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“The perception of India has changed, and it has a lot to do with people like you sitting here.” — Praful Patel, India’s minister of heavy industries and public enterprises, at the 2011 India Business Conference

“The perception of India has changed, and it has a lot to do with people like you sitting here.” — Praful Patel, India’s minister of heavy industries and public enterprises, at the 2011 India Business Conference

Investing in India

The 2011 India Business Conference explores the needs and changes in the fast-growing nation

By Sara Langen

2/9/2011 - Praful Patel has seen his country come a long way since he visited the United States for the first time 36 years ago.

Back then, Patel was asked by an American on his flight why he was traveling to the U.S. Patel responded that he was taking a holiday, which stunned the fellow passenger.

“He said, ‘You can afford to come here for a holiday?’” said Patel, now India’s minister of heavy industries and public enterprises. “But that was then. I don’t think any American is going to ask me that question again. The perception of India has changed, and it has a lot to do with people like you sitting here.”

Patel addressed more than 250 Kellogg students, alumni, faculty and business professionals who attended the India Business Conference — themed “Building Bridges, Creating Connections” — Jan. 29 at the Kellogg School’s James L. Allen Center for Executive Education.

India has arrived on the world stage in a short amount of time, joining China as one of the most powerful emerging markets in the world, Patel said in his afternoon keynote speech. One of the greatest changes in the nation has been the growth and accessibility of telecommunications. Even shoe polishers on the street own a mobile phone.

“That’s the kind of transformation you see, but in some things, we have a very long way to go,” he said. “We have to invest in agriculture. We have to invest in industrial development. We have to invest big time in infrastructure. That hits you very strongly when you go back home.”

The conference sought to address those needs by hosting its first Social Innovation Case Competition. Thirty-one teams of undergraduate and postgraduate students from across the U.S. participated in the contest, which was sponsored by Kellogg’s Center for Research in Technology and Innovation, the Carol and Larry Levy Social Entrepreneurship Lab, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. Four finalist teams presented innovative business plans that would improve India’s education, quality of life, infrastructure or health.

Northwestern student Swapnil Chaturvedi and graduate Anoop Jain ’09 took the $10,000 first prize for their business plan “San+Co: Urban Slum Sanitation through Enterprise and Crowd Funding.” The business would rent toilets and collect the waste to create energy that can be used to charge batteries so families can power their homes.

“Obviously the $10,000 is great for our project, but what I’m more excited about is having the Kellogg name associated with the win,” Jain said. “Kellogg produces some of the greatest business minds in the entire world. Even though we’re doing this for the public good, we’re formatting this based off a business, so to win in this context, among these people, does a lot for our business long-term.”

Team Sanjeevni Diagnostics, made up of Nicholas Evans, Northwestern undergraduate Charlie Miller and Kellogg student Shaunak Patel ’11, took second place, winning $5,000 for their plan involving a community-based health organization that brings affordable medical diagnostics to low-income Indians.

Other conference highlights included keynote addresses by Sam Pitroda, architect of the Indian telecom revolution, and Sikha Sharma, CEO of Axis Bank.