Yale SOM Student Wins Entrepreneurship Competition
Anjai Lal '11 has won the Economist-InnoCentive Entrepreneurship Challenge, an international competition aimed at identifying disruptive and groundbreaking solutions to complex business problems. Lal and teammate Sasha Vyash of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business flew to Berkeley, California, in March to pitch their idea, called AgroEngine, to three prominent venture capital experts, who helped select a winner from four finalists that included startups from Croatia, Boston, and the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Lal, who lived in India before coming to Yale SOM, came up with the idea for AgroEngine after analyzing the major drivers of the emerging economies and took India as a case in point. With a majority of the population involved in agriculture and a burgeoning mobile telecommunications industry adding millions of subscribers per month, Lal saw an opportunity for a business that uses sophisticated data-collection techniques to help the entire agricultural chain in decision making. Currently, he said, most farmers use history, word of mouth, or general perceptions of the market to decide how to manage their crops, a practice that leads to gross inefficiencies. "The idea would be to use advanced analytics to identify trends across the entire agricultural value chain," he said. "We could then sell this information to corporations, to farmers, to businesses. With the right approach, I believe we could do wonders for the retail and agricultural sectors in emerging markets and finally begin to reach the bottom of the pyramid, which has so far been a major problem."
The Entrepreneurship Challenge involved three rounds: a short emailed presentation, a 45-minute interview with staff members at the Economist, and the final, three-minute pitch, held at the Ideas Economy: Innovation conference at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, on March 23 and 24. The final round was called Tiger's Lair, based on the TV pitch show Dragon's Den, and involved each team taking on questions from an expert panel on its plans. Standing alone on a stage in front of an audience, Lal explained AgroEngine to the three experts—Tim Draper, founder and managing director, Draper Fisher; Jurvetson Chinedu Echeruo, chairman and founder, Hopstop.com; and Kristina Holly, vice provost of innovation at the University of Southern California. Lal and Vyash won $10,000 for finishing first.
Lal, who will be working for IBM in its business performance services division, credited his studies at Yale SOM with giving him the skills necessary to pull together a compelling presentation. "Yale SOM really pushes you to come up with impressive and innovative ideas," he said. "It's what we do, day in and day out. The fact that this competition required the conceptualization of innovative business solutions along with a societal value component only made it a better fit for me. This is what the Yale SOM mission is all about."