Tough Times are the Right Times for Entrepreneurs, Says TiE Boston’s New Executive Director

The first thing I want to know is what “TiE” stands for. Answer: The Indus Entrepreneurs, which reflects the South Asian background of the organization’s charter members. But over the years, TiE has sometimes been referred to as “Talent, Ideas and Enterprise” and “The Innovative Ecosystems.” So excuse my confusion. (I would opt for “Twin Ion Engine,” but that’s a Star Wars geek talking.)

Names aside, TiE (pronounced like the word) is a global not-for-profit network of some 12,000 innovators in 48 chapters across 15 countries. It started in Silicon Valley in 1992, and its mission is twofold: to promote entrepreneurship across the globe, and to provide a platform for entrepreneurs to share ideas. TiE Boston, founded in 1997, is the second-largest chapter after Silicon Valley, with 600 members.

Which is where Vanita Shastri comes in. A social entrepreneur, India policy consultant, and educator at Boston University’s School of Management and other area colleges, Shastri took over on May 1 as the new executive director of TiE Boston. I caught up with her last week to chat about her new role, which these days includes gearing up for TiECon East, her chapter’s largest annual event, on May 29th and 30th.

Xconomy: What are the goals of the TiE network?

Shastri: It was started with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship. In this process, the organization has grown to be one of the world’s largest for promoting entrepreneurs. Members have access to a database of people, including charter members who are very experienced entrepreneurs who have been there, done that. It’s very useful if you’re traveling, for instance, and you need introductions, or advice.

Xconomy: How did you become involved with TiE Boston, and what is your new role?

Shastri: I’ve been a member for several years, and been involved since its inception. As executive director, I’m basically running the organization, and looking at taking the TiE Boston mission to the next level—thinking about what new stuff we can do here. It’s my responsibility to take care of memberships, events, and initiatives. Also workshops, partnering with universities, and communicating with other chapters.

Xconomy: What are the unique challenges you’re facing?

Shastri: I’m juggling a few different things. Because TiE grew organically over 15 countries, in the last three years there’s been an initiative to promote “TiE Global,” and do the branding for the whole organization. At the Boston level, we have special interest groups (SIGs), consisting of 14 different verticals—wireless, semiconductors, software, outsourcing, and entrepreneurship, for example. They organize events and panels. They’re a subgroup of the chapter. We also have a women’s initiative, which is a horizontal.

My interest, from the academic side, is in how to mentor entrepreneurs. My aim is to bring the interest back to things that will help entrepreneurship. You can come on our website and you can be matched one-on-one with a charter member for three or four hours a week. Maybe you need help with a business plan, or how to make a pitch to VCs, or how to find an angel investor.

Xconomy: How’s it going so far?

Shastri: It’s very exciting. I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve done teaching, I’ve done nonprofit. I can roll it all into what I’m doing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really exciting. The challenges are keeping everyone happy. For instance, our sponsors need value delivery, and we want to keep growing. We want to add two or three new SIGs every year and do 60 events per year.

Xconomy: So what’s your advice to young tech entrepreneurs?

Shastri: My advice these days is that they should get started. A downturn in the business cycle is a good time to get started, as there is enough talent to hire, capital is chasing good ideas. You could build a company using low cost inputs and when the economy swings back, ride the tide of high valuations.

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