Sickle at Valley
Sickle Innovations was selected to represent India as one of the country’s top-30 startups at the ‘Indo-US Startup Konnect’ Conference in Silicon Valley between the 26th and 27th of September 2015 co-organised by the Prime Minister’s Office. PM Narendra Modi was to attend the event and this was a huge opportunity for the company and promised to provide us with immense exposure.
From Delhi, I departed for San Francisco (via Frankfurt) on the 24th of September. After a comfortable journey, I reached late afternoon, checked-in to my hotel and had a chance to interact with my fellow colleagues before proceeding for dinner. Over spicy Thai treats, I met with a representative from a large agri fund. Upon sharing Sickle’s progress with him, he provided me with some very useful feedback and input on our immediate plans going forward.
Dinner talk complete and appetite well satiated, I retired to my room jet-lagged.
The following day, the CIIE team (Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship) conducted a pitching workshop for all participating startups. After presenting my pitch, I made a few iterations based on the feedback given. We had a bit of free time after this and I decided to explore the sights and sounds of the area and the indoor wonder that is Walmart.
Still jet-lagged, an afternoon nap was most welcome. The day ended with a chilled beer and a sumptuous Mexican bean burrito.
On the 27th, the day of the event, and of PM Modi’s visit to Santa Clara, we departed the hotel early on a magnificent (and excessively large) bus. The journey was lengthier than expected due to a marathon at the time. Reaching the venue, I set-up our stall. We practiced pitches a few times before taking to the stage.
The Prime Minister arrived amidst a sea of security personnel and a clamour of patriotic brouhaha. A group photo (which we had already choreographed at great length) was snapped and the PM later made his rounds around the stalls. Once he had left, the public were allowed to enter. They seemed to engulf the hall like a torrential flood!
My colleague’s brother is a student at UC Berkeley and I caught up with him after the event. He helped me on my pitch and we had a good laugh over a hot coffee. I also met a fellow alumnus of IISc. who was a faculty member at UC Berkeley.
PM Modi addressed an audience that afternoon and I had tickets. The environment was enjoyable, at times boisterous, with shouts and hoots of agreement from the majority Indian throng. Surprisingly, there were a lot of empty seats. Personally, I found the speech to be fairly underwhelming. I paid more attention to the introductory dance performances and Kailash Kher’s booming voice!
The ‘big day’ ended and I was back to the comforts of my bed as a helpless victim of fatigue.
I drove 110 miles to UC Davis the next morning, one of the leading agri-universities in the world. Reaching the agri-engineering school, I met the head of department. One thing I learnt was that there was no real need to email beforehand and schedule a meeting. Knocking at the door and requesting for 2 minutes was far simpler and more likely to receive a favourable response! I also interacted with members of the horticulture department, which shed some light on potential avenues Sickle could engage in.
I returned to Palo Alto later that evening and headed for the airport. My next stop was Boston.
That morning in Boston, (the hub for healthcare startups), I went along with TiE Boston to the Boston Mayor’s office and to the Massachusetts State Governor’s office. We interacted with the Lt. Governor as well. Funnily enough, the sleek security that boasted men and women in dark suits and shades reminded me of the movies.
After this, we headed over to MIT’s TATA Centre. I met with a Professor who works in the agri-sector in India and with a PhD. student (from IIT Delhi) working in dairy.
On my final day, I met with a representative from ‘Khet Works’, an MIT startup working on solar-powered pumps. A professor who works in precision farming made time for me and I briefed him on Sickle’s milking machine. I thereafter met a senior representative of the TATA center at MIT. Our meeting was cordial and he also mentioned that he would be able to connect us with a few relevant individuals/ organisations.
My day (and brief US sojourn) ended with a visit to the MIT museum (where no amount of self-resistance proved strong enough to the marvels on offer at the souvenir shop) before heading to the airport for my flight back to India.
Founder & CEO