E-Summit 09: Day 1: Guest Lecture by Dominique Trempont and Sramana Mitra (Part I)

This is the first of my series of posts covering the events under Entrepreneurship Summit 2009 (2nd Jan – 11th Jan), organised by the Entrepreneurship Cell, IIT Kharagpur, and hosted by IIT Kharagpur. It is one of the biggest platforms in India for academicians, new-age entrepreneurs, eminent business personalities, venture capitalists, and students alike, to gather and share their entrepreneurial endeavours and experiences, and to pledge to take Entrepreneurship in India to greater scales. Keep reading the E-Summit diaries as I, the official Blogger for E-Summit 2009 (sounds cool, right?), take you through this Entrepreneurial expedition over the course of 10 days.

E-Summit 09 kick started today with a Guest Lecture by Dominique Trempont and Sramana Mitra.

Dominique is currently a member of the Board of Directors and Audit Committee of Finisar Corporation, a public company that develops and markets products and services for large enterprise storage networks. He also serves on the Board of Directors, and Chairs the Audit Committee, of Energy Recovery, Inc., a public company that helps water desalination plants recycle energy used in the desalination process. Mr. Trempont was CEO-in-Residence at Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm, prior to which, he was Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kanisa, Inc., a software company focused on customer self-service, contact centre and peer support applications. He has served as Chief Executive Officer of Gemplus Corporation, a smart card application company. Dominique was recruited by Steve Jobs to turn around NeXT, first as chief financial officer and later expanding to lead all operations. Dominique led NeXT’s shift from hardware to software and brought the company to profitability. He successfully restructured the company financially, organizationally and strategically, and sold NeXT to Apple in 1997 for $462M.

Mr. Trempont began his career at Raychem Corporation, a high-tech material science company focused on the telecommunication, electronics and automotive industries, including holding the position of Chief Audit Officer. Mr. Trempont received an undergraduate degree in Economics from College St. Louis (Belgium), a bachelor’s in Business Administration and Computer Sciences from IAG at the University of Louvain (Belgium) and a master’s in Business Administration from INSEAD.

Sramana Mitra has been an entrepreneur and a strategy consultant in Silicon Valley since 1994. Her fields of experience span from hard core technology disciplines like semiconductors to sophisticated consumer marketing industries including fashion and education. Her current focus, however, is primarily in the realms of Web 3.0 and Enterprise 3.0, and related infrastructure. She has a particular interest in Media and Retail companies and their transition to a Web-centric world.

Writings from Sramana’s popular blog “Sramana Mitra on Strategy” are syndicated by Seeking Alpha, Yahoo! Finance, ReadWriteWeb, Cadwire, Emergic, GigaOm, TheStreet.com and many other high traffic online business, finance, and technology publishers. Sramana also writes a weekly column for Forbes and syndicates her Vision India 2020 column to the Indian daily, DNAIndia.

As Sramana stepped on to the stage of a fully-packed Netaji Auditorium to deliver her lecture on “Entrepreneurship Opportunities in India”, she was greeted with a warm applause by the audience, primarily consisting of undergraduate and postgraduate students, potential entrepreneurs. She recollected how the scenario in IIT-Kgp today was at contrast with the last time she visited the campus 12-13 years ago with the aim of recruiting some Engineering graduates for one of her ventures. At that time, students stuck to the notion of working for established brands and were quite critical of job prospects in new ventures, and Sramana was not in a position to recruit even a single student. She reflected that the outlook towards Entrepreneurship has drastically changed over the years, and congratulated E-Cell for cultivating the spirit of Entrepreneurship amongst IITians.

Right before the presentation began, she urged the audience to first assume that they WILL each become important entrepreneurs. Beginning on a highly optimistic note, she went on to list the important areas/sectors which are as yet untapped and are potentially huge opportunities for our generation. The point was to pick important problems we are facing and find innovative solutions to them. Case studies, Role Models and Frameworks were presented to further stress the cause and to aid in the development of Entrepreneurship models.

The first of these areas of opportunity was WATER. At this point, Dominique stepped in to explain the seriousness as well as the entrepreneurial potential of “Fresh Water on a Shrinking Planet”. He explained that such problems need to be tackled the way it was done in Silicon Valley: Focus on one particular problem, find innovative solutions to it, and then gain profit by marketing the solution through a venture. He stressed on the fact that India not only has huge problems which need to be approached this way, but also has the creativity to find such solutions.

Dominique elaborated on the water crisis by stating that while the world population doubles every 40 years, but the demand for freshwater doubles in just 20 years, and by 2025, the demand would have outstripped the supply by 150%. Fortune magazine, in 2000, went on to say: “Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was in the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth [and health] of nations.” In fact, the water crisis is already so acute in some regions, collaborative efforts have been made by nations like Israel and its neighbouring arch-enemy nations to deal with the problem collectively. So large is the problem, that feuds many millennia old have been forgotten in efforts to tackle it.

The problem is more acute specifically with regard to Ground Water. Water used for Agricultural, Industrial and Household purposes is comprised of 70-80% Ground Water. Importantly, Groundwater depletes 14 times faster than its replenishment. Can you guess the number of children dying from water-related illnesses EVERY DAY? 1600! It’s equivalent to shooting down 8 Jumbo Jet aircrafts full of kids every single day.
Looking from a pure entrepreneur’s point of view, water-related problems are a huge toll on the economy, on which 3% of India’s GDP is spent. Thus, it’s an unopened treasure chest. The water reserves are fast declining in India with the Gangotri glacier melting, existing reserves getting polluted, and most of the rain run-off not making it to the reserves, while the demand is skyrocketing with Agricultural Growth, population Growth and Economic Development.

In case you’re wondering where all the water is going, consider this: 1 kg of beef requires around 10,000 litres of water to produce, and even a seemingly harmless cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water. A pair of Jeans consumes 11,000 litres of water over its lifetime, while an average car guzzles over 4, 00,000 litres of water. Water resources could be subject to geopolitics in the future as well, with disputes over water rights, water dependencies and related conflicts. On a related note, the Siachen Glacier, which is at present the world’s highest battleground, could be a source of dispute in the future merely due to the fact that it’s a huge reserve of [frozen] water.

Potential solutions were also suggested for the problem. Protection of existing water resources could be one. Harvesting sources of Rain Water is another one, which needs innovative solutions. Similarly, maintaining water infrastructure requires innovations, innovations that engineering students from IITs and other premier institutes should indulge in. Another important step to be taken is management of ‘Water Footprint’. This is possible if technologies are developed to make the existing processes that consume water more efficient on those terms.

For example, one possible technological innovation could be the development of a better Reverse Osmosis system that could affordably and efficiently convert Sea water to potable water. To establish this, membrane technology needs to be explored. These are the kinds of innovations that IITians could do. Water desalination is a big problem, and any innovation in this field is sure to bring in huge profits.

Students sitting in the audience could be seen exchanging glances. The single area of opportunity suggested till then, WATER, could actually incorporate innovations from Mechanical, Metallurgical, Mining, Agricultural, Biotechnological, Chemical, Civil and other such engineering fields, and turns them into highly profitable ventures. Some of the technologies suggested to be developed are in fact being presently researched by the academia at IIT-Kgp, but no one had any idea there was such a huge potential in them. This universal water problem is a gold mine for entrepreneurs with an innovation.

Besides, the issues with other areas dependent/linked with WATER crisis could also be answered by these innovations, which translate to an even greater margin of profit. For example, huge amounts of Energy are required for water treatment. A better solution to water treatment could thus also help cope with another issue at large, Energy crisis.

Much of the audience was looking open-mouthed at the slides, completely in awe of what they were seeing. Some, perhaps, might have been sceptical about all this, feeling it all looks great in theory and fantasy, but will it be feasible? Sramana walked right in to the opportunity to present a role model: HP Michelet. Michelet is a Norwegian Entrepreneur, who came with the idea that formed Energy Recovery Inc. (ERI). ERI is the world’s leading manufacturer of energy recovery devices such as the PX Pressure Exchanger used for seawater desalination that reduces energy consumption of up to 98%. The idea of recycling energy in desalination was the simplest that could be, and ERI is slated to be a billion dollar company within a few years. India has huge opportunities for desalination plants along its huge coastline, an excellent opportunity. Are you listening?


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: