On Thursday, 7th February 2013, Great Lakes Institute of management saw a host of entrepreneurs descend on the campus to be a part of the 5th International Entrepreneurship Conference. Organized under the auspices of the Orchid Pharma Center for Excellence in Management of Technology, Innovation and Technopreneurship [OPCET], the conference had “Entrepreneurs as disruptive innovators” as its theme.
Disruptive Innovation is all about Reimagining Competition and bringing new customers into an existing market or creating consumption from a non-consuming segment. And a disruptive innovator is one who is able to provide the re-imagined product or service at a low price point profitably by using a business model that is not attractive to the established leader in the market.
Mrs. Padma Chandrasekharan, an angel investor with Chennai Angels and an IIM-A graduate was the chief guest for the day. The conference also featured some high profile speakers, participants and panelists like Dr Ravindran (chairman Aravind Eye care), Mr. C.K Ranganathan (founder CMD Cavinkare), Mr Raghavendra Rao (CMD Orchid pharma), Mr. Devi Shetty (Narayana Hrudalayala) and corporates honchos from Tata motors, Godrej, Hindustan Unilever etc., who shared their thoughts with the students through the inaugural session, the panel discussions and the Valedictory session.
Uncle Bala, in his inaugural address, expressed his delight at the increasing number of entrepreneurial ideas and ventures, especially from the 16-23 age-group in the silicon valley and mentioned that this spirit is somehow lacking in their Indian counterparts. He said that Great Lakes is trying to arouse this drive and passion in its students through this conference and the entrepreneurial cell and was proud of the fact that at least 5% of the graduating class goes on to become entrepreneurs every year! He then spoke about his journey from being t professor to being a edupreneur and mentioned that all it takes is the right amount of risk and knowledge. He then welcomed Dr. K.C. John to provide an overview and to set the context for the conference.
Dr. John spoke about the whole initiative of seeking out disruptive innovators by Great Lakes and how it came to be launched under the able guidance of Prof. R.S. Veeravalli. He also spoke about why and how Prof. Clayton M. Christensen, coined the word ‘disruptive innovation’. Then he went on to say that in today’s world of cut-throat competition, disruption is the way to go and that it has become a necessary condition for creating a mutually inclusive society. He also applauded Great Lakes for taking this initiative and preparing business ready managers who are also entrepreneurial in their thinking. And explained the reason for choosing ‘disruptive innovation’ as the theme was because the school itself believes in redefining instead of just maintaining the trajectory of progress. He also introduced the panel members – an amalgamation of first-gen disruptive innovators and entrepreneurs who would provide insights into the opportunities and possibilities in the emerging markets. He ended his speech with a video from Prof. Clayton Christensen where he talks about the importance of Disruptive innovation for the society.
Next was the keynote address by the chief guest, Mrs. Padma Chandrasekaran, who was a founder member of SIFY and has also worked for Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. Mrs. Chandrasekaran spoke about the qualities necessary for being an entrepreneur and which every budding entrepreneur should inculcate – A strong Vision, Belief in self, Going out and exploring, Iterating. She also spoke about other important factors that decide the fate of the businesses like choosing one’s partner, the core product/idea, the traction etc. She also emphasized on the importance of piloting a concept and getting a few paying customers before going to the market. She spoke about the amount of opportunities available today vis-à-vis the pre-1990s and asked the students to grab the opportunity when it presents itself by having faith in self. This, she said, was the only way to get the most out of this country!
After the invigorating speech, Prof. Veeravalli came on to the dais to deliver the Vote of Thanks to the chief guest and everyone who worked towards making this conference possible and introduced the dignitaries for the panel discussion.
Prof. G. Sunderraman led the Panel discussion and set the context before inviting Mr. Alok Goel – Chief Products officer, Redbus to share his views. Mr. Goel spoke about the various aspects of disruptive innovation by sharing his experience and by citing 4 examples that changed the world. These were Facebook – by giving people the power to share and making the world more open and interactive, Googledocs – by making usage amazingly simple and using the power of iteration, Nokia – who lost the race as it failed to bet on the market and missed the trend and the example of his brainchild, Redbus which changed the way bus tickets were booked forever and affected an entire group of travel agents who made their living by doing that. He also put in a word of caution by saying that while the examples sounded fascinating and it was ok for anyone to talk about it in hindsight, it is very difficult to avoid or predict the occurrence of such game changing events. He ended by saying that Iteration, perseverance, evolving the product day in and day out is what is required to make it work and that’s what an innovator should focus on.
Then came Mr. Rajesh Nahar – CEO and co-founder, Cbazaar.com who spoke about his journey as a disruptive innovator and how he along with his partner started the Disruptive Innovation Cloud! He also emphasized the importance of nurturing a strong passion and the power of iteration by saying that it took him 7-8 years to figure out what would really work for them and till then, it was very important to keep building on the initial plan according to the situation. It was only after that they started thinking about higher margins, demand and scalability. He finished his talk by asking the students to be customer centric and to realize the latent demand of the consumers, as that was a very important pre-requisite of getting the idea.
Mr. Manivannan, CEO – Desicrew, a rural BPO explained what the concept and model of Desicrew through a video and went on to say that it was built on the single idea that it was high time India harnessed the power of the crowd residing in its rural areas. He also went on to speak about the company, how it was able to establish itself and how it was making a difference in the lives of the rural population and defined his disruptive innovation model as BPO 3.0 – which focused on creating wealth at the bottom of the pyramid.
Prof. G. Sunderraman, then gave his concluding remarks by connecting the concept of disruptive innovation to entrepreneurship and said that ‘trying not to kill the customer’ was the core of disruptive innovation! He then shared his experience of working with Prof. Clayton and his journey of developing the Chotukool. He noted that innovators and entrepreneurs shared a Common DNA – Courage that gave rise to the desire of doing something new, of venturing into the unknown and concluded by saying that, “Courage is not an attitude, it is a skill. It can be acquired. Getting an idea is simple, getting it through in the market is tough but getting it through a herculean company like Godrej is a herculean task. Chotukool is a result of this courage!”
Post the panel discussions; it was time for the Unconference session, which was anchored by Serial entrepreneur Mr. Pravin Shekhar, chief creator of KREA. Unconference – a participant driven meeting without the rigidness of a structured, conventional conference and the format was based on the premise that in any gathering the people in the audience – not just those selected to speak on stage – have interesting thoughts, insights and expertise to share. And it proved its point to the students.
The conference ended with the valedictory session where the winners of the Internal Business plan competition ‘Audacia’ were awarded and invited to share their winning plans’ overviews with the audience. The winners were awarded the Shri Narasinga Rao Memorial Prizes, totaling INR 2,00,000/- (Two lakhs). This prize was instituted in commemoration of Mr. Narasinga Rao (a distinguished alumnus of Great Lakes and the co-founder of the famous SSI Ltd.) by his batch-mates and Dr. Bala V. Balachandran, our founder dean, to be given every year in this annual event celebrating entrepreneurship.
The conference enriched the students’ knowledge about the immense opportunities in entrepreneurship and the advantages of being a ‘disruptive innovator’ and hopefully, also motivated some of them to consider Entrepreneurship as a career and contribute back to the society through their future innovative and sustainable business models.