News 2021

Social Entrepreneurship and Mentoring (An Article by Reena Kapoor)

Chapter: ASEI National

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” If you have served as an executive mentor at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship,  then you’ll appreciate the truth of those words. More importantly, you’ll know what a privilege it is to be a small part of the impact that GSBI social entrepreneurs are having the world over! Did you know that Miller Center has accelerated more than 1,000 social enterprises since 2003? These collectively have improved, transformed, or saved the lives of over 400 million people in 100 countries.
I have had this privilege for nearly 4 years now, having mentored social enterprises of all kinds — for/non-profit in education, economic empowerment, last-mile health, and energy independence, in India, Mexico, Africa, the US! Each of these enterprises and their founders brought incredible smarts but also passion and uncommon commitment to their work. It is hard to find a sharper group as dedicated to a higher cause, driven by passion, and dazzlingly creative in solving problems! Mentoring these enterprises, seeing them implement plans and make a difference to lives and regions we too easily forget, has been rewarding beyond what I could have imagined.
People often ask me what it’s like to be a social enterprise mentor. I tell them that the mechanics of mentoring are not hard but it requires some thought and planning. No, we don’t just show up to offer “free advice”. Over the years as a product executive in Silicon Valley, I have advised and coached multiple software start-ups but being an executive mentor for a social enterprise requires a slightly different mindset, both because it involves mentoring the entrepreneur — not simply advising the business — AND because the whole endeavor is driven by a social mission. In addition to Miller Center’s vast resources, I like to tell the entrepreneur (and remind myself) of a few aspects that I pay attention to in my mentoring work knowing that my goal is to become a trusted advisor. I offer them here with the hope that they can be of some use to other mentors:

Bring your dispassionate business sense… with a large dollop of passion: As a mentor, ask your mentee — the social entrepreneur — critical business questions: Does the business model make sense? Do the unit economics work? Are hidden costs taken into consideration? What will scaling entail for your supply chain? Will your channels and partners be reliable at scale? These are important aspects where a social entrepreneur may encounter blind spots or may never have subjected their plans to this kind of business rigor. At the same time, remember the enterprise and its founder(s) are fueled by a passion for impact. And as a mentor, you need to help them employ a dispassionate approach to evaluating the impact side as well. What is the nature of the impact and will/can it work? (How) can the impact scale? Can it be replicated? For for-profit enterprises, how to balance profit margins (stakeholders have come to expect) with impact? Better yet, how to wrap a business model that supports the impact model so there doesn’t have to be a choice between impact versus profits? Social entrepreneurs’ passion will get them far, but to have sustained impact it’s important for them to evaluate, refine, and augment their potential for impact. As a mentor, you must help them evaluate and optimize both aspects!

Utilize Socrates’ secret sauce: One of the key skills for success as a mentor is listening. The founder/entrepreneur knows best their target market, the enterprise’s strengths, and the challenges they face. As a mentor, you have a lot to learn from them before offering guidance. Yet an equally important aspect of a mentor’s job is asking critical questions about the enterprise and understanding underlying assumptions. In fact, the Socratic method describes the ideal process — a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. Asking why, how, based on what, often helps the entrepreneur uncover their own assumptions and weak points. They can then offer (sometimes find) evidence to support their thesis or temper their assumptions. This listening while questioning and asking for evidence while respecting passion and instinct requires a fine balance and is where the secret sauce of mentoring lies. So ask a lot of questions, ask for evidence, and supporting data, yet also listen carefully to the answers and respect the entrepreneur’s instinct and passion.

Leverage Miller Center’s frameworks, resources, expertise: At Miller Center, mentors are strongly supported in the form of training, resources, and frameworks for mentoring; and well established best practices (communication, regular updates, on-time delivery, etc.) are built into the programs. Help your mentee make ample use of the resources, especially the framework-driven, modular approaches that Miller Center offers for its various programs. These frameworks bring discipline to the process and keep the social entrepreneur working towards deadline-driven outcomes. At the end of the day, you want to make sure there is a structured, tangible output and defensible plan arising from all the analysis and discussion. This may be in the form of a solid investor pitch, a plan to scale the business (Scaleout Masterclass, Replication Program), and/or a plan to bring the business back on track after a setback such as Covid-19 (GSBI Alumni Bounceback Program). Miller Center hosts a trove of training and other resources — including generously sharing expertise across programs. For example, on a venture where I was a mentor, Miller Center connected us with an expert on supply chain issues. Similarly, I have offered advice to other ventures on B2C e-commerce challenges and mobile app development considerations.

Do check in with Reality… often: Note the social enterprise and its founders are fueled by passion. They want real impact, they want it big, and they want it now! But intentions alone, however good, are rarely enough. Measurement of output — business and impact — is a way to make sure that all the energies, resources, funding are poised to make a difference for the cause the enterprise wants to serve. Make sure you address impact metrics as well: What impact metrics make sense? How will they be calibrated and collected? What do they mean, actually measure? Remember they should be measures of outputs (counting the delivery of a product or service) and outcomes (the impact of delivering the product or service). Play devil’s advocate. Investors will want to be convinced that KPIs on impact are well thought through and that their investment will make a difference.

Pay attention to the PEOPLE: Last but most certainly NOT least is making a genuine connection with your social entrepreneur (and even their teams, as possible and appropriate)! This can make all the difference. I usually begin any mentoring relationship by asking the founder(s) about themselves, their lives before and after, what brought them to this work, and what has shaped them. Remember you are helping them develop themselves and their capabilities. Often they are moving water uphill and knowing that the mentor “gets them” and is there to help them find a better way can be invaluable. The road can be lonely and the going tough especially at times where much is outside their control e.g., COVID times. Not only does the enterprise suffer but the founder(s) watch a lot of their hard work going down the tubes. They may even be more distressed than they realize. As part of Miller Center’s new Bounceback Program, one of the things we are watchful for is founder burnout or even PTSD! Don’t underestimate these aspects.

Ultimately mentoring is about helping founders and social enterprises help themselves by developing their capabilities, sharpening their focus, and avoiding possible pitfalls. Hope some of the guidelines I present above are helpful to your efforts as a mentor. I would love to hear about your experiences and other nuggets you discovered. Happy mentoring!
Reena Kapoor is a seasoned software product leader with hands-on experience building online and mobile applications for B2C, SaaS, and enterprise businesses for close to 20 years. She spoke at the ASEI Women’s Day Special Event earlier this year (Blog and Recording available here ) This article has been adapted from "Socrate's Secret Sauce and other Mentoring Advice" published by her at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University.

She brings deep functional expertise in product management, innovation, Agile development practices, and go-to-market planning and execution. Reena advises and works with technology clients to find product-market fit by helping them define, build, and launch products and roadmaps with both proven and experimental business models. Reena’s early career includes brand management and new products at Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods, which she credits with teaching her principles of general management and marketing. Additionally, Reena is an active executive mentor, at Santa Clara University’s Miller Center – the largest and most successful university-based social enterprise accelerator in the world. She also serves as a director on the board of several non-profits. Reena has a B.Tech in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi and a Master’s degree from Northwestern University.

Happy Pride Month! June Newsletter features Engineering tales, youth corner and solution to Space debris and more

Chapter: ASEI National

The June  2021 edition of ASEI Newsletter was sent to all those who are on our mailing list till April end. Here is the web version. Happy reading and catching up on all that happened in the last month and what lies ahead with your society!

ASEI is a volunteer run professional organization and we welcome your involvement. We request feedback and especially welcome any articles, blogs or ideas you would like to contribute. Please be in touch with anyone from the content/editorial team.


STEM Success Story : Nidhi Mathihalli

Chapter: ASEI National

Nidhi is a sophomore from the Silicon Valley who joined ASEI as a student member after being awarded the ASEI Silicon valley Emerging Technology Award at the 2020 Synopsys Championship. Our Silicon valley chapter has been sponsoring and encouraging promising students in this manner since inception in 2015. Through ASEI, she has been able to see what technological opportunities there are for Indian girls such as herself.
She is very passionate about helping others and does so by using her skills with programming and hardware to create products that help those in need. Some of her projects include the Money Reader for the Visually Impaired and a device called Start2Run aimed at helping athletes, specifically runners, manage their workouts without overstressing themselves.
She has won first place in Synopsys Science fair twice, and was the recipient of the ASEI Silicon Valley Emerging Technology  Award twice as well in 2020 and 2021. Additionally, she won the second prize in ASEI Silicon Valley Budding Engineers Talent Showcase (BETS) in August last year and received top prize at the Youth Technology Exposition (YTE 2020)  organized as part of ASEI’s 33rd  National Convention in December 2020. Additionally, She has recently  won the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing as a Bay Area Winner.
In addition to creating projects, she is an avid math competitor, who has won awards in nationally recognized contests, and has recently qualified for the 2021 USA Junior Math Olympiad. In her free time, she likes to read, play the piano, and work on robotics.
We are very proud of Nidhi’s accomplishments and volunteer spirit and  on behalf of entire ASEI, wish her the very best as she advances her STEM journey in high school and beyond.

Picture: Nidhi With the students at the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind, teaching them about technology and getting their input for the Money Reader.

Exploring the Final Frontier and engineering solutions to Space pollution issue

Chapter: ASEI National


Image: iStockphoto
Exploration is an innate desire of human beings. For centuries, humans have looked to space and the stars for answers. The fascination is more than philosophical—it’s coupled with the need to solve problems here on Earth. In the past 100 years, humans have landed on the Moon, built an International Space Station, and successfully landed multiple Rovers on Mars.
Today, there are seemingly countless benefits and applications of space technology. Satellites, for instance, are becoming critical for everything from internet connectivity and precision agriculture, to border security and archaeological study.
Where the original space race was a nationalistic competition between Cold War rivals, the new space race is collaborative and commercialized.
Today, international cooperation allows for the deployment of satellites, as well as space-based science. Before SpaceX, NASA and the other space agencies that operate the International Space Station had been reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets for hundreds of missions.
With the success of its famed reusable rockets, SpaceX is on track to reduce launch costs by as much as US$6 million per flight—which is likely to support the proliferation of satellites in the coming years.
Right now, there are nearly 6,000 satellites circling our tiny planet. About 60% of those are defunct satellites—space junk—and roughly 40% are operational. Over the coming decade, it’s estimated by Euroconsult that 990 satellites will be launched every year. This means that by 2028, there could be 15,000 satellites in orbit. With improved technology and commercial partnerships, all signs point to a crowded orbit.

What are Space Debris:
Space debris includes any nonfunctional human-made object in space, including rocket parts that have been abandoned in orbit after having completed their mission, defunct satellites, fragments from unintentional and intentional orbital collisions and items released during operations. These sources have multiplied to create a large amount of space debris orbiting Earth. According to NASA, there are over 30,000 objects larger than a softball in orbit, traveling at speeds up to 18,000 miles per hour.
This debris is spread across all three of the main regions of space around Earth: low-Earth orbit (LEO), medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO). As its name suggests, LEO is the closest to us, extending up to 2,000 km from the Earth’s surface.
It is the most crowded region of the three and, in addition to hosting the International Space Station, it is the region where SpaceX, OneWeb and other well-funded companies are currently sending tens of thousands of new satellites as part of their constellations. Perhaps not surprisingly, LEO is the region with the most debris. As a result, it tends to be the focus of much of the discussion around the issue.
Issues caused by space debris
The existence of space debris is concerning for many reasons, with physical collisions being the most obvious. The possible risk caused by space debris is magnified by the incredible speed at which debris typically travels. According to NASA, there are over 30,000 objects larger than a softball in orbit, traveling at speeds up to 18,000 miles per hour. At that speed, any one of these objects is capable of completely destroying a spacecraft.
Space junk poses other challenges as well. Astronomers lament that light pollution from objects in orbit hampers observation of the night sky. The reliance of observatories — often involving equipment costing hundreds of millions of dollars — on long exposures makes debris particularly problematic.
In view of the constant increase in space-traffic, we need to develop and provide technologies to make debris prevention measures fail-safe. In parallel, regulators need to monitor the status of space systems as well as global adherence to debris mitigation under their jurisdiction more closely.
NASA and other commercial players in the space are working on various technological improvements that will help in solving the issues related to  space debris. NASA created a material that can heal itself in less than a second from hurtling space debris. 
One group that is often overlooked, but that has the potential to strongly affect the future path toward the sustainable use of space, is comprised of end users of space-based services. This encompasses anyone from telecommunications customers to users of imaging data to transportation companies relying on satellites to track their ships and planes. If end users demand sustainability like other sectors, it would likely force launch providers and satellite operators to act. 
Finally, there is a new stakeholder that is trying to solve the challenge of space debris. Startups such as Astroscale and D-Orbit are making progress toward commercializing the removal, or at least mitigation, of space debris. Another example is LeoLabs, a ground-based space mapping provider, whose phased-array radars are capable of tracking debris as small as 2 cm.

Image: PM Images

*****This Article was Contributed by Santosh Ankola, Member ASEI Silicon Valley *******

Happy May Day! New month and we are ready with ASEI May 2021 newsletter

Chapter: ASEI National