This Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Wants to Bridge Indo-Pak Divide

Asha Jadeja Motwani was one of the first women venture capitalists in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley.

After shepherding quite a few successful start-ups in the US and around the world, Asha, who is originally from Ahmedabad, invested eight million dollars towards funding innovations in India in 2014. Inspired by Maker Fest, an annual conference in the US where inventors and innovators can showcase their work, Asha started Maker Faire in India.

Now she has started the Rajeev Circle Fellowship, named after her husband, which will provide innovators from India and Pakistan mentors and resources from Silicon Valley, helping them take their ideas to the next level. Rajeev, an IIT-Kanpur alumnus, also had an affinity for Pakistan as his family was originally from Sindh.

While in India, we are able to reap all the benefits of economic development, the Pakistani youth is involved in a struggle for survival despite all the threats and dangers. As a mother, I feel worried that they are putting themselves in danger and still bravely sticking out their necks.
— Asha Jadeja Motwani
The Indian subcontinent as a bloc is so powerful that we will be second to China in terms of purchasing power and trade. It is crucial for us to collaborate as a group in the South Asian region. My efforts are just a small step in that direction.
— Asha Jadeja Motwani

We can give China a run for its money

Maker Fest Pakistan will be a social event where tech-innovators, creators, artists and hobbyists from across the country will showcase their devices, inventions and products created without proper support. Maker Fest is a continuation of Maker Faire, which is hosted across America, Europe, Africa and Japan, among other locations. Maker Faire was launched in California in 2006 and now hosts hundreds of thousands of attendees twice a year.

Introduced three years ago, Maker Fest India immediately spread across the country and Jadeja hopes it will become a growing movement in Pakistan as well. She hopes to attend the launch of Maker Fest in Lahore early next year. She is devoted to peace between India and Pakistan and says that she and her late husband, Rajeev Motwani, always wished to support and encourage entrepreneurs in the subcontinent.

She adds that the mindset in Pakistan and India is driven by scarcity and competition. The secret of success in Silicon Valley is a mind that acknowledges abundance and collaboration. “Our focus is to shift the mindset from one of scarcity and competition to that of abundance and collaboration. It is about absorbing the dynamics of the Bay Area.”

Explaining the programme, she says, “I don’t have a standard criterion for picking up fellows. I have my own metrics that are based on a gut feeling. Doing well alone is not as important for me, their work should spill over into other circles and create a social impact.” She then explains how she is supporting entrepreneurs from Pakistan. “The young entrepreneurs and activists from Pakistan are fearless, courageous and care deeply about the world around them. I feel that Pakistani youth are putting their efforts into causes that make a positive social impact, which is humbling, at the very least.

“While in India, we are able to reap all the benefits of economic development, Pakistani youth are involved in a struggle for survival despite all the threats and dangers. As a mother, I feel worried that they are putting themselves in danger and still bravely sticking out their necks.”

Asha Jadeja has expansive plans — she hopes to create a collaborative bridge between India and Pakistan through the RC fellowship. Maker Fest Pakistan is going to be a high impact collaboration between Indian and Pakistani fellows and she hopes at least one or two Pakistani start-ups with roots in the valley will spin out of the fellowship. “The collaboration would not only be at a subcontinent level but potentially at a global level,” she says.

First India XPRIZE to change our view on water

 Zenia Tata, Program Director, Global Expansion, XPRIZE Foundation, has claimed that the first Grand Challenge in India funded by Coca-Cola South Asia on the theme of water “will completely change perceptions about where water comes from and how you can use it”. 

Within India, she is grappling with creating a level-playing field. “Innovators from even small towns should be able to take on a team from, say, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) notwithstanding the latter’s savvy, contacts, and access to funding,” she said. “I want to level the field for the makers and the tinkerers and the people with one brilliant idea.”

Today, XPRIZE in India has two confirmed donors. Besides Coca-Cola, the Motwani-Jadeja Foundation is another. But the latter is at a much preliminary stage, with Asha Jadeja, wife of late Prof. Rajeev Motwani, a mentor to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, merely expressing her intent to fund another Grand Challenge on the theme of women and girls.

 Culver City, California-based XPRIZE Foundation has earned a name for itself in kicking off a series of audacious prize money competitions designed to develop technology that could benefit millions. 

The first of these, the Ansari Prize awarded in 2004, is credited with inspiring the private space travel industry. Of the current Grand Challenges, an Indian team (Team Indus) is a participant in the $30-million Google Lunar Prize, while another team (Danvantri) is among the 10 vying for the $10-million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.

Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Pi

In Mumbai, the Maker’s Asylum is a 300 sq ft basement space in Bandra, created for the maker community, a subculture of people who have a DIY approach to innovation. A shared interest in DIY had Vaibhav Chhabra and Kirti Shetty invest in this space in November last year. “We wanted to start a community where people would come and build stuff in the evenings and on weekends,” says Chhabra. Today, Maker’s Asylum is frequented by engineers, architects, designers and others curious to learn and create. Much of the maker culture in India was fostered on social media groups such as Maker Space Chennai and Internet of Things, but there’s been a lack of dedicated physical spaces. That is now changing.

Bangalore-based Pavan Kumar began Workbench Projects with Anupama Prakash in June this year. Akin to Maker’s Asylum, the facility, set up in a 5,000 sq ft space, stocks DIY tools, prototyping machines and holds workshops, with a focus on responsible innovation. “It’s an incubation space for ideas,” says Kumar, “It’s not just tech. We’ve had others on organic terrace gardening and basic maintenance of bicycles.”

Delhi Makers too conducts similar workshops, which recently included cardboard chair making. “We have designers and enthusiasts of different age-groups from 26-30. In our urban gardening workshop, we had couple of senior citizens too, who had kitchen gardens. Some made raised gardens, while others had hanging ones,” says Bablani. A six-member group, the Delhi Makers will have a 1,500 sq ft space near the Qutub metro station next month, which will facilitate the community to come together to tinker, experiment and make products that interest them.

An extension of the Maker Faire, which is held across the world, is the brainchild of California-based venture capitalist Asha Jadeja. “I was inspired by the effect Maker Faire California had on my children. I decided to fund an entrepreneur, who wanted to take Maker Faire to Africa. There, I witnessed the transformative impact of giving a platform to local innovators, garage tinkerers, who have other full-time jobs,” says Jadeja. The second edition of the festival is on January 10-11, 2015 in Ahmedabad.

In a country known for jugaad, the challenges to the maker movement are many, including funds and the dearth of practical learning in schools. Says Chhabra, “The focus has always been towards software. When people start considering hardware cool, creating will come easily.”

From scooter of '3 idiots' to Google Glass, its all here in NID

For the first time in India, makers and innovators have got a platform to showcase their works, a 'la California Maker Faire' style. In Ahmedabad, about 75 makers from all ages and backgrounds have gathered at the National Institute of Design, Paldi campus, for Makerfest 2014.

The two-day fest will see Sam Pitroda, advisor to the PM, talking on modern technology and innovations on Sunday. A hackathon, where programmers will get to devise applications for the yet to be launched Google Glass, is also a part of the fest.

Silicon Valley VC Launches a Massive Google Glass Hackathon at India's First Major Maker Festival

Inspired by California's wildly popular Maker Faire, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Asha Jadeja, in partnership with National Institute of Design, brings India a prestigious technology and design event, in partnership with the Maker Fest, a non-commercial event, free and open to the public. 

Makers from all over India and some from US will be showcasing their inventions to an enthusiastic audience in Ahmedabad, at the National Institute of Design, Jan 4 and 5, 2014

Alongside Maker Fest, Ms. Jadeja has donated a $140,000 Fablab from MIT to the maker community in Ahmedabad. The Fablab is a set of digital fabrication equipment and software to help makers transform their imagination into products. The Fablab is housed at the prestigious CEPT University Ahmedabad and will be open to the public at select hours every day.

MJFF the Motwani Jadeja Family Foundation is expecting to seed invest in social impact innovations as they emerge in next few years between the annual Maker Fest and the Fablab.

MJF Angels, a venture capital fund of $8 million is set up by Ms. Jadeja to seed invest in for-profit innovations that emerge from collaborations between her projects and various institutions of higher learning in India.

Girls from Vikas Gruh school on cloud nine

Girls from Vikas Gruh school on cloud nine

"I was inspired by the idea of wired computers as teachers for the children as it has potential to reach to hundreds of schools where it can not only empower the students but also start a technology revolution. It was the idea from the start that the beneficiaries should come from lower strata of society" --Asha

5 student entrepreneurs selected to visit Silicon Valley

Five student entrepreneurs, incubating their companies at Startup Village here, will leave for Silicon Valley on a Kerala government sponsored trip for a two-week stay to get a first hand experience of the place, also known as the cradle of global technology revolution. 

Arvind Sanjeev, Jibin Jose, Vijith Padmanabhan, Akash Mathew and Nithin George Charuvila, all aged 22 years, are the first winners of the annual SVSquare--an initiative to send 5 members student team from Startup Village to Silicon Valley, officially rolled out by Startup Village on January 30 this year. The five were selected from nearly 1,270 applicants. They will leave for Silicon valley in the first half of November.

The objective of the initiative is to provide the five students exposure of the renowned entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley and eventually enable them replicate the successes back home, Startup Village CEO Sijo Kuruvilla told reporters today.

Besides the Kerala government, SVSquare is supported by Asha Jadeja, a Silicon Valley 'super angel'. Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, Technopark, Vodafone, Intel and Amazon Web Services are partners of the project.

In the second week, the entrepreneurs will get one-to-one time with at least five select mentors in their field of activity, including venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, who had also started young, and would help them to take their companies global.   

The Startup Village is India's first Public Private Partnership (PPP) telecom business incubator.

Startup Corridor takes Indian entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley

The ‘Startup Corridor’ is the brain child of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Asha Jadeja Motwani, wife of late Stanford Professor Rajeev Motwani, a mentor to the likes of Larry Page and Sergey Brin and a key architect of the algorithms that power Google today.

And thus was born the Rajeev Circle Fellowship programme under which a dozen or so entrepreneurs in India would be identified and flown as a group to Silicon Valley on a two-week visit. All expenses paid. Any expectations of returns? Nope says Asha – “just pay it forward”. If the visiting Fellows help and encourage the batches that will visit after them, “that’s reward enough”, she says.

“Asha wants to build and continue the Fellowship programme for at least 10 entrepreneurs every year for next few years and we will be helping her team every step of the way” said Vijayakumar, on his return from Silicon Valley. Lauding the initiative, Infosys co-founder and Startup Village chief mentor Kris Gopalakrishnan said: “Asha is helping us set up the Rajeev Circle corridor for startups to move to and fro from India to the heart of Silicon Valley.”It will give exposure to young startups in our country to the best in the Valley, besides access to angel investors and their perspectives on how to build global product startups.” Gopalakrishnan said he would work closely with Startup Village to set up a strong base for the corridor in India. “I am confident this will help kick-start the birth of a truly global and world class technology startup ecosystem in India.” During their visit, the entrepreneurs met a host of IT wizards who shared some exciting insights with them.

Angel investor Asha Motwani launches fellowship for Indian startups

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Asha Jadeja Motwani has launched an annual fellow ship programme, Rajeev Circle Fellowship, to enable Indian entrepreneurs to visit and connect with entrepreneurs, mentors and seed investors in Silicon Valley in the US.

Asha is helping us set up the Rajeev Circle corridor for startups to move to and fro from India to the heart of Silicon Valley. It will give exposure to young startups in our country to the best in the Valley, besides access to angel investors and their perspectives on how to build global product startups.
— Startup Village chief mentor Kris Gopalakrishnan

A serial investor, Asha has invested in over 75 startups in Silicon Valley. She is now focusing on Indian startups.

I met several bright young entrepreneurs in India pursuing excellent ideas and experiments but they don’t get the kind of mentoring horsepower that is so common and abundant in Silicon Valley. Unless the entrepreneurs understand the culture, the walk, and the talk of Silicon Valley, serious dialogue was unlikely to emerge.
— Asha

Late IITian's wife donates $1.5 million to IIT-K

The authorities of IIT-Kanpur announced on Friday that $ 1.5 million has been donated by Asha Jadeja Motwani, wife of late Rajeev Motwani and their daughters on the occasion of his 49th birth anniversary on March 24. 

It will be a six-storey building with a floor area of 3,650 square metres and have a 200-seat classroom, 22 offices for faculty members and 17 labs. 

The IIT-Kanpur authorities said that Rajeev possessed the rare genius of using the most abstract theories to solve practical problems. For example, he made use of his expertise in randomised algorithms in building a drug design system for Pfizer. He was an evangelist of innovation and entrepreneurship. Rajiv was a mentor of a large number of start-ups of the last decade in the Silicon Valley, including Google. He authored the key Google algorithms with his students Sergey Brin and Larry Page and continued monitoring the company, years after it became a giant of the internet world. His student Sergey Brin once said: "If Rajeev had not been there, chances are, there would be no Google today."