Making Possible

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What is the role of PhDs, and Academia in general, in our (Capitalist) society?

This was, in essence, the content of “Systems Conversations” between Oliver Gao (of Cornell) and me that preceded my April 10th webinar:

What can Academic Capitalists do during COVID19?

We can support Academia and Capitalism!

Let me start with Capitalism.

An important engine of economic growth is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs need capital. Venture Capital (VC) firms provide capital to them.

Who provides VC firms their capital?

Folks like you and me. We are called Limited Partners (LPs). We make up 90+% of venture capital.

It is our money being put to work, through the VC firm, through the entrepreneurs, to keep the engine of innovation humming.

I have been fortunate to have been a recipient of venture capital (for my company SmartOps, now part of SAP, that I founded and was the CEO). Now it is time for me to circulate the wealth back through the system as a LP.

This week was the 2020 Annual Meeting of Neotribe Ventures, founded by my IIT-Madras classmate, and himself a successful entrepreneurial CEO, Kittu.

Wonderful companies from their portfolio were highlighted, technologies dealing with drones, 3-D printing and molecular testing, among others, with several CEOs making short presentations:

Fortify, Billion to One, Vamaan.

Related to COVID19, Billion to One has a test that seems to be gaining fast-track approval by FDA!

VC investments are not limited to the US. Last week, I was part of a due-diligence call with a VC from India looking to invest in a startup, also in India, in the area of “post-quantum cryptography”, Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a futuristic alternative to RSA (method that relies on the difficulty of factoring into component primes).

Now to Academia.

If your University is anything like mine, you probably received an email (in addition to the usual ones seeking donations, our campaign is called Make Possible) from your President/Dean with a message on financial effect of this pandemic that goes something like this:

We are quite strong financially. Don’t mean to alarm you, but know you are thinking it. Want to be transparent. Yes, revenues are down. Costs are up. Endowment is down. Expect donations to be affected. This will be a multi-year effect. Will keep you posted as to how the Fall semester will play out. Stay safe.

Creating interactive websites with data analytics is cool. It may even be helpful. Some influential decision maker might act upon recommendations and be data-driven. The Governor of Pennsylvania is indeed working with CMU folks, which is great.

Speaking to media about how the supply chains are hit, or how to best re-open our economy, or how more testing is needed, and so on, gives our research community and University well deserved visibility. I hope that it will provide a much needed fact-based information to a worried citizenry, avoiding needless panic.

Doing webinars and podcasts can be informative as well. Indeed, Tinglong and I did this INFORMS podcast on March 18th.

Helping create platforms for matching supply-demand of PPEs, ventilators, food and other essentials, pro-bono, is awesome. Our community can really shine here, as it has been in Canada and US, by significantly helping front-line and vulnerable populations.

You know what else is really helpful? Money. Money to bolster the University’s endowment. Make Possible.

1 comment

  1. This is super inspiring! Thank you Sridhar for your heartfelt advice!

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