Sunday, June 20, 2010

Catching the Wave at the OPEN Silicon Valley Forum 2010

Ever since this scribe went to his first OPEN (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America) Silicon Valley forum the annual event seems to be expanding in the number of presentations. Last year the conference presented three different tracks. This year there were the same number of tracks plus a mini-track on “Birds of a feather”, the gatherings of alumni of various Pakistani universities.

The theme of this year’s forum was “Catch the Wave.” In the tranquility of the present recession market it was natural to ask which wave OPEN had in mind. Naeem Zafar, who replaced Dilawar Syed as OPEN’s new president last year, had the answer. In his presidential message Zafar explained that the Silicon Valley, when compared to the last couple of years, was seeing an increased activity and the theme of the conference caught the air of optimism associated with the renewed flow of capital.

For the last couple of years OPEN has been using the word “keynote” quite liberally—and understandably so: OPEN has to accommodate a number of high profile professionals and give each one of them equal importance. So, this year, there were four keynote speeches. The morning keynote was give by Faysal Sohail, Managing Director, CMEA Capital. The title of his talk was, “Beyond the Busted Decade.”

The afternoon keynote by Rafiq Mohammadi, CEO Interwoven, was on “Scaling to a Billion: Lessons for Entrepreneurs.” ‘Don’t sell cheap,” was the advice that was repeated several times during the talk.

The Gen Y keynote was given by the Ex-president of OPEN, Dilawar Syed. Syed spoke on “The Art of Organizing.”

Speaking on “Bottom-up Entrepreneurship for Democracy and Development” the evening keynote speaker Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir, founder and director, The Legatum Center, MIT, shared with the audience his experiences of working for social uplift in Bangladesh. He rejected several facets of conventional wisdom including the myth that large populations of developing countries are stumbling blocks in the economic growth of those nations, that mineral rich countries are more fortunate, etc.

In “Among the Believers” Naipaul writes wryly about his guide who while showing Naipaul around would pray at different mosques—Naipaul likened that act of his escort to that of a bee sucking nectar from various flowers. This roving reporter too tried to benefit from as many talks as he could, but finding the task daunting just attended whatever sessions he could. Although this scribe was able to catch only a fraction of the OPEN show, in the following report he would give the names of all the talks and the speakers who made presentations. This is being done not only to record the conference, but to acknowledge the hard work of OPEN volunteers who worked very hard in making each and every part of the conference successful. This reporter was fortunate to attend only the programs NOT followed by the phrase “program brochure”, below.

A panel discussion on “Ending Up in a Down Economy”—a more realistic appreciation of the economic situation, when compared to the theme of the conference—was moderated by Zia Yusuf. Panelists included Osman Rashid, CEO, Kno, Inc.; Safwan Shah, co-founder of Chowk dot com; and Rehan Jalil, President, Wichorus. [Program brochure]

Faysal Sohail, moderated a panel on “Future of Personal Transportation”; experts included an advocate of electric cars, Richard Lowenthal of Coulomb Technologies, and a campaigner of hybrid cars, Maurice Gunderson of CMEA Capital.

Lowenthal called audience’s attention to not only the environmental problems associated with burning fossil fuels, but also to the hazards of oil extraction—the continuing saga of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill being an excellent example.

Gunderson said that rough calculations indicate that even if the earth were hollow and filled up with oil, consuming at the peak demand it would only take 86 years to exhaust the hypothetical total oil supply.

A talk on “Funding: Of Angels and Super Angels”, moderated by Umair Khan included Jeff Clavier, Founder, SoftTech VC; Ann Miura-Ko, Partner, FLOODGATE; Salman Ullah, Co-founder, Merus Capital; Elon Boms, Founder and Managing Director, Launch Capital LLC; and Michael Tanne, Founded and CEO, Wink.

In a talk titled “Reason to Believe- Finding A New Public Narrative for Pakistan”,
Mir Ibrahim Rahman, the young CEO of GEO Networks TV said what Pakistanis have achieved despite all odds was unbelievable. He ended the talk stating his personal belief that Pakistan would emerge triumphant out of all the crises it is facing.

OPEN’s regular fixture, Entrepreneurship Idol competition, was moderated by Naeem Zafar and included Salman Ullah, Mark Gorenberg, and Riaz Karamali as judges. [Program brochure]

A panel discussion on “Authentic Leadership” was moderated by Saadia Ahmed, Financial Advisor, Waddell and Reed. The panelists included Imran Sayeed, Senior Vice President, Keane; Athena Katsaros, Leadership Trainer, Executive and Team Coach; Noosheen Hashmi, Philanthropist; and Voytek K. Siewierski. [Program brochure]

Sumaya Kazi, CEO & Editor-in-Chief, led a workshop on “Demystifying Social Media Marketing”. Kazi spoke about her experiences in boosting traffic to business web sites through the use of social media portals.

A panel on “Media in the Mobile World” was moderated by Omar Khan, Founder, Panelists included Mir Ibrahim Rahman, CEO, Geo TV; Amy Plemons, TV Producer; and Imran Maskatia of Microsoft. Mir Ibrahim Rahman said the Pakistani media has educated the people; he was confident that the next elections in Pakistan would be agenda-based.

Idris Kothari, Founder and VP Engineering, Vertical Systems, Inc. moderated a panel on “Pakistani Education’s Role in Entrepreneurship.” Panelists included Dr. Ahmad Jan Durrani, Vice Chancellor, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS); M. Raghib Hussain, Co-founder, Cavium Networks; Dr. Jahanzeb Sherwani, Founder and CEO of iTeleport LLC; and Monis Rehman, Chairman and CEO, Naseeb Networks.
[Program brochure]

“The Next Wave of Innovators: Meet the Social Entrepreneurs” was moderated by Saad Khan, Partner, CMEA Capital. Panelists included Salman Khan, Founder, Khan Academy, an Internet sensation and a growing collection of scores of useful educational videos; Leila Chirayath Janah, CEO, Samasource; Misbah Naqvi, Business Development Manager, Acumen Fund; and Tabreez Verjee, Board Member & Seed Investor, Kiva. [Program brochure]

A discussion on “Beyond BRIC: Opportunities for Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets” was lead by Dilawar Syed, CEO, Yonja Media Group. Panelists included
Babur Ozden, Advisor to start-ups, former CEO Emerging Market Companies;
Eric Buatois, GP, Sofinnova Ventures; Stephen Ciesinski, VP, Corporate Strategic Programs, SRI International; and Faraz Hoodbhoy, Founder and CEO, PixSense.
Hoodbhoy said he found it tough doing business in Pakistan, as a Pakistani from the Silicon Valley—“We Pakistanis are very mean to each other.” He said his company’s profit margins were higher in other countries where he and his associates were seen as the Silicon Valley guys.

“Put your passion to Work” had Zainab Jeewanjee, Sales Director, Go One Global Corp, as its moderator. The panelists included Rajesh Setty, Entrepreneur, Speaker, Author;
Ethan Casey, Author & Journalist; Cindy McCreery, Screenwriter; and Omar Ahmad, CEO, SynCH Energy. Casey said as a child he wanted to try out new things and not necessarily follow the path others laid down before him. He warned the audience of the economic uncertainty that comes with following one’s passion.

Ashish Mathur, Co-founder and Executive Director of the South Asian Heart Center, gave a talk on “Heart Diseases in South Asian Community”--an apt talk for the stressed out entrepreneurs. Mathur and the topic of his talk were introduced by Dr. Safwan Shah.

Dr. Rafae Bhatti, author of “Privacy in Cloud, Healthcare, and Social Network”, gave a talk on the subject of his book.

Dr. Amad Jan Durrani, VC, LUMS, gave a talk on “Challenges Faced by Higher Education in Pakistan.” [Program brochure]

OPEN Forum 2010 had three ‘Birds of a Feather’ sessions: of the NED University, moderated by Dr. Safwan Shah; of the University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, moderated by Moazzam Chaudry; and of Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute, moderated by Dr. Rafae Bhatti.

A workshop on “Opening Doors” was moderated by Azhar Zeeshan, Founder, Zaaviya.
Workshop--advisors included Farzana Ali, Organizational Training and Development professional; Dilip G. Saraf, Career and Life Coach; Dr. Ashraf Shirani, Professor, San Jose State University; Ellen Shulman, Associate, Lee Hecht Harrison; and Kate Fiandaca, Recruiter, GreeneSearch. [Program brochure]

Every time the OPEN leadership changes hands, new ideas are tried out at the organization’s flagship annual event. This year, with Naeem Zafar, as the new president the conference extended its scope and ended the day long show with a music program. This year’s conference also saw a mild political activity. A hand-out distributed by the Silicon Valley Pakistani American Council and the Friends of South Asia condemned the May 28 massacre of the Ahmadis in and around Lahore; Pakistanis were urged to be vocal in supporting human rights for all the citizens of Pakistan and to work for a repeal of discriminatory laws that target minorities.

How OPEN, a completely non-profit organization, successfully arranges such splendid events year after year is commendable. What is easy to miss by the attendees of the conference is the hours of hard work the OPEN volunteers put in—whereas the event takes place in July, the planning and preparation work starts early in the year. The program brochure listed the following as the planning team volunteers of OPEN; AbdulRahman Rafiq, Azhar Zeeshan, Babar Yasin, Bari Abdul, Faisal Hanif, Iftikhar Mirza, Jumana Ghadiali, Laiq Chughtai, Melanie Ananthraman, Moazzam Chaudhry, Mubashir Yazdani, Moez Naseer, Mohsin Imam, Mufti Ghadiali, Nadir Rahman, Nayeem Qureshi, Naziya Sayyed, Pooja Batra, Rafae Bhatti, Shahab Riazi, Sonya Sohail, Umair Muzaffar, Zainab Jeewanjee, and Riyadh Abdullah.

[Photo shows OPEN President Naeem Zafar speaking at Forum 2010]