Passion for ideas

Jun 25, 2018-

Saman P Amarasinghe is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US and a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He received his BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Cornell University in 1988, and his MSEE and PhD from Stanford University in 1990 and 1997, respectively; and his research interests lie in discovering novel approaches to improve the performance of modern computer systems. He is also interested in creating appropriate information technologies for emerging countries. Amarasinghe was recently in Nepal for an intensive entrepreneurial bootcamp in partnership with the Kathmandu University and Ncell.

In this interview with the Post’s Alisha Sijapati, Amarasinghe talks about the value of technology for start ups and the qualities all entrepreneurs must have. Excerpts:


What can a growing economy like Nepal learn from MIT Global Start Labs (GSL)?

The best way to say how Nepal can learn from MIT GSL is to see the growth other emerging economies have seen through our collaboration. MIT has created 40,000 companies around the world, with a combined value of three trillion dollars. At MIT GSL, we help students think about local problems and create businesses that solve those problems. Our GSL programmes are available in nine countries and we try to bring in a little of MIT culture wherever we go. So far, we have been quite successful in helping entrepreneurs and companies. Sri Lanka is one of the finest examples. When we first went to Sri Lanka in 2011, there wasn’t much of an entrepreneurship economy there—people hardly knew about the term itself. As part of our intensive boot camp, I had a programme with a batch of undergrad students in Sri Lanka. Most of the students I worked with decided to get jobs whereas; four of the students took the plunge. For instance, one of my students formed a company offering solutions to small companies who are unable to manage the multiple stores they own. Hence, this initiative has done wonders in the country and the founders are planning an expansion in other countries as well. I think such innovative ideas will change the economic value of the country. Coming to Kathmandu I have seen that the entrepreneurship level is almost at where Sri Lanka was in 2011. The ecosystem is getting exciting here.

Speakers, including Saman P Amarasinghe, at MIT GSL launch in the Capital.

How does technology help budding entrepreneurs in their businesses?

What I have noticed here in Nepal is that there is not much of a start-up culture, even though it appears to be booming. Those who want to get into start-ups and entrepreneurship should not take the plunge in haste. There is a lack of training and these budding entrepreneurs aren’t guided in the right path and due to this, it’s hard for them to figure out the process of beginning a start-up. Start-ups are not about textbook learning. If you are confident about your venture, you need to talk to experienced people, you need to build your confidence and have a proper presentation of yourself and your ideas. You need to understand the value proposition of entrepreneurship. What we are doing with the students at KU is providing them with skilled trainings from scratch. The students come up with new ideas, marketing plans and later make a pitch.

What are some qualities that entrepreneurs must possess?

One of the key qualities an entrepreneur must acquire is a right state of mind and being positive. Being an entrepreneur is not a cakewalk. Every budding entrepreneur when they start out will be demotivated when things go wrong. You may think your idea will be successful, but it’s better not to have expectations because nothing works out at first. People will say your ideas are bad, nobody wants to invest in or listen to you; all in all, a lot of experiences in your start-up career will be negative to start with. Therefore, you need to have a positive mind and have an undying passion for your idea. Also, you always need to think of unusual solutions to your problems, you need to go beyond even what is out of the box.

When starting your own business, what does one need to do to move forward and upscale?

You need to be very persistent and smart. You need to be passionate about your idea. You need to find problems that are worth solving. If you can solve the customers’ problems in a way no one can, the rest just falls into place. Talking about Nepal, I realise that Nepal doesn’t have enough venture capitals. Nobody here is keen on taking the risk. An idea can fail or pass, but if it does pass, it’ll be a win-win situation for both the entrepreneur and venture capitalists. But that culture is not here yet, which is unfortunate. Nepali students seem ambitious and I think that if given an opportunity, they will become very successful. However, the challenge lies in investment: The students will have to fund it themselves and find a way to sell things. Which is very difficult.

What impression do you have of Nepali entrepreneurs?

Through my experience, I have realised that a lot of Asian students are generally very cautious. Nobody wants to take a chance. However, Nepali students have impressed me in that regard.

Published: 25-06-2018 08:25

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