René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for June, 2009

Global India Meeting in Munich: Reception and Gala Dinner

It’s been an honour to participate a new high-calibre event about India, the Global India Business Meeting. Even more so as the event takes place in my hometown Munich which is on top of that highlighting India’s State of Karnataka in whose capital Bangalore I have been living for the last 5 years. Somehow my little personal „globalisation delivered“. The organizer is Horasis („The Global Visions Company“) chaired by Frank Richter whom I met for the first time some 9 months back for a breakfast in the legendary Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.

Frank Richter, CEO Horasis and Host

The quality of conversations was stunning yesterday during the reception an Munich’s Residence, followed by a gala dinner in the “Emperor’s Hall”. (Here‘s the entire picture set on Flickr from last night’s event. )

Gala Dinner in the "Emperor's Hall" at the Residence

In his dinner speech Anand Sharma, the Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, pointed out how far we’ve come with globalization where India in the meanwhile is investing more in Germany than Germany in India with 123 Indian companies being present in Germany.

Gala Dinner in the "Emperor's Hall" at the Residence

At the same time he emphasized the challenge of his country to produce inclusive growth where the 7 % GDP increment would benefit also the majority of people in his country who are still living at the poverty line. Mr. Sharma made it a point to transcend this necessity to all countries in the world that are facing similar fundamentals as India.

During dinner I had a mind-tickling conversation with my table-neighbour Gunjan Sinha, serial entrepreneur from India who has been living in the Silicon Valley for the last 20 years.

Gunjan Sinha, my table neighbour at Gala Dinner

His latest company Metric Stream is into providing a software-solution that allows for a 360-degree bottom-up approach in risk management for companies. So we spoke a lot about my currently favourite topics of the predictable, the unpredictable, the Black Swan (beneficial or catastrophic) and how little even big companies are nowadays are able to think, let alone act within these categories.

During coffee I talked to Infosys’ CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan about the recession and how it’s impacting his company (“it been tougher but we are still hiring”) and about his predecessor Nandan Nilekani’s move into the Indian Government to introduce the digital National Identity Card. “That hasn’t been easy for us, but given the importance of the cause for the nation, it is the right decision”, Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. Here a picture at the end of the evening with him, my friend Suhas Gopinath from Bangalore and me (no, I am not standing on anything ;-)

Kris Gopalakrishnan, Rene Seifert and Suhas Gopinath

EO Bangalore: President’s Ball and Chapter-Handover

Had to drop out a bit earlier to catch my flight and trying to use the few minutes before boarding about the excellent experience EO Bangalore is consistently providing. The highest event which marks the end of the EO-year closing every June 30th is the President’s Ball. The outgoing president looks back on what the chapter has accomplished last year and hands over the reigns to the new president who would articulate his agenda for the following year. This year it was Rahul Matthan who handed over to Sagar Muthappa.

I find our EO Chapter Bangalore something truly special. The level of learning and bonding possesses an amazing breadth and depth for an entrepreneur. No doubt that the commitment of the chapter board is making this possible, where fellow members volunteer to allocate a significant portion of the time to run the organization in various designates roles – headed by the President. To the best of my knowledge, EO Bangalore is among all EO Chapters worldwide the only one which has formulated a binding constitution which sets the ground for a firm governance.

Noteworthy, in my observation, EO Bangalore managed to position itself as a truly eligible “club” which can be very selective whom to accept. By contrast, in e.g. Germany my perception has been that EO has to sometimes be “pitched” to qualifying candidates in terms of the value it provides.

Thanks Rahul for your phenomenal work last year and all the best Sagar, err, Mr. President for the your term ahead.

MenorcaTechTalk: Lasting Impressions from the Farm

Back in India, the mental dust has settled after those four days of amazing conversations on Martin Varsavky’s farm for the MenorcaTechTalk. Besides being hyper-inspiring with plenty of take-away value to be put into action, I found it at least as interesting as a sort of „social experiment“.

Menorcatechtalk: Day 2 ending

Bring around 60 fantastic people together on a farm, have almost no structure (apart from the „official“ 4-hour session on Friday afternoon), have bikes and a quad ready for usage, let people hang out on the pool, take them on the sailing boat and see what happens.

Menorcatechtalk: On the Boat

Even more so, put people – who would usually stay in chic hotels – and have them share a simple but honest room and then see what happens.

Menorcatechtalk: Shared Room

Interestingly, much more than if you met the same people over the same period of time on a conference where you get conversations of the type “I am the XYZ from soandso and we are the number 1 in thisandthat). In Menorca, it was quite different, because people open up in a completely new way on the personal level, which then also transcends to the “professional conversations”, or even more so, makes the distinction between the two obsolete. (By the way, my entire picture-set under Creative Commons-license here on Flickr.)

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

On another note, the event confirmed my discovery that dressing-down is directly proportional to better results in a team-setting. (Maybe investment bankers should also relax and start coming in shorts and flip-flops to work to prevent them from final extinction …) Martin is in that context clearly “leading by example” himself with our host’s take on the event on his blog.

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

It certainly helped that this brief formal part allowed every participant who wished to give a maximum 5 minute-talk which had to conclude with a tangible problem. This kind of anchoring allowed the other participants afterwards to start a meaningful conversation about how to solve the problem whereby the communication usually took extremely interesting and unpredicted routes.

Picture courtesy of Rodrigo SEPÚLVEDA SCHULZ

I introduced my latest project “OLPC for the Vatsalya-Orphanage” asking for sharing of experience how to structure charity in general as well as best practises in fundraising, performance-metrics and how to avoid the traps of diluting focus and/or as over-investing. Very concretely, I got three very interesting contacts referred where I started to interact with. (And by the way, two days back, I was able to close the round of funding.)

One of the most mind-blowing presentations came from Isaac Shpantzer who presented a new technology, which allows for the transmission of broadband internet via laser. Yes, laser. The concept: A laser-beam in the blue spectrum (therefore also suitable during daylight) is beamed vertically into the sky and carries the digital information where the 1s and 0s are transformed through some “language” into light.

Menorcatechtalk: Open Session

Because of the earth’s atmosphere, the laser beam begins to scatter. Now: Whoever is located in the line of sight of the upper part of the laser (where it scatters) and has a signaling-device installed e.g. behind his window is able to exchange data. The technology is fully bi-directional and allows for a dedicated bandwidth per household of up to 100 MBit/sec. If only 50 % of this concept became feasible at reasonable economics, I bet that it will fundamentally impact the backend-infrastructure of internet-connectivity.

Besides such food for thought, the food for real was absolutely stunning with an ever changing variety of dishes over the days. (I could still kick myself that I had to leave too early on Sunday and miss the Asado.) But for sure, I got a fair share of this paella:

Menorcatechtalk: La Paella

Thank you very much Martin and Nina, for your kind invitation and putting this event with lasting impressions together. The atmosphere, the networking, the fun and especially the bonding were unparalleled. Thanks also to Matias and Eva for the perfect organization and their ever-sunny-mood for – as a Germany proverb goes – “herding a sack of fleas”.

OLPC for Vatsalya-Charity: We got the Funds!

For the risk of sounding repetitive, I am deeply honoured and humbled about your instant participation which led to the final commitments for our charity “OLPC for Vatsalya Orphanage”. We got the money together, EUR 2869 within 5 days of fund-raising. Stunning! Thank you very much for your support; together we are making it happen.

Vatsalya Bangalore 04

Here the list of all those who walk the talk and have agreed to support me in equipping the Vatsalya Orphanage with 11 OLPC-computers.

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg and Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic
Paul Fritze
Simone Bayer
Michael Munz
Alexander and Michaela Erlmeier
Lukasz Gadowski
Nils and Anita Rauterberg
Jan Poerschmann
Daniela Hinrichs
Anju Rupal
Anca Carstea
Philip Brunner
Michael Gebert
Julia Knop

Now it’s on me to deliver based on your support and put the concept into action. As for the next steps I will be writing to all donors tomorrow the details of my bank account along with the request to wire the funds. Again, full transparency here on the donors’ list about the payment-status. Then we are going to order the computers directly from the non-profit organization OLPC which is so far established in India that it will clear customs and take care of logistics within the country. In short, the computers will be delivered directly to the orphanage. The excess of EUR 69 I dare to put aside for some foreseeable work putting the network-infrastructure together to bring a server as well as the WiFi-hotspot to life.

Actually, in order to give you a bit clearer picture (literally) of the organization itself, I aggregated the photos which I have taken so far in this picture-set on Flickr. The one above in this post depicts the stone plate for the inauguration of Vatsalya back in July 1948 by the Maharaja of Mysore. At that time in India one labeled such a foundation “Association for Moral and Social Hygiene”. That’s of course both an obligation and a leitmotiv which we will – through our laptops – proudly catapult into the digital age :-)

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OLPC for Vatsalya: Only EUR 431 missing

Your support has been absolutely overwhelming, over the weekend additional donations have led to an overall commitment of EUR 2369 from the total of EUR 2800 we are aiming at. This went way faster than I would have ever dreamt of. Here is the latest list of donors, with the detailed overview here.

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg and Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic
Paul Fritze
Simone Bayer
Michael Munz
Alexander and Michaela Erlmeier
Lukasz Gadowski
Nils and Anita Rauterberg
Jan Poerschmann

Thank you very much indeed for this. Stunning I find also that 90 % of these commitments come from social media-communication via blog, Facebook and Twitter. The nature of such concerted action displays three things: That the future of young girls in an orphanage in Bangalore can reach out to a influential number of people without the use of “classic media”, that the same channels empower us to take immediate action and last but not least, we can feel being part of a joint cause.

So here we are with just another EUR 431 missing, in case anybody would like to participate, drop me a mail at rene.seifert (at) gmail.com and I’ll add you to the donors’ list.

18 hours later: OLPC for Vatsalya and half way there

I feel indeep deeply touched by your overwhelming support, far beyond what I would have dreamed of. In a fast intermittently connected world the good news propagated to me through Facebook, Twitter (and Mail) when I disembarked the plane 1.5 hours later on Menorca Airport after I had posted the start of the charity project from Madrid. And not even 18 hours later we are almost half way there. From the targeted EUR 2,800 we have already committed EUR 1,370. Here is the list of the generous donors in chronological order:

Juri Reisner
Martin Wunsch
Rene Seifert
Malte und Tina Krüger
Fabian Seyfried
Dirk Schornstein
Petra Rautenberg und Jürgen Kock
Andreas Hörr
Sascha Mladenovic

Here on this Google-Spreadshirt I will keep an realtime and public update about the donations made. Thank you so much for all your support. I will get back to you within 2 to 3 weeks on the operational issues of money transfer and the next steps to follow. Till then, feel free to spread the word, I will also do so today till Sunday on Martin Varsavsky’s and Nina Wiegand’s Menorca Techtalk.

My Charity-Project: OLPC for the Vatsalya-Orphanage

I felt like doing it for quite some time, so I am happy to move ahead and today announce my charity project „OLPC for Vatsalya“. What I intend to do: Raise EUR 2,800 ($3,900) and equip the Vatsalya Orphanage in Bangalore (India) with 11 computers from the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative.

Background
It’s been already 2 years that I have been supporting the Vatsalya Orphanage in Bangalore with donations and my regular presence which every time has warmed up my heart unlike anything else. The girls in the orphanage aged 5 to 14 might not have had the best start for life, all of them coming from poor backgrounds, some without parents, a few only with a mother who is financially unable to take care of them. Yet, every time I went there and and saw them smiling, happy, curious and eager for learning is nothing but the result of the adorable environment the Vatsalya team has been able to put together. The team consists employed “mothers“ as well as teachers who interact with the children during their schooling, whereas the major organizational backbone stems from the board of committed volunteers. One of the board members is my neighbour Shashi who lives one door away from me, who introduced me to Vatsalya and has been devoting numerous hours every week in her life.

Vatsalya Bangalore 02

Project
From all the things one can do for good, the thing one will do should be close to one’s heart. In my case, as an internet-entrepreneur and sublime nerd who spends a big chunk of the day in front of the computer, bringing children from an early age in touch with technology as part of their fundamental education is an imperative. Something which children in the west can take for granted in their essential formative years, obviously falls short for those in India who grow up in underprivileged conditions. The most saddening thing the many times I drove by a slum in Bangalore or Mumbai is to see the many children (many indeed!), among whom there might be the brains of an Albert Einstein, Azim Premji, Joseph Ratzinger or Mahatma Gandhi – yet without the possibility of unfolding their talent. Here at least at Vatsalya exists the organisational framework for a different path.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is an non-profit initiative of the MIT-founder Nicholas Negroponte which I became aware of for the first time through his TED-Talk. OLPC builds simple and particularly robust notebooks which have been optimized for children in the third world; hence the machines are able to withstand heat, dust, humidity and one or the other knock on the ground. With learning the fundamentals of computers which are moreover fully internet-enabled, the children will have access to the same window to the world as all of you who a reading these lines. A window which will empower them for a significantly higher career path than without it.

Here a brief outline with some slides to explain the scope and some operational issues of the project.

The plan is too buy and deploy 11 computers for the orphanage (10 for the 50 girls girls, 1 for the teachers). Initially, I intended to aim for 50 computers, as the name “One Laptop per Child” suggests. But after watching Dr Mitra’s experiment of a “Hole in the Wall” (great TED talk here), I was convinced otherwise: Children can teach each other a hell of a lot by sharing one computer, and secondly I did not want to fall into the known trap to “over-invest” in a charity project. Rather, by following a step by step approach, bringing a community of donors and volunteers together, rising along the learning curve, proving accountability from my end, the ultimate intention will be to scale concept either within the Vatsalya Orphanage and/or idetify other deserving “targets” with subsequent funds.

Last but not least, I would like to mention Petra Rautenberg who has done tons of invaluable research and will further be in charge as project manager. In 2004, I employed Petra in my company in Bangalore, she moved back to Munich with her husband a year later and we have become good friends ever since.

Call for Action
In order to make it as concise as possible in this first message, I would be honoured if you could help me with your donations and I will deliver. As I would really get as many people involved as possible, I would kindly ask you to let me know what you would be willing to donate as a maximum amount. In order not to get too atomized in the first phase, I would request for a minimum of EUR 50. In case, we collect more than the EUR 2,800 from the commitments, we’ll do a bit of maths-magic (arithmetic mean with iterative integration :-) so that everybody gets involved. As initially we should focus on the subject and action instead of structures, there is no foundation whatsoever involved so that the donation will not be tax-deductible. I promise to be a trustful care-taker, I will make your donations public in your name and I will show ongoing accountability. And, I will keep you posted on the progress here on my blog.

If you want to show your support, drop me a mail under rene.seifert (at) gmail.com , or connect on Twitter or on Facebook and let me know how much you are willing to commit.

Thanks a lot in advance, together we can make a small change for the better and help these girls walk towards a brighter future.
René

P.S.: Happy to share already these donations: My good old school friends Juri Reisner and Martin Wunsch donated EUR 100 and EUR 50 respectively. Myself, I have committed EUR 300, so another EUR 2350 to go.

MännerMitÄhre in Rovinj 2009: Istrian East Coast

Whilst sitting in my hotel in Amsterdam, it’s time for a little re-cap from the yearly outbreak which my best friends from school and I have been establishing in the last 8 years: Going to my home in Rovinj (Croatia) and just letting go. We have know each other for more than 20 years by now, and it is amazing to see that it doesn’t take more than the blink of an eye to regress into the same sort of collective behaviour we were displaying when we were 16 :-)

Here is the picture set on Flickr we are for the official group picture of MännerMitÄhre with the neat marine-blue uniform.

MännerMitÄhre in Croatia

Apart from having a good time in general, playing tennis and eating well in particular, last Sunday we were out for a nice excursion on the Eastern coast of Istra, the northern Croatian peninsula where I to my own dismay have never been.


View Larger Map

We were heading on the expressway towards Pula, from there up again to Labin, a historic town with a clock tower which offers beautiful view into the surrounding landscape as well as Rabac (see here, with the island Cres in the background)

Labin in Croatia

Rabac could theroretically be beautiful, but it’s not. The favourable setting on a secluded piece of beach is entirely overshadowed by one of the ugliest excesses of socialist architecture geared to attract package tourism. Rabac is a place to stop by for an hour and then quickly continue northwards on the Magistrale road with impressive views of the Kvarner Bay. Here I dug out a video from our last year’s MännerMitÄhre vacation in Croatia, where I was flying-pilot of a chartered Cessna 172 with Juri on board filming:

The true splendor of Istra with its history of the K&K Habsburg-Empire becomes palpable in Lovran, and even more so in it’s bigger sister 8 km north Opatija. Its architecture narrates stories of the times when the Austrian Emperor as well as Sissy came here to do something good for their health – something that plenty of physicians hurried to attribute to the very special climate of the place.True or not, Opatija boasts an amazing seaside perfect for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Opatija

Hence, there couldn’t be a better place for MännerMitÄhre for a memorable good time in 2009 and we are already planning for and looking forward to Rovinj 2010.

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