I am just back from this amazing program called International Visitor Leadership Program(IVLP) on “Managing Start-up Incubators for Growth” which took place in the United States from November 26 – December 20, 2016, where we travelled to Washington DC, Austin, Boston and San Francisco to meet the top universities and top accelerators there to bring new partnerships to India.
I was one of the 8 participants selected from different Countries on this trip, sharing few observations and learnings, will be glad to help find new partners in the States for future collaboration.
About the Exchange program - The IVLP is coordinated and administered by the Office of International Visitors in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, which selects emerging professional from various countries. There is no application for IVLP. Participants are nominated and selected annually by the staff at U.S. Embassies around the world in pursuit of concrete foreign-policy goals.
IVLP is a “flagship” public diplomacy program, U.S. government’s most successful soft-power initiatives. Its mission is to identify ambitious people who will play outsized roles in their countries’ histories and to make sure these future leaders understand the United States and how its democracy works. Participants visit cities large and small to meet ordinary people and witness American governance, replacing media-fed misinformation with personal experience.
Graduating from International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is an important Milestone in my professional career! It’s an honour to be a part of the prestigious IVLP Alumni network which includes India’s previous Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Raman Narayanan and World leaders, ranging from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Mexico's former president Felipe Calderón, who developed close ties to the United States through their experience as IVLP participants along with 335 current and former heads of state, and countless industry and civil society leaders from around the world.
Having being the active startup ecosystem member and having worked with 2000+ SMEs to charter out their Sales and Marketing plans in India with my own venture startupfreak.com and my role at NASSCOM’s 10000 Startups initiative in past 10 years, I have always wondered what changes we can bring to the current scenarios to make the innovations coming from India more robust and global. This Program came in as just the right opportunity for me to expand my knowledge horizons and to build collaborations with one of the world’s best-known country to have seen the startup boom and home to biggest innovative companies in the world.
It’s not just the journey to the United States but the journey into my own self during the trip which made my International Visitor Leadership Program so much more enriching and enlightening.
When you spend time with people from other countries your whole world expands, every connect you make is a seed which grows into a huge tree over the time. In a world with too much conflict and misunderstanding, each connects, each friendship inspires us to think beyond the boundaries of our everyday life. All it takes is for you to open your life to someone, if only for a few hours to find out about the specific opportunities which you never knew existed.
Washington DC -
The Program Started on Nov 27th, 2016 in Washington DC where a group of 8 participants first met for the initial briefing on US Federal and political system and to understand the inner workings of the U.S. political process.
It was a privilege to get firsthand information on how US Federal system works, its foreign policies, decision-making process and decentralized nature.
Mr. Akram Elias (President Capitol Communications) spoke tirelessly for 2 hours explaining how 89000 Local governments, 50 Legal and the legislative system works in collaboration to bring together a unified minimum standards of living for its citizens at the beautiful Meridian International Center. Followed by a great interaction with Carlos Aranaga (Program Officer for South Asia, IVLP & Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs at U.S. Department of State) understanding how we all were selected and the vision & mission of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and how it expects the participant to pay it forward to bring a thriving Startup ecosystem in their respective countries.
A Special tour of Washington DC was arranged to help explore the heart of Washington D.C. Visiting National Mall- a two-mile green expanse from U.S. Capitol building to Lincoln Memorial which boasts an impressive lineup of 17 museums, memorials and landmarks with wide range of experiences on hand, from immersing in classic art to marveling at the wonders of aviation and our natural world.
With an official tour guide by your side, it made it all the more interesting to learn the history and fun facts associated with each of the previous presidents America has seen!
San Francisco, California-
We headed to our next destination San Francisco, the tech Hub of the world also called as the valley of innovation.
Secret sauce guide of Silicon Valley! Tight packed schedule visiting universities, entrepreneurship cells, co-working spaces, design studios, industrial labs, tech shops, and dream consultants! The beautifully lit city ready for Christmas added the icing on the cake.
Main attraction for the entire group at San Francisco was visiting the ‘TechShop’ (Part fabrication and prototyping studio, part hackerspace and part learning center, TechShop provides access to over $1 million worth of professional equipment and software. ) & ‘Plug n Play Center’ (an accelerator, co-working space, investor and place for corporate innovation. Every single year, hundreds of entrepreneurs pass through Plug and Play’s vertical-specific accelerator programs and team up with their corporate partners).
Facilities like these provide people with innovative ideas to build the prototype fast and bring their dreams to reality. We were all amazed to know so many world class products were first built here, tested and prototyped.
Some Key interactions happened when we visited Google & Facebook campuses to meet the global heads of Startup Programs and visiting University of California, Berkeley gave some insights on the Universities program where we got an opportunity to interact with the student entrepreneurs and professors who play the key role in shaping those cultures at the campuses.
Austin, Texas -
We headed to Austin the 2nd best startup hub in the country and were eager to understand what steps the government and communities are taking to catch up with Silicon Valley.
Schedule at Austin included visits to Government offices promoting Entrepreneurship, Universities to know their research to commercialisation programs and innovative incubators like Capital Factory, Tech Ranch, Dell’s Spanning Facility, Central Texas Angel Network & IC2 to name a few. It was great to know how the Office of Governor, Texas State University, The office of Technology Commercialisation and University of Texas Austin works in great collaboration to efficiently transfer the university discoveries to the marketplace for the benefit of society and strives to maintain good living standards for its residents and focuses its energy on becoming the talent magnet of the world.
Apart from official visits, we were honored with home hospitality by local American families to give us a sneak peek into their daily lives, families, and culture. An awesome evening with great conversation and good food.
Our last stop was at Boston to visit the world’s top universities – Harvard University, MIT, and Cambridge Innovation Center along with incubators like Mass challenge, cleantech accelerator, WEBOS and Harvard’s Innovation Lab.
A pleasant city walk in the twilight was all that was needed to fall in love with the city of Boston!
The trip was concluded back in Washington DC with a grand Luncheon hosted by U.S Department of State and an opportunity to interact with Mr. Thomas Lersten -Director, Global Entrepreneurship Program, Mr. Ajay Rao-Public Diplomacy Officer, Ms. Julia Santucci- Senior Advisor for Global Women's issues, Mr. Tom Hilleary-Economic Unit Chief and Ms.Namita Biggins -Office of Press and Public Diplomacy on issues affecting the startups in the country ranging from Startups & Women related Policies, best standards and practices to improving investment scenarios and Bankruptcy law.
I go back with a key thought that the innovations are not by chance but by design! There is a great deal of work and thought process from these universities in shaping the country's startup ecosystem and not to miss all the hard work of the volunteers, government officials and the citizens of the country who play a key role in uplifting the entire ecosystem!
Stay tuned for a more in-depth summary on each city and their top accelerators and universities, which I will be sharing in the coming weeks.
Looking forward to work closely in making the bond stronger between the two countries.
Signing off with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald
"It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you."