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Along with handling the technical intricacies that contribute to the success of Pathway Communications year after year, Pathway’s Chief Technology Officer, Akshay Kalle, is known to also take initiative in promoting entrepreneurship. This year, Akshay has been chosen to share the battle stories he fought as an entrepreneur himself with the winning team from the Y2Youth event. Y2 offered young entrepreneurs a platform to showcase their ideas and learn to transition a business idea from concept to a pitch presentation. We wanted to know what drives Akshay to reach out to the community and support young minds. So we asked…

Why did you choose to support Y2Youth?

“The concept is what appealed to me. Although we all emphasize education in different ways, it’s through getting right into the thick of things and getting dirty that we truly learn. Mentors are also very important, but in my experience, time and constructive failures tend to be some of the best teachers. Initiatives like Y2 are a great start, and we need to see more activation and motivation throughout our economy in different verticals, not just technology.”

You have been an active member of the Nexus Global Youth Summit, and now Y2Youth. Why do you focus so heavily on youth entrepreneurship?

“Because our time here is short. Thinking long term isn’t in a zero sum combined with immediate prosperity. By investing in the youth, we’re investing in the present and future of Canada, and our own futures as we age. They are the ones who will build tomorrow’s institutions and economies. And we want to ensure that these institutions are exactly those — entities that last and stand for something. We are investing in ourselves by investing in our youth.”

What is the most interesting pitch that was brought to you by a student?

“I’m approached for mentorship and investment very often. I hear some really interesting pitches. I can’t narrow down the best single pitch but I’ve heard some great ideas about crowd sourcing in areas like logistics, innovative approaches to healthcare (particularly for seniors), handling the deluge of info we call email, and child care. Although these don’t sound very techy in nature, the solutions proposed to use technology as a force multiplier.”

Is there a particular business avenue that you think students should explore?

“I think students or any businessperson in general should aim to solve real-world problems. While this sounds like a very trivial or tautological statement, it is actually much harder than you think. Making something that people need, demonstrating that need, and then serving it in a profitable and sustainable way is not easy. In fact it requires parking a lot of the ego and the fascination with the product itself. I’ve learned over the years to never fall in love with one’s own product — it’s akin to drinking your own kool-aid, or believing in your yet unrealized legend. There are so many problems and corresponding opportunities out there. They all exist in the physical space. It’s a sad fact that most technology experts forget the analog or physical world. From food security to logistics, to medicine, to production….I could go on. Who thought booking a room had room for innovation? Air B&B capitalized on that in a marvelous way.”

What is a common mistake that you often see entrepreneurs make?

“Not solving an actual need. Business 101. Plain and simple.”

What do you think is the most important trait or skill that these students should focus on developing?

“Humility and persistent learning. Complacency and becoming jaded or deluded is very easy in business. Persistence without wisdom can drive you bankrupt and ruin people around you. There’s no magic formula for success in entrepreneurship. It helps to have a good eye and a sense of patience — the world is far from being optimized, so learn and be mindful.”

What is the most useful piece of advice you were given by a mentor?

“To always keep learning. Although I wasn’t told this in such a direct phrase, this is a theme that all the mentors whom I most respect, have managed to get into my head in some way or another.”

After seeing the hurdles Pathway has overcome over the years what are some obstacles that you think students should anticipate when launching their own businesses?

“Pathway has had its share of highs and lows, and it will change over time as it has and must. Evolution requires adaptation. Obstacles come in all shapes: political, economical, sociological, industrial and so on. Finances and customer loyalty etc., are all just proxy indicators or outcomes for root causes like a lack of relevance to the target market, or inefficiency. Quality is also one of those highly overloaded and poorly defined words. Focus on relevance and exceeding expectations in objective terms; work with ratios that exceed client expectations, for that’s what gives people the wow effect. Anything less is simply a waste of time.

Overcoming the resistance to change is also very important. Most of the time, the obstacles will be the mindset and the people that an entrepreneur will surround themselves with. Don’t surround yourself with “yes people”. Smart debate is crucial, and you have to be open to it. If adaptation, objectivity and persistent learning are not present in a way that leads to institution building, then that leaves the business vulnerable to all sorts of really nasty ways to fail. And those failures are expensive in more ways than just monetary. Life outlook, personal relationships and one’s own sense of self can really take a turn into directions that are harmful, but aren’t obvious — it’s the ‘boiling the frog’ model.

One of the two winning teams will have an opportunity to have a meal with you. Now, on this day – this team of young entrepreneurs will share their 2 day journey with you. What do you hope they take away from you?

“It’s not my job to, nor do I believe I should, lecture the winners on how to succeed in terms of principles. All I can do is share my own imperfect experiences and hopefully watch them improve on how my predecessors and I have done things.”

Some inspirational words for young entrepreneurs?

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