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Changing the world, One Million at a time

  A Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, SRAMANA MITRA is the founder of One Million by One Million, a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She has run three companies as CEO, been a columnist for Forbes from 2008 to 2010 and is the author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series.  

Q.    Tell us about yourself, your background, education, etc.
I grew up in Calcutta, India, and came to the US in 1989 for college. I finished my Masters at MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) in 1995. I started my first company, DAIS,
while I was a grad student at MIT.

Q.    Tell us about your journey till before One Million by One Million.
I have lived the life of a serial entrepreneur, having started three technology ventures between 1995 and 2000. After that I was working as a consultant, for almost a decade. In that time, I wrote five books, a column for Forbes and was always writing on my blog. Finally, in 2010, I founded 1M/1M.

Q.    What prompted you to start 1M/1M?
I have always been interested in Development Economics. I have a Bachelors double degree in CS and Economics. And I have always been interested in entrepreneurship as a vehicle for economic development.
I have also studied Mohammad Yunus’s work in microfinance closely. Finally, my own research at MIT was in scalable computing, so the notion of a scalable entrepreneurship development system was a problem that I have been thinking about for a while. Over time, I have observed that Silicon Valley is a highly vibrant entrepreneurial hub, with a great eco-system, but the problem as I could see it was that it is very localised, and it is quite difficult for outsiders to penetrate. It is almost like an elitist club. I wanted to democratise the knowledge and network of entrepreneurship. I found my answer in the form of 1M/1M, and it focuses on addressing that problem.

Q.    What kind of challenges did you face along the way?
Like any new concept, getting people to adopt an online programme takes time. People are still not quite used to learning online, perhaps even more so on their own. It is a paradigm shift. But I am absolutely sure that the world will embrace online learning over the course of this decade, and we will be at the forefront of this movement to educate millions of people around the world using high quality, standardised systems.

Q.    As someone with an Indian background, how different did you find the US system in which you started 1M/1M?
In India, even today, entrepreneurs are generally less mature, and considerably less courageous than what we see in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. The ecosystem in the US can handle big ideas much better than what the Indian ecosystem can handle at this point. This scenario will certainly change in due course, I’m sure. I fully intend to empower the Indian entrepreneur with the tools and resources with which to mature and hit their strides through 1M/1M.

Q.    You’ve seen many individuals coming to you with ideas. Why do you think the ideas that didn’t achieve fruition fail?
Entrepreneurs typically succeed when they solve real problems, cater to real customer needs. We have recently published a showcase of the kind of ideas that we see in The Million Dollar Club.

Q.    What kind of hurdles do these entrepreneurs usually face? How do you help them overcome these hurdles?
The biggest gap I see today is a lack of knowledge among would-be entrepreneurs. It is something quite basic – which foot does one put forward before the other? I feel that proper and comprehensive mentorship is the only way that these individuals can find the right way forward. To that end, I believe we provide one of the best mentoring programmes in the world to help them.

Q.    How can someone from another part of the world take advantage of your programme?
Our programme is 100 per cent global, and 100 per cent virtual. It is because of that virtual nature that anyone sitting in any part of the world can take part in our programme. It is designed for entrepreneurs to use globally. We have entrepreneurs from all over the world in the programme. They log in to the online system and have access to the curriculum. They can get live mentoring through our Webex strategy roundtables. It’s very easy to join and use.

Q.    Do you think management institutes have a valid role to play in developing and encouraging entrepreneurship? Are they performing that role to its fullest extent?
In my opinion, management institutes are trying. However, the issue is that most such institutes don’t really have faculty who have had actual hands- on entrepreneurship experience. Therefore, these faculty teach theory. Unfortunately, I have observed from experience that unlike a subject like Physics, for example, entrepreneurship is best taught as a laboratory science, instead of as a theoretical science. And that is what we do. We run 1M/1M as an incubator where entrepreneurs actually build companies.

Q.    What kind of response and interest have you seen from India? Do you think the trend of going down the entrepreneurship route, as opposed to other more conventional and arguably safer avenues, is changing in India?
India is our second largest geography. We’ve seen huge response from individuals there. Yes, the trends are improving, but as I mentioned before, India still is a risk-averse culture. So it doesn’t have the numbers that other regions can boast of.

Q.    How do you function, as  an individual and as the person at the helm of a company?
I work incredibly hard. I have a clear vision of where we want to go as a company, and I ensure that my team knows exactly what that vision entails. We work steadfastly towards that singular goal. When obstacles arise, we work on removing them. We treat one another with respect. That’s all there is to it!

Q.    Where do you see yourself, and 1M/1M, ten years from now?
Our goal is to help a million entrepreneurs around the world reach and surpass the one million dollar mark in annual revenue. I fully intend to get to that goal. Our achieving that goal will help build a trillion dollars in global GDP, and also help create 10 million jobs.