Young Entrepreneurs Summit - South Asia 2013:What worked, what didn't, going forward

You might start off by copying a style you think suits you best. Along the way, you’ll gather the styles of other writers you fancy. If you are at it for a while, pretty soon you’ll develop your own distinct style. Remember when the person teaching you how to ride a bicycle let go without you knowing and you were on your own without realizing it? Kind of feels the same.

solteeLast month’s Young Enterpreneurs Summit – South Asia 2013 (19-21 September), held at the posh Soaltee Hotel in Kathmandu presented a similar opportunity for Nepali entrepreneurs to listen to some inspiring stories and learn about how entrepreneurs from the region forged ahead despite the challenges.  By bringing in successful and inspiring enterpreneurs from the region together, the Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs Forum (NYEF) pulled off a good looking show. Because these high profile entrepreneurs hung around after their speeches and sessions, there were opportunities for the audience – many of whom paid upwards of Rs. 5000 to be there -  to mingle with them and get a tip or two. From the Afghani woman behind a successful business development service based in Afghanistan to a Pakistani success story who confessed to having no high school degree – even a Bangladeshi TV star-turned entrepreneur – the characters were quite colorful. It could have been better. The following are some suggestions and feedback from the perspective of an audience member.

Mr. Anil Chitrakar, whose sessions are always a delight to witness, moderated one of the more engaging sessions of the summit. Without good moderators to steer the show, other sessions were less engaging. When they did engage the audience, it was when because someone cracked a joke. When the sessions started to become a little interactive, they were cut short by moderators wanting to stick to the itinerary. A summit for young entrepreneurs could use more flexibility. The networking sessions could have been much more effective had it not been combined with tea/coffee breaks and lunch. Would striking up a conversation with a mouthful of cake be too rude? An hour before and one after the day’s sessions for networking would have been really great.

The choice of participants could be more selective next time. For a summit of ‘young’ entrepreneurs, most people on stage were on the wrong side of 40, or even 50. A few of them seemed a little embarrassed, making it a point to mention that they weren’t ‘exactly young anymore’. Some of the entrepreneurs speaking weren’t exactly entrepreneurs. Saurabh Jyoti, Director of the Jyoti Group had the good sense to announce that because he was a third generation businessman who had never started anything ‘new’, he could not be classified as an entrepreneur. Well said, but it also confused many in the audience as the charismatic Mr. Jyoti (“I proclaim myself a feminist; I always want to be on the winning side”) has also been the President of the NYEF. Some participants seemed confident on stage, others were less so. Some went on blatant and rampant promotional drives while others seemed unsure of their work.

Personally, three things concerned me the most. First: the Q & A sessions. The experts either didn’t understand the question (in which case they should have said so) or they didn’t know the answer (in which case they should have passed the mic to someone who did). What happened more than once was that someone ill-equipped to answer tried to, helping no one in the process, including himself. Second: Couldn’t the summit have been more about problem-solving and networking than storytelling? Stories are inspiring yes, but most of them you could have Google too. Third: Why so serious? Although YES – SA 2013 had its light moments, it was largely a very formal event. I would have enjoyed a less formal weekend with the region’s best entrepreneurs. Work is already hard, why put a tie on it?