At the Santa Clara Convention Centre, Sridar Iyengar, TiE president, is bent over a table trying to put together a hanging of children's paintings that will be displayed at the annual convention of The Indus Entrepreneurs, a network of Indian professionals to further technological entrepreneurship.
The theme of the paintings: What would you do if you got a million dollars in venture capital funding?
Optimistic about the future
That, to the extent possible, also defines Iyengar's vision for the convention and the organisation.
"These are down times, but we have to bring out the best in people and help them to recognise their own entrepreneurial spirit," he stated. Incidentally, the theme of TieCon2003 is 'Succeeding with New Realities'.
"History will tell you that this is the right time for entrepreneurship because some of the (Silicon) Valley's best companies were found in lean times, and we feel some great companies will emerge from this period," he said, pointing to such worthies as Intel and Cisco.
"The idea is to strike a balance between being upbeat and being realistic. Basically, we are trying to say that success can be had, despite making adjustments with the new realities."
'TiE highly relevant in current times'
He also insisted that times like these actually make TiE more relevant. While differentiating between entrepreneurship of choice and survival entrepreneurship, Iyengar said difficult realities actually help some entrepreneurs to refocus and prepare themselves for the next big cycle when that happens.
At the same time, Iyengar rejected the notion that TiE was slackening its pace following the infotech bubble-burst and the economic downturn. "On the contrary, we are now going to focus on hard skills such as raising money or marketing at our TiE Institute from our initial initiative of soft skills such as communications and leadership."
TiE's current focus, he said, would be to pull future entrepreneurs away from 'safe' jobs and encourage them to start their own enterprise.
'More venture capital available now'
Pointing out that availability of venture capital funding now is actually more than what it was earlier, Iyengar warned that the three years of high funding were "an aberration and not a norm". "Now, they are back to the 1995-96 level. Only venture capitalists are looking for more quality and business models," Iyengar said.
"While the earlier rounds of funding were mostly in telecom and IT, the new areas are likely to be enterprise software, wireless and bio-informatics." Iyengar also plans to have a survey done at TiECon 2003 on what areas will help pull the Valley out of the present doldrums.
'TiE all for outsourcing'
Referring to outsourcing, Iyengar said, TiE is firmly committed to free trade and open markets.
"The difference is that companies are now looking to do with, say $5 million what they would earlier have done with $30 million. There may be some checks and balances, but ultimately economics will decide these things, and false barriers will only work for so long."
While 'promotion of entrepreneurships' still remains his vision for TiE, Iyengar said, "We were like a start-up and now we have to look at processes and develop our own knowledge base."
"We have to create processes without killing the entrepreneurial spirit. Our membership is growing and our sponsorships have remained stable even in these times.
"For some time, we saw a lot of initiatives in the melting pot, but those are now coming to the surface and there will be a lot of new initiatives in the next few months."
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi