Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show, coming to you today from the campus of Rice University, right in the middle of the 2018 Rice Business Plan Contest and our topic is The Indus Entrepreneur. We’re talking about TiE and they’re relationship with the Rice Business Plan Contest. And I’m very pleased to have as my guest Ashok Rao, serial entrepreneur, early stage investor and the former Chairman of the Board of TiE; Ashok, welcome to the show.
Ashok: Thanks for having me Russ.
Russ: You bet, you bet. Tell us about TiE.
Ashok: Well TiE is the world’s largest organization of entrepreneurs – 60 cities, 18 countries – and it’s all about fostering entrepreneurship and mentoring aspiring young entrepreneurs.
Russ: Okay, and it was founded either in India or with India roots right?
Ashok: India roots but started and founded in Silicon Valley by entrepreneurs who had made it, who had cracked the glass ceiling. Because in the early 90s there was clearly a glass ceiling about entrepreneurs of Asian origin becoming CEOs. So these entrepreneurs then decided to share their methods of success and mistakes with aspiring younger entrepreneurs and there came TiE.
Russ: Real cool. And so how did that connect with the Rice Business Plan Contest? This is a pretty serious business plan contest.
Ashok: It’s kind of like the tendrils of an octopus that came together in around 2010 when I was fortunate to become the Chairman of TiE Global. And I had been the judge of the Rice Business Plan Competition from 2002 and I had seen several teams particularly from Asia get accepted to compete here and come in dead last. So I felt that we could do better than that. I made a deal with Brad Burke, the Managing Director of the Rice Alliance, that we run a feeder competition in Asia and with the help of my partner, the CEO of TiE Global P.K. Agarwal we created a very successful feeder competition that delivered a winner that gained automatic entry into the competition. But to avoid coming in last we decided that we would then host a boot camp the 4 days prior to the RBPC where we would then teach them how to compete with the likes of Harvard and Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern.
Russ: Okay, great. And we are joined by two of this year’s people, one company; tell us who we have here.
Ashok: Well we have Davon and we have Xiaoge, they are from the University of Hong Kong. And they have a very unique product and they are the winners from the Asian component of the TiE feeder competition.
Russ: Great, and what’s the name of your product?
Xiaoge: We are Sightecho.
Russ: Sightecho. Okay, tell us about Sightecho.
Xiaoge: For scuba divers they always need a lot of data like depth, time remaining, air consumption, but they’re all from devices around their bodies. So we put a heads up display inside the mask so that scuba divers can view all the data in front of their eyes, which makes it very convenient and improve the safety as well.
Russ: Wow, interesting. Are both of you scuba divers?
Xiaoge: Yes we are.
Russ: Okay. Well it’s very obvious that it presents an advantage to a scuba diver but what triggered the idea? What made you think let’s make this product?
Davon: So there was one time that I was diving in Fiji. During the scuba diving I saw a shark in front of me. Actually the shark didn’t want to eat me, but we wanted to take amazing photos of it, so I chased after him taking pictures. I found out I was 100 feet under water and I was going to run out of air, I thought why is it that I just realized that? We are going to die. I wanted to fix the problem – I’m an engineer myself, I’m a scuba diver – a heads up display inside the diving mask would be really helpful, but I can’t do it myself. So I asked Xiaoge – we had met each for a year, maybe 2 years – I asked her if she wanted to do it and she said yes, it’s a cool idea. And we started working on this business around summer of last year – 2017 summer.
Russ: And how close do you have it? Are these real prototypes now or are you still in the development stage?
Davon: So this product we already installed the heads up display inside it. It can display also the air consumption, depth, time remaining. We are already putting it under water for testing and we are aiming to put this in the market this coming September.
Russ: And so are you still fundraising now?
Xiaoge: Yes, we are currently seeking to raise funding of half a million US dollars and we’ve also won a lot of competitions and awards as well.
Russ: Great! Well what do you think of the Rice Business Plan Contest?
Xiaoge: I think this is a really good competition for us. We can learn a lot of things, we can meet a lot of good teams and we communicate with each other and learn a lot as well.
Russ: Okay. Well Xiaoge, Davon, thank you so much and good luck with your product.
Both: Thank you.
Russ: And thank you again Ashok.
Ashok: You’re welcome Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Xiaoge and Davon of Sightecho and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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