For someone who calls himself a “technology innovator, angel investor, mentor, idea accelerator and writer,” it’s easy to see why Prashant K. Gulati –or PK, as he’s more popularly known- is well placed in his role as the President of the Dubai chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to “fostering entrepreneurship globally.” Gulati is himself a serial entrepreneur, having been associated with a number of startups like Customer First Services (now Aegis BPO), Communicate 2 (now a part of Aegis-Dentsu), PairGain Technologies (now TYCO), GOQii, YouPlus, ZopHop, Wand, EdCast, CloudAppers, GapJumpers, AllSchoolStuff.com, Umundo Corp. and others. Currently, Gulati has three key projects on his plate: Optimistix Ventures, a Dubai-based venture catalysis and consulting company based, Smart Start Fund, an early stage investment vehicle for startups from around the world, and The Assembly, a community-collaborative, smart innovation hub based at In5 in Dubai Internet City.
With this year’s installment of the Dubai edition of TiECon (an annual invitation-only conference organized by TiE Dubai that will bring over 300 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, industry experts, etc.) scheduled to roll into the Emirate from 30 Sep-Oct 1, we talked to Gulati to get his thoughts on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region, and what one can expect from TiECon 2015, which has speakers like Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder and CEO, Paytm, Ronaldo Mouchawar, CEO, Souq.com, and Ronnie Screwvala, Founder, UTV Group (now Walt Disney India), Unilazer Ventures and Swades Foundation, on the agenda.
You’ve been an active member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Middle East for quite a long while now. How has the scene here changed in the years that you have been a part of it?
The biggest difference I see is the diversity in terms of ideas, the background of the startup founders and the variety of subjects covered by these startups. These have increased dramatically. I also notice that people are now looking at ideas that require substantial investment in terms of innovation and time to build products, rather than just businesses based around services.
However, early stage funding during the experimental stage still remains a challenge in this region. In some countries, the ease of doing business, regulation, and ease of formation of wholly owned companies also remains a challenge. I would like to see more government support and benevolent community support in the region increase and encourage innovation. It needs to be scaled immensely, and quickly.
With respect to my ventures, The Assembly is actually meant to be a community hub to help create a knowledge center for the sharing of technology skills that could possibly result in more innovation and creation of startups in the fields of ICT and IoT among others. We are working towards helping to improve skillsets through special weekly workshops and hands-on training that provides the opportunity for technology innovators to share skills and improve the necessary skills. My other project, Smart Start, has invested in 10 global innovative startups in the last year alone.
Could you discuss your involvement with TiE?
I have been associated with TiE, globally since 2000 and was one of the founding board members of the Dubai Chapter. Our (TiE) key role is to provide the resources in terms of mentors and opportunities for startups and small business owners to network and learn from their peers. It’s an opportunity for successful business owners to give back to the community in terms of sharing their journeys and their invaluable advice with these members.
With respect to the upcoming instalment of TiECon, what are some of its highlights that you are particularly looking forward to?
TiECon 2015 will address important trends, challenges, innovations and business opportunities across multiple industries and channels. These will be delivered in a series of keynote speeches, presentations, panel discussions and entrepreneurial success stories.
TiECon 2015 will also host a dedicated to student and young entrepreneurs on day two which will include discussions with incubators and investors in our own, award-winning, XTalk format. This will allow for a two-way discussion unlike any panel discussion held anywhere in the world.What we do differently is that we have the support of some of the most leading regional (and global) success stories because some of the biggest names in the entrepreneurial world are our charter or board members in over 60 chapters across 17 countries from Silicon Valley to neighboring India.