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Hari Venkatacharya

We just returned from a wonderful 10 day vacation in Spain, followed by two days in Warsaw, Poland. It was our first time to both countries- and what beautiful countries they are!

Apart from the natural beauty of Spain and its people, we were totally captivated by the sense of style, history and long-term vision of the country.

In Barcelona, the seat of Antoni Gaudi, and his nature-inspired, whimsical design and architecture, we were amazed that 128 years after the commencement of Sagrada Familia, the family church, the construction still continues according to his original plans, and will take another 10 years to complete! This one building in and of itself, to us, captures not only the essence of Spain, but also the essence of true, inspired entrepreneurship and the need to see beyond the every day.

Gaudi’s designs can be seen all across Barcelona- from museums, cathedrals and t-shirts, to the spires of churches and hotel decor! Although he died in 1926, not only his masterpieces themselves, but also his initial drawings and full design documents still remain as a testament to his vision for Barcelona, and the importance he placed on propagating his ideas, and educating future generations.

What inspired us further was the truly outstanding example of perseverance in the Alhambra, located in the southern city of Granada. The Alhambra was initially started by the Emirs in the 13th century, when it became the principal residence of kings. It then fell into the hands of Christian kings in the 15-16th centuries. What was most revealing was that, generally, the Islamic architecture and structures were maintained, except in certain circumstances, and were superimposed with Christian motifs. At that time, despite the significant battles that occurred, there was also significant respect for one another. We saw similar instances of vision and longevity in the beautiful Generalife (Gen it al Arif) gardens, and Alcazar in Sevilla. In fact the largest Gothic church in the world was constructed over 100 years, starting in 1402, in Sevilla.

The common elements in what we say, and building successful companies is:

  • A strong vision and plan for execution
  • A dedicated team, that is knowledgeable, motivated and committed no matter what
  • A patron, or investor, who will be a long-term patient partner
  • The ability to persevere, through the most difficult of time
  • Intellectual property that will stand the test of time
  • Innovation in the use of design, materials and technology to make a lasting impact

Now, several centuries after these great projects were undertaken, we seem to be more concerned about the ordinary issues that consume our day-to-day lives, as opposed to searching to see how the organizations we are building can withstand the test of time, and have a global impact.

We need to collectively engage ourselves in thinking about bigger picture global issues that will require the imagination and perseverance of times gone by, empowering us to create creative, sustainable solutions.

We also need to study, much more carefully, our collective histories, so that we can learn invaluable lessons from those who came before us, and implemented long-term grand visions.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.


The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers pro vide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

I have the privilege of serving on the Board of the Ontario Science Centre. As someone who was born and grew up in Toronto, I, as many of you, used to visit the Centre regularly while in elementary school. These visitations decreased steadily through high school, and then only occurred in adulthood when friends with children were visiting from out of town.

Over the last twelve years, Lesley Lewis, the current CEO, has done an amazing job of re-vitalizing and collectively re-envisioning not only the mandate of the Science Centre, but also implementing strategies to become further embedded and relevant to the surrounding neighbourhoods.

The professional and ethnic composition of the Board of the Science Centre is testament to the fact that Lesley and Mark Cohon, the Chair of the Board, are truly making this path-breaking institution inclusive and more representative than ever before.

Earlier this week I visited the Centre with some friends visiting from Mumbai, India. Harikrishna Kalyanasundaram and Vidya are a leading bharatanatyam dance guru and Carnatic vocalist, respectively; and their four-year old son, Chaitanya, is already showing signs of being a child prodigy. Chaitanya was very excited to visit the Science Centre to experience the Harry Potter exhibit- which is outstanding, and truly engages children and adults alike.

But most intriguing was how much time Chaitanya spent in making paper airplanes, in the Weston Family Innovation Centre, and how engaged he was at the various interactive exhibits, especially those that included a musical element.

In his young mind, you could see the creative wheels turning about how the experiences he had could lead to further explorations when he returns to Mumbai; and he was already asking his parents when he can visit the Science Centre again!

It is at this earliest of ages that we must engage young minds to experience as much about scientific exploration and artistic endeavour as possible, so that as they grown into teenagers and adults, the awe and wonder they feel about the world around them propels each of them to pursue the dreams that they hold most vividly.

The recent article by Anne Golden, CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, was very lucid in articulating the challenges that we face in Canada to commercialize the great technologies we produce. A significant element that I believe is the intangible quality that allows great success to happen is imagination.

As Albert Einstein famously stated:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.


The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers pro vide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world devoted to fostering entrepreneurship. Ewing Marion Kauffman was the founder and CEO of Marion Laboratories, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. At the time of its sale in 1989, the company had revenues of over $1 billion and employed over 4500 people.

I met Lesa Mitchell, Vice President of Advancing Innovation, in Bangalore in December 2008, when she and her colleague Carl Schramm, the CEO of the foundation attended the TiE Entrepreneurial Summit. What struck me immediately was their humility and willingness to learn, and always create an impact. The openness that they brought to the forum was refreshing, given that they have over $1.5 billion to invest in a myriad of programs to promote entrepreneurship!

I would encourage everyone to visit the Kaufmann website. It’s a storehouse of invaluable information about not only entrepreneurship, but also innovation, globalization, structuring and education. Their newest venture is a Charter School in Kansas City that will open in 2011.

The breadth of impactful activities that they host, in addition to the very high quality of active highly successful entrepreneurs they engage on an ongoing basis is quite staggering.

More recently, they have partnered with TiE on a number of initiatives, ranging from expanding the TiE Young Entrepreneurs program that was started in the Boston Chapter, and engages high school students in innovative business ventures, to helping take TiEQuest global. TiEQuest was founded by the Toronto Chapter, and is now the richest and most impactful business venture competition in North America.

The goals and execution capability of the Kauffman foundation are an organic, continually evolving testament to the perseverance and grand vision of its founder. I hope, one day, that Canada will also have a similarly broad ranging and impactful organization that truly embodies the nature of entrepreneurship and innovation, and has a focussed approach to creating significant impact.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

My wife, Lata Pada, is the Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations (www.sampradaya.ca), Canada’s leading professional Indian dance company. She is also Director of Sampradaya Dance Academy, which has a professionally training division, and has over 150 students in total.

Lata has trained with renowned bharatanatyam dance gurus in India for a number of years, and her company performs internationally, and across Canada. They will in fact be one of a select group of Indian dance companies that will be performing at the prestigious Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa this week. She is also a Member of the Order of Canada.

This background is important, since I want to share some of the conversations we have both been having over the past few years on the importance of the arts in the lives of young people, and the direct correlation there is between excellence in students that Lata trains, their excellence in school and university and the career choices they make thereafter.

Without exception, the students that train for a full 10 years, then perform their solo debut recital (arangetram) after 1-2 years of rigorous private training with Lata, go on to university and professional careers that allow them to make a true impact in society.

Whether it is as a doctor, nurse, engineer, software developer, teacher, international development worker or entrepreneur, her dancers use their training and skills to fulfill their utmost potential. Not only do they excel in their professional lives, a number of Lata’s students continue to be company dancers of Sampradaya Dance Creations, continually balancing the demands of both their parallel careers, with imitable talent, and a focus on excellence.

Lata has noticed that the students who practise consistently, dedicate themselves to performing as much as possible during their training, attend other performances, and learn from the senior dancers in the professional performance company, are able to multi-task, understand both emotionally and intellectually the importance of the history and cultural specificity of what they are engaged in and the competitive landscape, and focus on a goal over a long period of time. The passion and perseverance they show during their dance training and performance carries through to their studies, and their subsequent careers.

Many of these traits are what allow entrepreneurs and innovators to succeed.

As a society, we need to ensure that our governments support the arts from the elementary school level throughout high school and beyond, so that our future leaders are able to engage in activities that allow them better insights into themselves, thereby also encouraging greater societal impact.

The arts have significant intrinsic, cultural and heritage value, but in addition they have an essential role to play in shaping the minds and personalities of the next generation of leaders, so that they will focus more acutely on achieving excellence in their professional endeavours.

Much too often, we concentrate on activities that only have a public face, but do not spend enough time understanding ourselves, and our deepest motivations – which in the most challenging and critical times in the life of an entrepreneur, becomes the source of the most important and game changing inspiration and solutions.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

On April 16, 2010 the great visionary, influencer and management guru C. K. Prahalad passed away in his San Diego home at the age of 68. Many Canadians may not have heard of CK, but he was a world-class thinker, originally from Coimbatore, India.

I had the distinct privilege of spending time with him on a few occasions, due to his great influence in TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), especially during my tenure as President of the Toronto Chapter. Each time we met, he was generous with his ideas, and genuinely engaged in the dialogue to explore new paradigms and business models. His most enduring quality will be the fact that he tried throughout his life to operationalize his vision and philosophy so that those who traditionally had been forgotten would have the opportunity to succeed, within a model that was indigenous while globally effective.

CK’s broad range of interests went from management consulting to innovation and co-creation, and finally to the ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’, his path-breaking book that clearly delineated the need for global corporations to pay attention to emerging markets, since that is where the bulk of the world’s population lived and worked, and that is where, he predicted, the most aggressive growth would occur.

What he could not predict was the speed that his revolutionary ideas would be embraced, both by governments and corporations. Whether it was by large global companies like Philips, who started targeting their products to developing markets, or to Hindustan Lever which accelerated its thrust into the rural Indian market by introducing further sales of shampoos and soaps in individual sachets, so that those customers would not have to pay to inventory product.

The BRIC countries primarily took great hold of CK’s ideas, and embraced them extensively, enabling new business models and opportunities for revenue generation, for those who could not traditionally participate in economic growth.

Fundamentally, CK will be most missed for his generosity of spirit, his monumental insights into how to enable the masses of humanity to prosper and his constant curiosity and thirst for knowledge. There is much that Canadian companies can learn from the work of C. K. Prahalad.

There is a wonderful tribute in The Economist that you may find of interest.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

I’m actually posting this blog while enroute to Toronto from a one- week trip to India. In seven days I was in Mumbai, Pune and finally Bangalore. The Indian companies I have met with continue to be very confident, and feel that 2010 will be a breakout year.

The most striking and memorable meeting on this trip has been a meeting I had in Bangalore with a friend of mine who about a year ago started a Trust that invests in rural-based start-ups. The venture, NextWealth, has now been operational for about six months, and already the implementation of the vision has been staggering.

The premise of the venture is that in India today there are hundreds of accredited, private engineering colleges that are situated in Tier 3 towns and villages. A large proportion of these are actually in the four southern states- Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. All of these have enrolments of hundreds of students, but the prospects for a job after graduation are slim, unless the student moves to a neighbouring city. This of course poses multiple challenges;

  • The burden on a city’s infrastructure increases significantly.
  • Tier 3 towns and villages are hollowed out, where the brightest go to the city.
  • The family structure is changing, since traditionally in India as parents grow older, children take care of them.

NextWealth, founded by Dr. Sridhar Mitta, addresses many of these concerns by providing a good salary for graduates that remain in the towns and villages, and actually do work that has both a manual and automation component for Indian and foreign companies headquartered in adjacent cities.

Everyone in the value chain is a beneficiary:

  • The graduate has a job close to home, and is able to help support the family, while utilizing his/her acquired skill sets.
  • The towns and villages benefit since now there are healthier families, contributing to their growth.
  • The city-based companies have a cost-effective, captive labour pool, since salaries in villages are about 30% of what is paid for an equivalent staff member in a city. Attrition is also comparatively much lower in rural areas than cities.
  • The end customer benefits by having service providers that are highly motivated to deliver their solutions on time, and are also very willing to customize their services for fees that cannot be matched in a city environment.

This is the next wave of entrepreneurship in India, where successful entrepreneurs in the for profit sector are now targeting the reform of job creation and the overall well-being of towns and villages, while also making a healthy profit and creating significant value for all stakeholders.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.

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By Hari Venkatacharya

After having returned from my fourth trip to India in the last year three weeks ago, I’ve been thinking hard about where I believe Canadian companies need to focus in the next twelve months to create momentum, and buffer themselves against the vagaries of the US economy.

Although the overall sentiment in North America is certainly more upbeat than it has been in 12 months, there is no doubt that most people, including myself, are very sceptical about whether the US, and so also the Canadian, economy is now on a growth path, or simply making up some of the lost ground from the carnage of last year.

Although we saw some good growth in the job market in Canada in November, this was more than compensated for by more losses in December 2009. In addition, the new US budget is not only including significant deficit spending, but is also hinting at tax increases.  In Canada, our finance minister has indicated that at least five years of budget cuts will be needed to again balance the books. Where does this leave the entrepreneur?

I believe that there is still the potential for huge growth for companies that target a specific niche market, and look at both organic and inorganic growth in emerging countries. I do not believe that the North American markets will grow anywhere near the 9-10% GDP growth that is being predicted for India and China, for this year. We may be lucky to simply not have our economies shrink!

Here are some predictions for 2010:

  • SME companies in Canada will start to de-couple from an exclusive US-focused growth strategy and will engage with companies in emerging markets.
  • The traditional VC model will cease to exist. More investments will come from strategic partners, government agencies, and angel investors.
  • The Canadian economy will shrink an additional 2%
  • We will have a new government in Ottawa.
  • Canada will allow significantly more foreign investment from Asian companies, specifically focused on the clean technology sector, like the recent Samsung deal in Ontario.
  • Canadian government-backed innovation programs will more aggressively pursue US and foreign VCs to leverage their investments.
  • Canadian early stage investments will go down by 20%, with more funding allocated to M&A and consolidation plays.
  • The oil sands will be forced to focus future development on a more environmentally friendly model, mostly due to international as opposed to national, pressures.

Fundamentally, Canadian companies at any stage need to re-focus their attention to non-US markets, or they will be left behind in the huge growth opportunities that exist globally. The urgency has never been greater to diversify our base of business, and to take advantage of true global networks and connectivity.

Hari is a seasoned entrepreneur with over a dozen years of experience in building and exiting businesses in Canada, US and India.

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