In the early 1980s, California, US-based engineer at Intel Vinod Dham rose to fame as the "Father of the Pentium Chip " for his contribution to the development of the Pentium Processor. After starting a series of new ventures, he is now making a comeback to entrepreneurship and this time, into education. Early this year, Dham started up online education venture Acadgild along with entrepreneur duo Krishnan Ganesh and Meena Ganesh. The duo had earlier founded another online education venture Tutor Vista, which was sold to Pearson for $127 million in 2011. Prior to Acadgild, which to begin with will offer courses in software development, Dham in the late 1990s had started a VOIP chip venture called Silicon Spice that was sold to Broadcomm for $1.2 billion.
So, at 60, what gives Vinod Dham, a technology veteran the energy to start up again and that, too, in the unrelated area of education? Dham says, "Probably my passion and my impatience, not to sit back and relax and the need to be doing something. This is to be the last innings of my life and you see this can keep me busy till the end."
The real motivation to come back to education has much deeper roots in his inherent passion to leverage technology and internet connectivity to make quality education reach a bigger mass of people than it reaches currently. "Most of us Indians owe all of our success to education. There is no doubt about that. We were born in the post-Independence era and we were educated in a very poor India by refugee parents who literally came back with a shirt on their back and sold their jewellery to send us to school. This was the value system we have. So then, when you reach success, you look back and ask yourself what made you successful. It is the family and the education system. I want to come back and encourage that. That's the fundamental reason why I am back to education. There has been an inherent passion about it," he says.
Dham hails from Rajouri Garden (West Delhi) and before he went to Delhi College of Engineering, his father put him in a village school in a place called Basai Darapur, in Ramesh Nagar. Before that he was in Pune in a very average school. "I really didn't get educated in a very modern school and even then I have been able to make it that far. This is because of the belief I have. It's not just about the school you go to. It's what you do with what you learn. Those are things that have brought me back to education in the last innings of my life. I thought I should dedicate it to something as meaningful," he says.
What will Acadgild do? Rather than depending only on videos as most online courses do, Acadgild will provide live mentoring and hands-on engagement for building real applications for its students. It will be preparing students for job-ready skills in an effective way for employers to evaluate prospective candidates. So far, Acadgild is mostly focussed on software programming courses and as per the website, some of the courses currently being offered are Android, big data and hadoop administration, Java among others.
Apart from oft-cited reasons like increasing internet penetration and savvy-ness of people towards internet-based services, Dham has other reasons to believe that this is the right time to launch a venture in online education. "A lot of universities and colleges are not doing a good job and quality of education is not good. Online education will solve lot of those problems. For example, you can bring in teachers from the industry to teach, not necessarily people who are fulltime academics. I don't know how it is but I know for a fact that lot of people got into education because they were into real estate and they were making money and were funnelling their money into education so as not to pay taxes. That's not the way education should be done. Online education can cater to a much bigger number of people at much lesser cost. We don't need Cambridge-like infrastructure because to my mind, that doesn't matter. In the US where I live, every now and then there is a thing like our kids are not getting good education because the schools are old. I tell them, look the school I went to at Basai Darapur, there was no school. How did I study? We were busy studying, playing, interacting with other kids, we cared little about the walls around our school."
Is he relocating back to India for this venture which is going to be based out of Bangalore? "No, I'm not. My family is based out of there. My kids were born there and they are getting married there. So that will continue to be my home," he says. He has his passions still brimming for home country India. "This is my first home and I always keep this bridge no matter what I do."
Vinod Dham is also the founder of venture fund IndoUS Venture Partners in India back in 2006. What does he think of how venture capital has shaped start-ups in India so far? "From 2005 till 2008-09, it wasn't clear where things are heading, a lot of start-ups were getting funded by IUVP and others as well, some getting traction, some not. In the last four-five it has taken a life of its own where it is seeing a completely new crop of entrepreneurs coming in, building businesses that are directed at solving specific issues on the consumer side of things. With companies further building could computing solutions and drone technologies, I think beyond the consumer-centric businesses we will see companies with intellectual property too," he says.