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Asian Business Conference Focused on Innovation and Opportunities in India

posted Oct 27, 2011, 1:35 PM by Diana Rohini LaVigne

By Diana Rohini LaVigne / Special to India-West 

Berkeley, California—The Berkeley Asian Business Conference 2010 held Saturday at the Haas School of Business focused on the shift of the global center of gravity towards Asia. With several panels throughout the day, the conference was standing room only at many of the panel and keynote programs.

Keynote Lim Siong Guan, Group President for the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, spoke about Asian trends.  “One trend is sure. Asia is reemerging and I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities that Asia offers.”  He spoke about the opportunities coming from three elements; rapid urbanization, the aging population in Asia, and the rapid growth of high-net worth individuals. Suggesting that everyone looking to tap these three markets, Guan feels strongly about the need for a ‘living lab’ in Asia before tapping them.

The India Forum was a highlight of the day featuring four highly successful Indian visionaries as panelists and focused on the paradigm shift of India from outsourcing to innovation.

Moderator Seth Freeman, the CEO for EM Capital Management and has been working in the Indian market for the past six years, started off talking about some of the more notable Indian innovations including Tata’s Nano and Reva, the new electric car.

Working on several projects including a mobile to mobile free service, Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia discussed the challenges of launching his new mobile venture in India due to legislative challenges but seemed optimistic about the future opportunities in India.

So where is the global innovation moving? Vivek Wadhwa, UC Berkley Visiting Scholar and Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School, believed in the pharmaceutical industry that most of the innovation was happening in India. Wadhwa said,” There is a perception that innovation in India is only in traditional industries like technology, but many industries have their innovation and their R&D labs in India.”

He is seeing a lot of real start-ups, not just mom and pop shops, in India these days. “The magnitude of what is happening in India blows my mind,” said Wadhwa.

This begged the question about the lack of venture capital money going towards true start-ups in India and not just more mature mid-sized companies. Kanwal Rekhi, Managing Director at Inventus Capital and a founding father of TiE, offered, “Indian entrepreneurs don’t like to part with equity and can last longer than most companies without funding as they really understand how to bootstrap a company.”

Wadhwa noted that 9 out of 10 companies start with funds from family and friends, not venture capital.  Most companies only look towards venture capital funding when they want to take their company to the next level according to him.

India still presents many challenges for new and multinational companies but it seems corruption is not a major obstacle according to panelists. Panelist Dr. Prabhakant Sinha, Founder of ZS Associates, said, “Well, you don’t go to a vegetarian restaurant to order chicken. Which is to say that international companies are somewhat removed from the corruption cycle.  Locals don’t ask the multinationals to pay up.” He stated Infosys as one example of a multinational operating effectively in India without the burden of corruption knocking at their door.

But there are still challenges. For example, piracy still prevails in India. “In India, people think of software as coming for free and you pay only for hardware. This attitude must change in India.” Bhatia told the audience at the Asia Business conference.

Even with all the funding, Kanwal warned attendees that being an entrepreneur is really hard and told an example of a 40-year old man exclaiming he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and people responding with “What? Are you crazy?” Everyone seems to gives the entrepreneur a hard time in the beginning and throughout the process but when someone makes it big, everyone suddenly claims that they know you’d make it all along says Kanwal.

Whereas veteran entrepreneur Bhatia felt it was important to be in-country in order to build products for their desired market.  “You can’t just use a U.S. product or concept and put it in India and expect success. You must first adapt it to the emerging growth market specifically.” Bhatia said. He thinks students need emerging market experience to survive in today’s marketplace.

Wadhwa also hinted at the benefits of living in country. “You can’t solve some issues without living or spending significant time in India.  Silicon Valley is too focused on the next Facebook application, not true innovation.” Said Wadhwa.

The conference offered a variety of panels throughout the day-long program but did lack a strong Indian voice outside the India forum or Technology panel. Panels like Clean Technology, Consumer, Global Operations, and Finance had little representation for India despite India’s great influence in these areas.  Also under-represented were women at the conference with only one female speaker out of thirty-four speakers overall. But despite the lack of balance in these areas, the business conference presented plenty of up-to-date information that helped professionals and students alike to better understand the Asian market and opportunities.