore. With a set of new friends, I explored temples, lost terribly at bowling, and checked out local nightlife. I also ate a lot of food—southern India is known for heavy use of coconuts, and IIMB fed us very well, catering to our every need. I learned about Indian culture through Indian classmates who patiently explained the stories behind the different gods and goddesses in Hinduism (thanks, Shravan!) over bus journeys. This fellowship program was not just an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship in India, but also to fully engage with Indian culture and cuisine.

To conclude, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to attend the first session of this program. This has been my first visit to India, and I have been delighted by the color and the spice of this country. A huge thanks to the organizing team at IIMB: Professor Chetan Subramania, Professor Suresh Bhagavatula, Ketan, Anuradha and Harish, for your incredible hospitality and organization. Another big thank you to Camino and Sarah at SOM for giving Rahul and me this opportunity to represent SOM in India. I’ll be continuing my travels now, eating my way through southern India, so see you all on the other side!