Conference report: Ajit Singh, Foundations of entrepreneurship

Dr. Ajit Singh has had a long and complex career. He went from driving a cab in NYC during his studies at Columbia, where he obtained a PhD in computer science, to pursuing a successful career at Siemens Healthcare, where he reached the position of CEO of this division. He then left his job to create his own company, Biolmagene, a company providing medical professionals with tools helping with: management, analysis and sharing of patients’ biological samples. After selling his company, he now works as a partner with Artiman, an investment fund specialising in start-ups. He is considered an expert voice in the field of medical IT applications and entrepreneurship.

His conference at TSE aimed at presenting the main requirements of building a successful company and the environment in which it can thrive. Before getting started, he asked if the audience had questions they wanted answered during his presentation. Among the topics that were most asked about were: the most important things to start a company, the pitfalls of success and, when does one know he should give up.

To introduce his talk, Dr. Singh compared the Galapagos to the Silicon Valley. The latter being a place that has all the right things allowing a fertile exchange of ideas thus better start-ups.  Indeed, the oceanic currents in the Galapagos allow the mixing of biomatter and thus great biodiversity. The main argument is that by observing a known catalyst of entrepreneurship, we can extrapolate on the foundations of entrepreneurship, just like travelling to the Galapagos was fundamental to Darwin’s understanding of life. Furthermore, he aims at studying the principles first, because it is often easy to confuse causes and consequences.

He goes by arguing that three factors are more commonly observed in the Silicon Valley than anywhere else. First, a smooth hierarchy: over there, people are used to have young entrepreneurs or scientists eventually founding a company in an a priori unrelated field. Second, a wide diversity, that is a proxy for variety in walks of life, interests and more generally, of worldviews. Finally, a culture that is trans-disciplinary and translates into good listening skills.

Once the environment was covered, the speaker went into further details on the personal qualities required in entrepreneurs. Mostly this has to do with the ways to build a culture of accountability necessary to establish a fertile environment. He argues that it mostly requires trust, defined as a function of reliability (doing your job as you said), credibility (being an expert in your field) and intimacy (being able to look vulnerable) discounted by self-interest. He then finished by saying that these qualities are best worked on with a mentor that can guide you.

by Joël Bréhin

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