By Prakash Narayan-
American Tamil Entrepreneurs Association (ATEATM) South Central Chapter held a one-day conference (EMERGE 2023) at the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center at the University of Texas, Dallas on Saturday, May 13.
The conference had almost 200 people attending marked by engrossing content, an inviting ambiance, and enthusiastic attendees. Arun Kumar and Sriram Krishnan, the conference conveners, meticulously curated an agenda that showcased a diverse range of topics and speakers, providing the audience with valuable insights and thought-provoking discussions.
The opening keynote of the conference was delivered by Ganesh Shankar, CEO of RFPIO, a cloud-based software that automates and streamlines the process of responding to a request for proposal. RFPIO was founded in 2015, and by its 5th year of operation was generating revenues of $70-$100m. Ganesh came up with the idea for RFPIO while working as an Analyst and having to help clients respond to RFPs. His thesis was that we should be able to automate things that you do not like to do. Incorporated in Portland, Oregon, the company has over 500 employees now. Ganesh was named in the “40 under 40” by the Portland Business Journal in 2018. When asked about his key messages to the audience, Ganesh stressed the importance of networking (at events similar to the one that they were attending). You never know where you will find your next customer / investor. He urged to be humble. It’s all about recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and willingness to learn from others. Surround yourself with smart people. When you are humble, you are more likely to succeed. Often times, people get “arrogant” and let success get to their head. Having clear goals would imply that achieving success is a step towards your goal.
This was followed by a fireside chat moderated by Sriram Krishnan with Dayakar Pushkoor, founder and MD of Dallas Venture Capital and Kutraleeswaran (Kutral), President and Managing Partner at Nanban Ventures. Dayakar Pushkoor has invested in several pioneering early-stage startups in the space of Cloud, AI/ML and Mobile at multiple locations: Dallas, Silicon Valley, Seattle and in India. He recalled his investment in HyperVerge (that provides identity verification and fraud detection solutions to enterprises) when he met the parents of the founders (who were students at IIT Madras) to close the deal. Dayakar said that he believes in looking that the team and spending time with the founding team. His advice to entrepreneurs is not to focus on valuation – this will happen automatically. Just focus on execution.
Kutral was a professional athlete – an open-water swimmer. He holds a Guinness World record having swum across six channels in a single year (1994) at the young age of 13.
In 1996, he was the youngest awardee of the Arjuna Award. He realized that pursuing the sport was no longer viable for him when he was unsuccessful in landing a sponsor. His dream of winning an Olympic Gold medal for India remained unfulfilled. He got an engineering degree from Anna University. Subsequently, he graduated from UTD with an MS in in Microelectronics. Upon graduation, Kutral’s dream job was Intel. He joined Intel as a design engineer in Sacramento. After working here for three years, he realized that he had a higher calling and left to pursue an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Business. He joined Nanban Ventures as a General Partner in March 2021. He also heads Nanban Sports Foundation – to help nurture sports talent at the grassroots. He shared that his investment philosophy was to look at the customers. How sticky are they? His diligence includes speaking to the customers.
The conference also included a PitchFest – where (curated) startups pitched to a panel of VCs. Hemato.ai won the PitchFest. Vinod Balaraman, CEO, spoke about how they perform AI-based hematopathology. They are looking to become the first AI diagnostic tool to get approval from the FDA. Other participants in the PitchFest included MG HealthTech that provided affordable and accurate health diagnosis; ODworks that helps discover vetted service partners for On-Demand development project.
Sweta Murthy gave a talk on the Power of Social Impact. Sweta had, in fact, opened the day with a soulful rendering of the American National Anthem. Turns out that she is, among other things, a trained opera singer. She is also the first Asian and Indian woman to be Miss Park Cities and will compete for the opportunity to become the first Indian American Miss Texas in July. We wish Sweta the very best and hope that she follows in the footsteps of Nina Davuluri, the first Indian American to win Miss America in 2014. In her talk, she advocated for mental health awareness and action. Sweta talked about how she felt unsettled with herself in college because she was suppressing her individuality to conform to what others wanted her to be. She decided to go to therapy and focus on mental wellness. Sweta did all of this while there was still a stigma associated with this topic. It was only after high-profile athletes Naomi Osaka and Simon Biles started talking openly about depression related to personal failure and anxiety from excessive media attention, has there been a shift in the conversation around mental health. Sweta also narrated a personal experience when she was invited to give a TEDx talk at the age of 16. She chose to speak on an appeal for increased veganism as a solution to climate change to an audience in rural, North Texas. After her talk, an elderly couple came up to her and told her that they will convert to a vegetarian diet! Sweta made a difference to at least two people. She went to say that the only way to make a difference is to rival the status quo.
At the end of the Conference, the ATEA South Central Chapter made a donation of $5,000 to UT, Dallas for being generous hosts to the scintillating event. Accepting the donation on behalf of UT, Dallas Dr. Jey Veerasamy said that this amount will be used towards a $25,000 fund from which scholarships are awarded to students in need. Upon hearing this, Gopala Krishnan, Chairman and CEO of Nanban Ventures stepped up and committed to make up the difference in the amount. This was a fitting end to an excellent day of invigorating, thought-provoking discussions.