Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Open Source Software Potential for Entrepreneurs


Increasingly Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) is being seen as a cost effective solution, more so in entrepreneurships looking for cost effective deployments for their business ideas. Open Source Software is a given among entrepreneurs from technology backgrounds, but among the rest, entrepreneurs in Finance, Agriculture, and Education among other disciplines, OSS may not be as well known vis-à-vis its potential and deployment possibilities.

The implications of this can be serious for the success of an entrepreneurship. Financials, a critical component of any entrepreneurship, is the first to be impacted, with costs going up significantly.

Power Of Ideas spoke with Brajeshwar for insights into FOSS and the benefits to be had for the entrepreneur in adopting FOSS. What intrigued me was when Brajeshwar mentioned that his start-up, oCricket, was based entirely on FOSS, implying that except for the development effort there was no other cost involved.

Power Of Ideas: What potential do you see Open Source hold for startups in the prevailing Economic situation? Examples you can state of startups that used Open Source and the kind of cost savings that resulted?

Brajeshwar: Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) holds a lot of potential for startups irrespective of the economic situation, since it's much more about FOSS being "tweak-friendly" than FOSS being "cheap". A startup attempting to build a product to challenge market leaders would mean having to push the boundaries of software to be able to build something which is twice as fast but at half the cost. It would involve either building something awesome from scratch or taking something which is great (and FOSS) and taking it apart and tweaking its parts to squeeze out the last ounce of performance. That also means leveraging on the plethora of existing FOSS projects and building on top of them. FOSS empowers you to do that.

Having said that I must add that FOSS also has a distinct economic advantage, especially relevant in these times of Economic Depression. Using cutting-edge technology and not having to pay any license fees is "good" for a startup.

Examples of successful startups abound and they don’t come any more famous than Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, all of which run entirely on Open Source Software. Most successful startups (9 of 10) will have used Open Source. Perhaps the only successful startup/website that uses MS product .NET is StackOverflow.com.

Power Of Ideas: What kind of startups can best leverage Open Source software, and what kind of startups cannot?

Brajeshwar: I think the best kind of startups that can really benefit from FOSS are the technical, web-service oriented ones. They need to be 'technical' since you need some kind of a tech-team with people who really can bend and twist the software to do your bidding. Web oriented startups will also benefit since the Web as a whole is one platform and FOSS really dominates the scene with numerous web frameworks, libraries, and servers of excellent pedigree. You can really push the envelope with a fast, easy to maintain, website built on top of FOSS tools and technologies.

On the other hand, startups which develop some kind of desktop or niche software may not be able to benefit from FOSS as much since the desktop market is still dominated by Microsoft Windows (TM) and you can hardly use much FOSS technology to built applications on top of a proprietary platform (though a sizeable number of options certainly exist today). Similarly if you are developing something for a niche market (iPhone applications, for example) you don't really get to choose the platform as those are dictated by the platform itself.

Power Of Ideas: Do you see entrepreneurs in India taking to Open Source sufficiently enough? If not any reasons you can assign as to why they don't?

Brajeshwar: They slowly are, but that mostly because many think it's better because it's free and not because it's simply better. The main reason behind that being the fact that a FOSS ecosystem doesn't exist and India and people are mostly ignorant about the alternatives. Also the technical know-how among the majority in the Indian IT industry is not upto the International level. But things are changing slowly though. There are many initiatives being taken up by various organisations to improve the situation and it will improve with time.

Many large corporations like SUN have a good initiative going called the SUN Startup Essential. They even respond to your technical questions if you've technical problems. Of course, you get discounted Hardware from them and most of their softwares are free anyway. Check out Startup Essentials at Sun.

Power Of Ideas: What Open Source software would you suggest that startups take a look at?

Brajeshwar: It depends on the type of startup really, but off the top of my head I can name the following FOSS applications which are considered to be among the best in the world in their own categories:

Web Server
- Apache
- Lighttpd

Relational Database
- PostgreSQL
- MySQL

Programming languages
- Python
- PHP
- Ruby

Web frameworks
- Django (for Python)
- Ruby on Rails (for Ruby)
- CakePHP (for PHP)

Content Management Systems
- Drupal
- Wordpress
- Joomla

User Interface / Browser Programming
- jQuery
- YUI
- Dojo
- BluprintCSS

... and may more

Power Of Ideas: In oCricket did you use Open Source yourself? (oCricket is Brajeshwar’s startup)

Brajeshwar: oCricket is built on top of 100% Free and Open Source Software.

Power Of Ideas: With OpenMoko Freerunner what kind of possibilities do you see in mobile applications that entrepreneurs can take up, now that it is open for Open Source development.

Brajeshwar: More than the OpenMoko Freerunner, I think Google's Andriod platform holds more promise. Android is not tied to any particular mobile hardware and can be ported to almost any modern handset. Large companies like Motorola have already decided to slowly move to the
Android platform. Android is even getting ported to the OpenMoko hardware as we speak. So yes, the future is very exciting for the whole mobile platform. The kind of applications that one can build is endless; in short, it's pretty much everything. People are building tonnes of applications for the Apple iPhone ranging from games to high-precision medical applications. I don't see why the same can't be done on the OpenMoko or the Android platform.

Power Of Ideas: Do you consider your startup, oCricket, as a Media startup? If yes, what other kinds of Media startups do you feel India needs?

Brajeshwar: Well, it’s the environment that we're in that can eventually mark us as a Media Startup. Nonetheless, we're are very technology oriented and will use technology to the best we can to make things easier and useful to our users. Consider it an endeavor to marry Media and Technology.

Bollywood is definitely another sector that can be tapped and nurtured. And even the TV (Video) paradigm is something so massive that there is huge potential and India is just waking up to that. We can learn from the likes of iTunes, Netflix and model something relevant and perhaps even competitive to them.

Power Of Ideas: Can entrepreneurs really make a difference to the country as a whole without them addressing the diversity of languages?

Brajeshwar: For mobile applications languages will come into play as a factor affecting reach. So what lessons do these hold vis-a-vis them presenting opportunities for Open Source development.

Diversity in language and culture is a thing of beauty and is something which cannot just be addressed with mere solution. Technology can be just one of the many drivers for unification in this diversity. So, instead of trying to tie them up first and apply, why not start off and let it unite on its own.

Even for the mobile sector, one solution won't fit all. I would love if someone comes up with a flawless way to convert English to a vernacular language and vice-versa in a realm like SMS.

Parting Note

Brajeshwar: One should keep in mind that Open Source is just the beginning to successful Startups, saving money and making them economical. There are lot to being a successful Startup and an entrepreneur should not forget that. Open Source is just a means to an end.

Brajeshwar blogs at Brajeshwar.com.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blog Aggregators, an Entrepreneurial Option


With blogs fairly exploding as a medium of choice for expression among over 100 million netizens who use them to document everything from the personal to the professional, it was only a matter of time that initiatives to filter blogs on their content came into the picture.

It is the way of the world that no sooner chaos begins to manifest itself in steps order.

Since the time the first Blog Aggregator (BA) came into being others have followed suit, building communities, gathering contributors along the way to help with scouring the blogosphere for quality content to bring to their readers. And occasionally, now fairly regularly, they’ve stepped in to defend the right to free speech while mobilizing the blogging community into one voice, sending ripples across the Internet. And their readers have grown, first exponentially, then thick and furious.

At some point they become viable entrepreneurial propositions if you understand the space they operate in, and are prepared to dedicate yourself to the task. As content continues to grow on the Internet the need for content filtered by Blog Aggregators (BA) will continue to grow as well.

DesiPundit, arguably India’s largest Blog Aggregator, is a case in point. With over 12,000 RSS subscribers, and over 2500 page views daily, DesiPundit is a model for how to run a blog aggregator. Founded by Patrix, it’s the morning cup of chai for thousands of people looking to catch up on their corner of India.

Nikhil Narayanan, a contributor with DesiPundit, and who blogs at Nikhil's Musings, shared his thoughts with Power Of Ideas on the issue of blog aggregators as a viable startup option for entrepreneurs.

POI: Can Blog Aggregators be viable business models?

Nikhil: Yes, but since such models work on Ad based revenues the 'when' of becoming viable cannot be easily answered.

POI: What goes into building a Blog Aggregator, the technology behind it? And the social effort that goes into building it up among the targetted audience?

Nikhil: A Content Management System like WP/Blogger, Plugins/Widgets to read RSS (for auto feeds and publish) are needed. It is always better to have a self hosted Blog Aggregator as it can help build the brand. A Blog Aggregator is a win-win. Bloggers are never unhappy with the publicity.

POI Adds: AJAX and Widgets (largely operating on XML, allow users to aggregate OPML files, feeds etc. through a single interface) are used to aggregate feeds and form key components of BAs.

POI: What's the cost of setting up a BA, and what kind of manpower effort is needed for running it since man-hours also cost money. What did DesiPundit (DP) cost to build?

Nikhil: Hosting space and a domain name would cost around 1200 INR annually. Wordpress and Plugins are thankfully free. One can use automatic aggregation like DP's Community Section and/or manual aggregation like DP's New & Upcoming section.

In automatic aggregation, the only task is setting up the list of blogs for the BA. Manual aggregation is just linking interesting posts and the time involved depends on how much time one is ready to spend surfing blogs. Linking a post hardly takes more than two minutes. Designing a template would cost some more money, again depends on the template design.

POI Adds: WordPress is Open Source. Plugins are developed by programmers to aid those who may not be able to write their own PHP code etc. Plugins can range from those that aid with Feeds, Video, Forums, Downloads, Advertising, and Admin tools you can install.

POI: What kind of an entrepreneur expertise is required to start a blog aggregator?

Nikhil: Zilch! Some experience on the blogosphere, and the time and effort to find good blogs is all what is needed.

Note: Nikhil also added that there could be a reason for conflict between Content Generators and Blog Aggregators since the latter base their business model on the efforts of others, something he opines is "unfair" (on the bloggers).

POI Adds: Blog Aggregators are moving in to address this very issue. Lonely Planet's Blog Sherpa program is a step in this direction where content generators receive payment from the Adsense program on their content tagged to Lonely Planet's Blog Sherpa project while the host platform gets to showcase their content.

In addition to DesiPundit, Blogbharti is the other major Indian Blog Aggregator.

Other Indian Blog Aggregators

1. Chitthajagat (Hindi Blog Aggregator)
2. Blogadda
3. Blogvani (Hindi Blog Aggregator)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

An Entrepreneur Story - Pop Goes The Art



Glossed over by catchwords like ‘innovation’, ‘drive’, ‘passion’ etc. what is often not spoken about is the fact that many turn into entrepreneurs because they hated their day jobs. In the glut of technology options available it is something as simple as escaping the clutches of a day job that drives many down the entrepreneurial path

Six months into her job as an investor relations executive, it was dislike for her day job more than a passion for entrepreneurship that got Nidhi Karnavat to start Pop goes the Art. In the slump after a flurry of numbers, returns and financial figures, Nidhi began to rediscover her passion for art and reinvent her approach to how she would bring it back into her fold. And, in two weeks she decided to hone her passion into an enterprise; giving birth to Pop Goes The Art.

A delightful collection of personalized gifts including paintings and cushion covers, Pop Goes the Art came out of Nidhi's love for creation and a simple realization: “In today's word, people are often willing to spend large amounts of money for personalized gifts.”

In the months following her decision, Nidhi focused all her energies in developing the business, theorizing, creating pieces of art and deciphering how and when to reach out to people. Besides setting up her website, Nidhi also made some quick decisions- like booking a stall in an exhibition to be held six months later!

In November 2008, Nidhi held the first exhibition of Pop Goes The Art at the Blue Orange Exhibition. Besides she also distributed fliers and visiting cards designed by her- suitably showing off her logo, and the brand.

Starting out with an initial investment of Rs. 53,000/- (Rs. 50,000/- towards the stall and Rs. 3,000/- towards website development) Nidhi painstakingly steered Pop Goes the Art towards visibility, and in time to popularity. Among the studied decisions she took it was her decision to price her creations appropriate to age groups, styling and otherwise, that paid off. It was a decision that came in handy given the current financial meltdown. The premise behind the decision was to retain an interested customer by allowing them to pick up a cheaper variation of a design they like. Nidhi's latest expansion of her collection to include lower price variations- laptop covers, laptop sleeves and knick-knack boxes is a step in that direction.

Nidhi recalls another business move that has worked in her favor- the brand building exercise. Nidhi designed tags- with a point of contact that were attached to every product she sold. It ensured anybody who viewed her work, and liked it, knew how to reach her. Nidhi's client√®le includes friends, contacts, and friends of friends' as well as a recent splurge of customers on the web. “About 10% of my customers come from the Internet,” says Nidhi.

Twelve-hour work days seems like little work to Nidhi, who loves what she does. She is constantly innovating her brand- her latest move includes incorporating care labels and branded packaging. “My ideas are often born out of listening to my customers, and answering their queries,” explains Nidhi.

Her next move, Nidhi reveals, is tying up with boutiques in Mumbai that give credit to individual designers. “To reach varied price points again, these boutiques will exhibit digital prints of my products. But, there won't be digital prints of my range of personalized products, ensuring my digital market doesn't cannibalize my market of personalized art work,” says Nidhi, pertinent as always.


Do you have an artistic skill, you'd like to base an entrepreneurial move upon?

Maybe, we can help you realize it! Visit The Power Of Ideas to find out how.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Query Update I: Financials Section in the Business Summary


In response to purogovind on Twitter

Purogovind: “Am wondering how important are financials. I just have a vague picture of it.”

(Context: filling up Financials section in the Business Summary for submission to The Power Of Ideas)

The Economics Times response:

“For those with an existing business, please use a table to summarise your past years’ revenues and profits and project the same for the next three years (if applicable). Also, state the funding you have received to date (whether venture capitalist, family, etc) and the funding that you are now seeking and how you plan to use the funds. Please give forward projection of your funding requirements for the next three years. If you are planning a new venture, please give projected financials, investment sought and plan for use of funds.

Essentially, it is important to have a sense of financials. This will help the VC to understand how much he needs to give out.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Power Of Ideas Submission Deadline Extended to 23 Feb


UPDATE

The submission deadline for entreprenurial business summary to The Power Of Ideas is now extended to 6 P.M., Feb 23, 2009.

Visit The Power Of Ideas to submit your business entry.

Yesterday in Mumbai



Yesterday, The Economic Times concluded its The Power Of Ideas series of seminars with 'Capital Idea' - How entrepreneurs can access and bring their business ideas to life.

The Speakers on the panel were Jitender Balakrishnan, Deputy Managing Director, IDBI, Sandeep Singhal, Founder, Nexus Capital, Gautam Patel, Partner, Battery Ventures, Rahul Khanna, Clearstone Venture Advisors.


As reported by the Mumbai bureau


WHILE the slowdown has hit the mainstream corporate world, entrepreneurs with commercially viable business ideas will not find a dearth of venture capitalists (VCs) to fund them. Infact, at an ET roundtable ‘Capital Ideas,’ the VCs were ruing the fact that there was a dearth of ideas with sound business models and potential to scale.

“There are not enough quality ideas that we receive these days. There might be a few who satisfy some of our criteria, but there is still a lot that is left to be desired for,” said Gautam Patel MD Battery Venture. “While we have funds, there are not sufficient workable ideas for the funds,” added Jitender Balakrishnan deputy MD and head corporate banking IDBI. The roundtable was part of the ET’s “Power Of Ideas” campaign.

While there might be a large number of new entrepreneurial concepts floating around and lot many willing entrepreneurs, only a handful hold promise for VCs. “Between my partners and I, we receive at least five calls every day. But we would only invest in 6-8 companies this year,” said Nexus India Capital’s partner Sandeep Singhal. The VCs agree that the entrepreneurial activity has dipped in the last few months as the slowdown deepens.

Post the period of crazy valuations and unrealistic expectations, the VCs and entrepreneurs are a much more cautious and grounded lot now.
The consensus view was that the time of exuberance and out of whack valuations has gone for good.

“There was a rush to glory over the last 18-24 months, but this has changed now,” said Rahul Khanna of Clearstone Ventures. “Clearly, the valuations expectations have sobered down.” In the good old days, it was the money chasing the good deals, but now the scene is different. “Tables have turned as there are more quality deals chasing scarce capital,” said Singhal of Nexus.

The VCs were however all praise for the Indian entrepreneurs for their capital management skills. Though the entrepreneurs had issues with the level of stakes to be divested but that done the Indian entrepreneur were one of the most cash efficient. Infact, the VCs even went on to say the Indian entrepreneurs were the most cash efficient in the world and there were very few cases of fund being misused.


As the debate progressed, some members of the blogger community and some prospective entrepreneurs, who were also present at the ET roundtable, questioned the VCs on their indifference towards freshly minted entrepreneurs who were straight out of colleges.

“We are taking a more hard-nosed approach now as we have put in place stringent criteria’s for entrepreneurs to match if they want their projects to be funded,” explained Singhal.

The discussion then veered towards the lack of options for entrepreneurs for raising money, especially on the institutional side. The institutional investors have nearly exited this space and entrepreneurs are forced to go banks that have strict norms not compliant to entrepreneurs. “Ten years ago, it was easy for entrepreneurs to raise capital for their projects as there was a lot of help from institutional investors like IDBI, ICICI. Now the risk perception has increased and so it is difficult for them to find funding and also state-level institutions have moved out. They have to approach banks that have a 90-day norm in place making it unfavourable with these guys,” said Mr Balakrishnan of IDBI.

But, the entrepreneurs with sound business models need not worry, each of the three VCs told us that they have the cheque books ready: If the idea is worth it.

Read what bloggers had to say about the Seminar in Mumbai yesterday.




And from the Delhi seminar held earlier


Power Of Ideas Update I


Submissions for Start-up Funding Received

2,500+


Some sectors Start-up Submissions received in are

Retail
Media & Entertainment
Healthcare
Education
Agriculture

To submit your Start-up idea for possible VC funding, visit Power Of Ideas

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today In Mumbai


In a little over an hour and half from now, at 11:30 A.M. panelists who’re in the business of helping entrepreneurs achieve their goals will speak in Mumbai at the Economic Times seminar on - 'Capital Idea' - How entrepreneurs can access and bring their business ideas to life.

The Speakers

Jitender Balakrishnan, Deputy Managing Director, IDBI
Sandeep Singhal, Founder, Nexus Capital
Gautam Patel, Partner, Battery Ventures
Rahul Khanna, Clearstone Venture Advisors

They'll be speaking on

1. How entrepreneurs can access capital.
2. What should be the approach.
3. The barriers / limitations that entrepreneurs face in accessing capital, and ways and means open to them to overcome these hurdles.
4. The role of entrepreneurship in building a strong India.

Date: 18th Feb, 2009
Time: 11:30 A.M.
Venue: 4th Floor, Conference Hall, The Times Of India bldg., Dr. D.N. Road, Fort, Mumbai-400001

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mumbai, Tomorrow


Tomorrow, The Economic Times concludes its The Power Of Ideas series of seminars with the last one in Mumbai. With Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi, and Ahmedabad done, Mumbai will now hear what a distinguished panel of speakers has to say on

"Capital Idea" - How entrepreneurs can access and bring their business ideas to life.

Speakers

Jitender Balakrishnan, Deputy Managing Director, IDBI
Sandeep Singhal, Founder, Nexus Capital
Gautam Patel, Partner, Battery Ventures
Rahul Khanna, Clearstone Venture Advisors

They'll be speaking on

1. How entrepreneurs can access capital.
2. What should be the approach.
3. The barriers / limitations that entrepreneurs face in accessing capital, and ways and means open to them to overcome these hurdles.
4. The role of entrepreneurship in building a strong India.

Date: 18th Feb, 2009
Time: 11:30 A.M.
Venue: 4th Floor, Conference Hall, The Times Of India bldg., Dr. D.N. Road, Fort, Mumbai-400001

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Friends Of Books


Unlike overseas, there are few or no large bookstore chains, musty second-hand bookstores, or sprawling public libraries in India outside of the cities. In recent times however several book stores have cropped up here, but they are few and far-between. Perhaps, it is an indication of how little India reads, something that rankled and goaded Manish Kumar and Arti Jain into founding Friendsofbooks.com.

Friendsofbooks.com is a business initiative that came about to make India read! It now ensures cold wintry evenings, steaming cups of coffee, and lonely summer nights have suitable company. And that too, quite comfortably – picked off a virtual bookshop, and delivered to your doorstep!


Friendsofbooks.com uses a digital platform to communicate and connect with its members. Users log on to the website to browse through virtual bookshelves and select a registration plan. “Registration plans vary, keeping in mind different reading patterns among Indians. The entry plan has been kept at a nominal sum of Rs. 150/-,” explains Arti. Once registered, the user picks up a book to read which is then delivered to their doorstep. When the user finishes the book, he hits the 'Ready for Pick up' tab on the website to make way for his next read, again delivered to his doorstep!


Whilst the idea sparked in the US, where both Arti and Manish were working as an independent media professional and software professional respectively, it was later modified and adapted to suit Indian markets. The pre-launch period entailed an in depth study of the Indian publishing business and reading habits among Indians. While Arti busied herself in researching the market and building the virtual bookshelf including sourcing and collecting books, Manish put his skills to use in setting up the website.

The books came from book store chains, second-hand bookstores, well-wishers and members who generously parted with their books. The initial investment for setting up the website came in from Manish and Arti. Setting up the website included the creation of a payment gateway to ensure a safe and secure payment environment for membership registration. The registration begins at Rs. 150/- going on to Rs. 4,750/-. Says Manish, “I studied different payment websites and zeroed in on PC Avenue. Besides their promise of safety and security, it also helped that they were reputed and known for their efficiency.”

In the book-lending business, dynamics such as quantity, delivery and pick up are factors that affect demand for books, and as also do awards and accolades the books win. Finally maintenance and storage of books is also critical. Friendsofbooks.com realized the functional difficulties involving book pick-up and delivery. “So we decided to hire the services of a courier agency to aid with our book pick-up and delivery service. We decided to focus on what we're good at, and outsource what we're not!” explains Arti. Friendsofbooks.com stores books in cartons, and on bookshelves and takes a security deposit from its members to safeguard against books not returned, or returned in bad condition.


“But, that's rarely the case,” explains Manish, “after all, all our members are Friends of Books!” The initiative uses book reading events, social media and a blog to reach out to its readers and keep them updated with their thoughts and events. Informal newsletters are sent out each month to inform readers of their latest additions. “Building our library is one of our most important tasks,” reveals Arti. Additionally, they keep book dynamics in mind- ensuring they have optimum number of copies of a popular book to meet reader demand. Reviews too are posted up on the website, a habit that Friendsofbooks.com hopes to extend into an ongoing activity.

In the future, Friendsofbooks.com hopes to garner support, pick up business and spread their mission to other cities. Tie-ups with publishing houses may also be considered. But, most importantly, Friendsofbooks.com hopes to spread and increase the reading habit in India!

Entrepreneurial ambition around books is significant for the contribution it makes to the society for, it is books more than anything that help hold a culture together, enriching minds and affording experiences that stir imagination. A book is a leap of faith on the experience of another.

Arti and Manish converted their passion to an idea that worked for them. Do you have a passion you want to convert to a business reality?

If you do then maybe we can help you to realize it. Visit The Power Of Ideas to find out how.


Related Links

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You've Got Mail



Now that letters are rare to come by, and there’s little or no sense of anticipation of arrival of letters from friends and relatives, letter boxes have become redundant save the occasional subscription, and the household bills.

With fewer people reading books, subscriptions stand even lesser chance of being read. But if there’s one thing why we return to letter boxes, time and again it is for the various bills: Electricity bills, Telephone bills, Maintenance bills, Internet bills, and Cable TV bills among other things. More so if you don’t use the Internet to pay these off, and most people don’t. So a check of the letterbox for incoming mail becomes necessary.

I do it.

I wouldn’t mind as much if the bills landed on a pattern, but they don’t. It is quite common to have electricity bills land a day or two before the last date, or worse still not at all. Unless you check the letter box daily chances are you’ll miss the bills, and heaven forbid if you’ve make it to the Government department to rectify the missed deadlines, worse still disconnections.

It is common to check the letterbox for mail one day and not check it for the next five, maybe even ten, only to be surprised by their arrival when you least expect them. I believe in Murphy ’s Law, and suspect that bills land in the letterbox the day after I’ve checked them.

And I wonder

Why I cannot be notified automatically no sooner a letter or a bill or something is slipped into the letterbox. Surely if there’s a chip programmed with my mobile number it should be able to send me a SMS no sooner a circuit is broken on paper being slipped into the letterbox. Better still if a sensor were to detect the same so that even if a circuit stays 'broken' the sensor will still detect mail slipped in. Add a reminder if the mail is not picked up in a certain timeframe.

Ah, the conveniences folks desire! Like someone once said, if wishes were horses . . . Ahem.


Unless ofcourse no letter or bill mattered! What a blessed life that would be, without bills that is.


Mail this post to friend(s)

Good Morning, Ahmedabad


This afternoon The Economic Times rolls into Ahmedabad with its The Power Of Ideas series of seminars. With Kolkata, Bangalore, and Delhi done, now Ahmedabad will hear what a distinguished panel of speakers has to say on

Slowdown throws up more Entrepreneurs.

Speakers

Pankaj Patel, CMD, Zydus Cadila
Dr. Samir Barua, IIM-A Director
Piruz Khambatta, CMD, Rasna
Ashish Soparkar, CEO, Meghmani Organics
Pratul Shroff, CEO, e-Infochips


Time: 2.00 P.M. today.
Where: The Economics Times Office, 139, Fadia Chambers, Ahmedabad 380009.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Power Of Ideas Seminar in New Delhi


In a little over an hour from now The Economic Times rolls into New Delhi with its The Power Of Ideas series of seminars. With Kolkata, and Bangalore done, now New Delhi will hear what a distinguished panel of speakers has to say on


Ecosystem for Innovativeness in India. Is Jugaad a disruptive technology?


Speakers

Jagdish Khattar (Head of Carnation Auto and Former MD Maruti Udyog Limited)
Shivinder Mohan Singh (Director, Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited)
Raman Roy (CMD Quattro BPO)
Dr. Saurabh Srivastava (Chairman – Infinity and Co-founder, Indian Angel Network)

Time: 4.00 PM today.
Where: The Economics Times Office, 7 Bahadur Shah Marg.


Related Links

See Jugaad on Flickr

Monday, February 9, 2009

Journalism Entrepreneurs


What the Internet affords those with ideas is a medium to bring them to reality, and nowhere more so than in the classrooms where the academics of the subject can tested for viability in the public sphere, even long after one has passed out and is working at a job.

For those of us who might be tempted to associate start-ups with Applied Sciences or Management courses, think again. While Applied Sciences and Management courses might seem easily predisposed to bringing ideas to reality and with the means to do so, the Internet has democratized the space to allow someone with an idea and a little help from a neighbourhood techie to make a startup work, provided the idea has a need in the marketplace or is in a position to create that need.

To Applied Sciences and Management, now add Journalism. Let’s see how.

In September 2007, Jeff Jarvis announced a two-year grant from the McCormick Tribune Foundation to ‘provide seed funding to news start-ups’ developed by students of his course in Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, each student working to create a start-up.

In addition to thinking up an idea that’ll survive in the marketplace, each News start-up was required to think up among other things, the promise it will fulfill in the marketplace, and the need driving the promise. This in turn required research as to how the offering will be taken to its stakeholders, i.e. the consumers, and any competitive analysis on similar products in the marketplace. Then a revenue plan, and a marketing plan to drive the revenue plan before launching it in the market.

Each class worked on, developed, and submitted market-viable ideas for Internet News start-ups for funding to a group of jurors, themselves Media entrepreneurs.

In a collaborative effort, CUNY hosts NY City News Service, a start-up initiative created at the institute, publishing works of journalism produced by CUNY students. It is multimedia web-based wire services where content produced by students under the supervision of faculty is published, and is available free to local media publications that in turn carry the content into the community with attribution. WNYC Radio, New York Daily News, Norwood News, and Queens Carrier are among the local media outlets that fed off this Online venture.

NY City News Service won the Best All-Around Independent Online Student Publication in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards.

Other Online Ventures by CUNY Journalism students

Started by Colin Orcutt, a second semester student, Box Score Beat analyses sports journalism “by providing a closer look at what the press covers, and what it does not cover." Revenue objective is to create sufficient presence in the Sports World to make advertisers sit up and take notice before pulling in the advertising revenues.

I Snap NY is a new venture started by the students at the institute, updated with images of New York captured by students, a potential photo news service to mainstream media outlets.


News-based Internet Start-ups

See the following examples of how entrepreneurs are leveraging their ideas to initiate News-based Start-ups on the Internet to fulfill community needs and make a difference with their services.

1. IBISEYE is a risk-estimator website that users use to track Atlantic Ocean tropical storm and hurricane activity, so that they can identify at-risk buildings and report actual damage.

Note: If you know of Internet Start-ups we'll be glad to hear of them. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.

Submit Your Idea

The Internet affords an excellent opportunity to bring ideas and technologies together to serve information needs of communities. If you've ideas for potential Internet Start-ups submit them for us to evaluate them for potential funding.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jugaad On The Street I



Out on the Indian street it is the enterprising that will improvise and innovate with their businesses. Those of us who have traveled many a mile in Indian milieus, particularly the bazaars will remember voices heard over the noise of people milling about, voices that are particularly energetic, and persuasive, while others not as much.

But whatever the case maybe there is every chance, if you were to look closely, that they’ll have innovated on something or the other, often to cut costs, or to make do with whatever is at their disposal at the time. Jugaad or a quick fix often does the trick.

After all as many of them would say, if a Jugaad does the job then why bother with anything else. Jugaad on the Indian street is a living example of how the enterprising will find a way out themselves to meet their needs.

The juice vendor’s cart that you see in the picture above needed an ice box. With earnings from selling juices largely seasonal not to speak of fierce competition each juice vendor faces, money for an ice box could be put to better use somewhere, so he looked for an alternative.


Improvising with a thermocol box that was used to pack and transport vaccines, he ensured that he had an ice box functioning that served his purpose.

While he used a thermocol box his neighbour, another juice vendor, used a conventional ice box. It was a study in contrasts.

Thermocol is easy to come by, and folks on the street find many uses for it. They experiment, or see precedents and adopt it. A rickshaw driver I recently traveled with pointed to the roof and told me that though the roof has a double layer it gets very hot inside the rickshaw.

“I insert a thermocol sheet between the roof supports and the roof cover, it keeps the inside cool.”

Then he pointed to pieces of thermocol sticking from the roof before continuing, “In a month from now I’ll have the thermocol sheet back to beat the heat.”

Jugaad indicates a need that exists in the market, a need that needs fulfillment, and at a cost that is viable. Before getting off the rickshaw the driver pointed to his seat and said, “I got this from those that car owners use. Sitting on all day I don’t sweat in the seat of the pants. The wooden beads aid circulation, and I remain comfortable.”


He said, “Other rickshaw drivers ask me if the wooden beads don’t hurt me when I sit on them. So I ask them to try and they quite enjoy the experience.”

“Don’t they want to buy something similar?”

“They would if was cheaper,” he replied.


In the simplest form Jugaad takes the form of a hair-band that peanut vendors use as an elastic holder to keep paper cones in place. Unlike conventional rubber bands that concentrate pressure on a narrow strip the width of the rubber band, and crumpling the paper cones, hair-bands improvised as paper cone holders relieve the pressure across a wide strip the width of the hair band.

Walk along further and if you happen upon more vendors, pause like I did.


In front of a basketful of red nozzles, a colour that’s difficult to miss even if you’re walking past quickly, a youth was announcing, “Dus ko ek, dus ko ek.” (One for ten, one for ten).

In one hand he held a used Bisleri water bottle with a red nozzle from the basket fitted to it, with the other he held a nozzle aloft, all the while spraying water from the nozzle. In no time he emptied the plastic water bottle before picking up another.

The sight of a Bisleri water bottle, a brand that people use widely, made passers-by stop by the lad. Unlike in retail store where a water sprayer comes with the nozzle and the container as a single unit, here they only need buy the nozzle and fit it to a used mineral water bottle.

It helped that the street vendor was selling his wares by a flower market, for as I stepped out I ran into a flower vendor who had used the water sprayer the lad was peddling to keep her flowers fresh. Her empty basket indicated fresh looking flowers had found quick buyers. Elsewhere fruit vendors had one of these too, spraying their fruits to keep them looking shiny and fresh.

In the afternoon, retracing my steps I ran into the ‘nozzle’ vendors with stocks nearly sold, while the few nozzles that remained had interested customers.

The plastic nozzle engineered for use with castaway mineral water bottles irrespective of the make will see many a used mineral water bottle now used to water plants, wipe tables, floors, and keep fruits fresh among other things.


But to experience Jugaad at a level of engineering that makes a difference with how you operate your business, you must visit Panchgani to see a lemonade vendor who literally gave his business wheels. One blogger did, and here is an account of his encounter with the enterprising businessman.

Explore the Potential of your Jugaad

To facilitate a Jugaad of your own making and give it a reality you might have dreamt of, try The Power Of Ideas. It could be just the place to explore its entrepreneurial potential. Click here to find out how.


Note: If you’ve chanced upon simple innovations on the Indian street or innovations that make you admire the ingenuity behind them, mail them to us with pictures at etpowerofideas (at) yahoo (dot) com, and find them in the Jugaad On the Street series here. Join our Flickr Group Jugaad and submit your Jugaad pictures to the group.


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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Little Devil at the IIT Mumbai Tech Fest 2009



Solapur is a little over six hours by train from Mumbai. Those who travel regularly to Solapur and back will tell you to book your tickets in advance if you’re planning a trip by III Tier AC to this outpost in Maharashtra for, on weekends sugar barons travel between Solapur and Mumbai and there’s nary a ticket to be had if you haven’t planned your travel in advance.



Siddeshwar Express is the preferred mode of travel to Solapur and back, depositing the traveler in Mumbai at the break of dawn. “It saves you daytime,” is a common refrain of travelers who choose to travel by the Siddeshwar Express. And so it was with Zeeshan Sayyed and team who landed in Mumbai on the morning the IIT Mumbai Tech Fest 2009 opened on the sprawling Powai campus. “We landed early morning today,” Swagat Jain, a teammate told us.

The IIT Tech Fest is arguably Asia’s largest Science and Technology festival. Spread over three days it hosts hundreds of participants at the Powai campus of the Indian Institute of Technology. The 2009 edition of the Technology Festival kicked off a little over a week ago, on the 24th of January, and concluded on the 26th.


We met Zeeshan’s team outside the Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management. The Little Devil lay stretched out in the mud across from where the team sat talking among themselves in a tight circle. The team exuded a quiet confidence in the Little Devil now that it had just bested an opponent in the one-to-one Robowars and advanced to the next round in the Knockout event. Combat Robotics is what they named these battles, locking competing robots in a ‘mortal combat’ of machine versus machine.



Over 28 Engineering Colleges had confirmed their participation in the event, and they came from as far as Guwahati, Bharuch, Alwar, Indore, Jabalpur, Chennai, Solapur, and Bhubaneshwar among others, lugging the fearsome looking robots by public transport.

“Didn’t the Indian Railway Officials ask you about the Little Devil on boarding the Siddeshwar Express,” I asked Swagat. Considering the mass of wires and electrical and mechanical components that made up the robot I would’ve been surprised if Indian Railway officials hadn’t batted an eyelid on seeing it in the corner of a train compartment, more so considering the general nervousness in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist strikes.

“Oh yes, they did,” he replied. “We showed them the invitation letter from the Indian Institute of Technology, and produced letters from our institute, Walchand Institute of Technology.

Their robot, the Little Devil, took them over a month and half to design and assemble, and cost them Rs. 20,000. The six of them, engineering students all, pooled their money together and came up with this trapezoidal monster that actually looked amiable from the distance.

“It is designed to lift an opponent weighing 35 kilos,” Zeeshan proffered, “five kilos over the size limit specified for the competition.”

Wires tailed the Little Devil where it lay in silence. The team had designed an electrical system to control its movement.

Innovating with Honda Activa’s gears and motorcycle chains, and leveraging DC geared motors to generate sufficient torque as well as ample speed, the team had rigged up the four wheels they had sourced from Lamington Road to provide them with optimum mobility to attack the opponent.

“To turn the Little Devil, we throw the switch into reverse, turning the rear wheels anti-clockwise to make it pivot and change direction,” Swagat explained.

Though remote control systems were allowed for use in controlling the robots, most teams preferred using wires to control the robots electrically. Moreover the rules for Robowars forbid the use of IC engines.

The Little Devil’s destructive power came from the pneumatic device driving its arm.

“We designed the Little Devil to lift its opponent with this arm here and topple it,” Zeeshan said, pointing to the metal arm that now lay stretched out in to the front of the machine. “It is powered by a pneumatic pump,” he told us. While we stood there admiring the Devil, every once in a while we turned to see other robots filing past, each painted colourfully and exuding menace in the weaponry they carried that was designed for destruction.


Weapons Systems permitted by the rules for the Robowars included among others, liquid projectiles, flame-based weapons, any kind of explosive or intentionally ignited solid, radio jamming, tazers, tesla coils, other high voltage devices, un-tethered projectiles, and tethered projectiles in any direction are allowed with each having a maximum tether of 4 feet.

I thought this was as liberal a license for violence as any one could come up with for machines, and would test the contestants for innovation and a certain entrepreneurial streak. At stake was Rs. 45,000, and pride, and yes, prejudice as teams quietly went about fancying their chances against the rest.


The Robowars knockout rounds were held at the SOM Well. The seating was full to overflowing as robots engaged in ‘Mortal Combat’. Cheers would erupt as robots jockeyed for positions, maneuvering in the enclosure to deliver that knockout blow. It wasn’t enough that you built a robot, you had to make it work against an opponent. The event tested everyone involved – the engineers, the robots, and the audience. The latter glued to the action.


Standing there and watching the enthusiasm of the participants and the audience it is easy to believe in the potential for entrepreneurship if an idea gets hold of you sufficiently enough to want to explore it. At places such as these the spirit of competition can sufficiently fire thinking and maybe spur innovations to solve problems at local levels.

And Robotics has the potential to do just that. Maybe the next time the IIT-B Tech Fest comes around we might see participants competing with robots designed to solve just such problems that affect people locally, and maybe make a difference to their lives.


And what might those problems be?

Further Reference