At Harvard Business School, we pride ourselves on immersing ourselves in the phenomenon of interest. In my case, this is understanding how entrepreneurs can contribute to economic and social progress across the developing world. In effect, my preoccupation is with how creativity can be used to address the well-being of 6 of the almost 8 billion people of the world today. On this page, I’ll describe my own forays into building ventures, commercial and non-profit, across the developing world, and one policy making endeavor.
Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of cofounding numerous ventures with, usually with students who have emerged from the Cambridge ecosystem (Harvard, MIT and numerous wonderful nearby institutions), often my own students who’ve stayed in touch sometimes over decades thankfully! I’ll describe two examples here, Aspiring Minds, www.aspiringminds.com, a machine learning talent assessment company, and Chaipoint, www.chaipoint.com, a technology-powered, consumer retail brand for tea, offering very affordable but high quality consistent tea to cater to most forms of desired access.
There are several others that haven’t been as successful, which is par for the course in being an entrepreneur. They’ve all been amazing learning experiences, attempts to work on big problems in diverse spaces - medical diagnostics for chronic diseases, developing distance learning algorithms, providing financial literacy to inexperienced mass populations – and in many geographies (India, but also Boston, Dubai, Beijing).
And, of course, I’m still at it! Some current founding teams with which I’m immersed are tackling a clean electric bus transport company in Delhi, making another attempt (after Aspiring Minds) at assessing and skilling and deploying blue-collar workforces at very large scale using modern technology, and exploring some more medical diagnostics.
One other way I’ve been immersed amidst talented young teams is through being a co-founder of Axilor,www.axilor.com, an entity dedicated to incubating and accelerating technology ventures in Bangalore, but with the express aim of using our global connections to also upgrade the quality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bangalore.
The other is Aspire Institute an organization I co-founded and launched as a 501c3 non-profit enterprise, with my Harvard colleague, Karim Lakhani. It grew out of a prior effort, Crossroads Emerging Leaders Project when it had more of a Dubai center under Harvard alum Goulam Amarsy. Aspire Institute is active in over 100 countries now and has become a plug-and-play technology-enabled platform that allows faculty from numerous leading Universities around the world, professional leaders, and scores of non profits, corporations, foundations and even some governments, to collectively work to usher marginalized talent into the mainstreams of their societies.
Nor is entrepreneurship, in my mind, confined to commercial ventures. I’ve always thought of entrepreneurship in a ‘big tent’ way, as something that encompasses all forms of creativity in solving the world’s biggest problems. Some of the most creative individuals I’ve run into in my professional career have built and are running non-profits (the biggest of all, and one of my favorites, is Bangladesh’s BRAC, www.brac.net, which is now in multiple countries).
Here are two in which I’m involved. The first is PRS Legislative Research, www.prsindia.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing better information and non-partisan, analytic research to India’s elected Members of Parliament (MP). (For those familiar with the US federal system, think of the Congressional Research Services office in Washington).
Last, and a very important learning experience for me, I was privileged to lead the Government of India’s Expert Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, whose final report to the public is here. One outcome was the formation of the Government’s Atal Innovation Mission, an apex body to provide policy making support to encourage entrepreneurship across the country https://aim.gov.in/ This is a gift that keeps on giving under the leadership of the government think-tank, Niti Aayog. It’s resulted in a network of upgraded incubators across the country, thousands of ‘tinkering labs’ (maker spaces in high schools to encourage creative pedagogy in science), competitions and challenges to spur effort in targeted fields, and a rethinking of some of the enabling entrepreneurship-related rules and legislation in the country.