“Don’t think you are the only one fighting for the cause” with Somdip Dey and Chaya Weiner

Don’t think you are the only one fighting for the cause. There are many like-minded people who are pursuing similar goals. Seek them out through your networking capabilities, and ask for their help and assistance if needed. One of the key skills any successful entrepreneur should have is the networking ability. Often times a new […]

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Don’t think you are the only one fighting for the cause. There are many like-minded people who are pursuing similar goals. Seek them out through your networking capabilities, and ask for their help and assistance if needed. One of the key skills any successful entrepreneur should have is the networking ability. Often times a new entrepreneur sees other entrepreneurs in the same business as competitors, but seasoned entrepreneurs see other competing entrepreneurs as good mentors, friends-to-learn-from and/or business partners.bout “companies and organizations making an important social impact,

I had the pleasure of interviewing Somdip Dey, an embedded Artificial Intelligence scientist at the University of Essex, UK, and the Samsung R&D Institute UK, working on developing affordable artificial intelligence based solutions accessible for developing countries. Somdip has developed several technologies to help people around the world and is also a serial entrepreneur with a focus on social impact.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?

Growing up in India decades ago when technology was expensive, we had a lot of problems, which could have been easily solved by using technology. Traffic jam, pollution, malnutrition, food waste are some of the problems we used to face a lot during my time in India and such problems are still rampant in current times. However, given the accessibility issues of cutting edge technology solving such challenges, we have to adopt the old ways of solving these issues. For example, volunteering to raise awareness, knocking on door to doors, etc. Such methodologies are effective but slow in getting real progress and results given the amount of time spent in pursuing such approach. When I started to study and work in the computer science I quickly realized that by developing computer systems and solutions a lot of the aforementioned issues could be solved without the need of wasting time.

Back in 2012 when I was applying for post-graduate studies in the USA/UK I noticed that as part of the application process I have to send the original copies of my graduate certificates and transcripts, which would cost extra to post them to the country I am applying to. Regardless to say that issuing an extra copy of transcripts and certificates are expensive for students in developing countries given the financial condition. I used my expertise in system’s development to build a new methodology to authorize and authenticate digital transcripts and certificates by using QR codes as medium to hold encrypted data, which could only be verified by designated parties. This methodology allowed the students to send over digital copies of their certificates and transcripts to the designated universities instead of sending over the physical copy and hence, making the process of authorizing degree certificates more affordable yet secure. Later several institutes from India, Malaysia, Indonesia around the world has adopted this methodology in their own way to accomplish the task of authorizing and authenticating degrees making the process affordable and accessible. Such adoption of the technology that I have developed only instilled confidence in me and carry on to develop systems to make a social impact.

Later in 2014 my parents went through a car accident which inflicted serious injuries to my family. To financially help my family I sent back all my saving without caring to save some for me to go by the week. At that time, I survived by living on collecting food thrown away by people in the skips. Through this experience I realized how much edible food is wasted by people daily which could be provided to people in need. Given my prior experience in helping others by the use of technology I founded Codeepy Pvt Ltd, a company developing computer applications to help others. At Codeepy I co-developed the world’s first crowd food sharing platform, which eventually won an international award and recognition. Later seveal other companies around the world adopted this app as their business idea and created their own version to help reduce food waste. Since then I have been creating technologies to improve lives of people around me.

Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?

If I say that I started a movement with the mind set of starting one then it would not be true. In the beginning I just wanted to help people around me and eventually it made me realize that that similar technology could be used to help others as well. Hence, becoming a movement of its own.

For example, in 2017 I personally ended up wasting food by forgetting them in the fridge, just to be thrown away in the bins after they have expired. Regardless of my prior experience and trying to reduce food waste I couldn’t help but throw away expired food because of my forgetful habit. I realized my issue was that I was constantly forgetting to use some of the food in the fridge given my busy schedule and forgetfulness. And this had to stop. I could technically use sticky notes or reminder app to remind me of the food and their expiry dates, however, such applications are not intuitive and easy to use if you have a load to items to remember. So, I created a mobile app that would help me to remind me the expiry date of the edibles I’ve got and suggest me recipes based on those items. After talking to some of my colleagues and friends I noticed that it was not just me who was facing these issues, in fact these are very common among professionals and busy individuals. Later, I made the mobile app available for anyone to download and use, and also founded ReMe Basket Ltd. to make this app more accessible to countries around the world.

So, in the beginning I just envisioned to help myself and people around me, however, the idea grew like a snowball effect. The amount of positive response from people that I got on this idea and its impact was really overwhelming in the beginning. But this also guided me to improve the idea and create a vision for me and the company to make a bigger impact.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I got my first investment starting as an entrepreneur I shared the news on LinkedIn like any other entrepreneur would most likely do in the seed funding phase. Suddenly I started getting bombarded with messages and connection requests. Coming from a pure technical background and with no prior experience in developing or managing a business everything seemed very overwhelming in the beginning, especially I didn’t have any mentors to guide me in the process at that time.

One of the connection requests on LinkedIn came along with a message asking to connect in order to develop a relationship. At the beginning I thought the person wanted to develop a working relationship as an investor or a business associate. However, the truth was the person wanted to develop a romantic relationship instead and become a working partner in the company. Lesson from this story? If you get some traction and become noticeable there will be a lot of people who want to either be associated with you or get involved into your life because of those reasons. Be wary of such predators since these people may only lead to your downfall in the long run.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The main focus of my companies and all the technologies that I have developed so far is built around people. We all live in the society which ultimately shapes our perception of the world. Every time I undertake a project I always ask myself the following question: If we don’t make our society better and improve the lives around us then how can we provide the best for our children, who are the future of our society. So, is this project going to improve the lives of people around me or not?

If I can answer this question affirmatively without hesitation then only pursue the project or else I move onto something that would.

At the moment I am developing artificial intelligence (AI) based solutions affordable for developing countries. Currently AI is utilized in almost all industries around the world, however, such technology is very expensive because of the associated cost of developing and supporting the applications and related computational infrastructure. On the other hand, smartphones are becoming more and more inexpensive due to the advancement of the large-scale integration technologies. Each latest smartphone having the computational power of a super computer from few decades ago, such computing devices could serve as perfect host for computing AI based solutions and hence could reduce the associated cost of AI applications if developed on smartphone devices. Last year we developed an affordable traffic categorization camera, which costs less than $200 and is capable of categorizing traffic on the embedded camera device using AI algorithms without the need of expensive servers costing thousands of dollars, which is the traditional way of traffic categorization around the world at the moment. This work was presented at the 2018 NASA/ESA Conference on Adaptive Hardware and Systems (2018 NASA/ESA AHS), and could potentially save a lot of money for governments of the developing countries such as India, Bangladesh, China, where traffic jam is a big problem. This is just an example of how developing affordable AI based solutions could not just help people of the developed countries but help people with limited resources around the world. This is just an example to show that my organizations are devoted to make technology more affordable and accessible for people around the globe, hence contributing to help the society positively in the long run.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

There are so many people who have reached out to thank and wish well for the technologies I have built over the years, however, these is one event which has stuck to me since it happened. I often write on Quora on different topics. One day a question popped up regarding creative work and I ended up sharing ReMe Basket mobile app, which helps the user to remember the expiry date of the edibles in the fridge. One elderly woman reached out through the platform to say how the app has improved her life and she used it to remember not just food in her fridge but also consumption time of her medicines given the user timer feature and ease of usability of the app. I have got several positive reviews and feedback on this app, but somehow, I would always have this feedback very close to my heart. Maybe because it reminded me of my grandparents who would have found the app helpful as well if they were around.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Certainly, making a social impact is not an easy feat. It requires dedication, courage, stubbornness and vision to make the slightest impact in the society. Regardless of having the vision to change the world with technology, people are not easily adoptive of such new technology. So, without any doubt the three things that the community could do to improve lives using cutting-edge technology are:

Be aware of the problem: Although many people are aware of the existence of problems such as food waste, pollution, etc. But they might not be aware of the impact of such issues in the society and its people. Being ignorant about the social implications of such problems only makes the situation worse. Hence, be aware of these problems and their implications.

Be more receptive: Sometimes cutting-edge technology, which could solve many of the societal problems, could be overwhelming to grasp or adopt. But be patient and give it a chance. You may end up admiring and loving such technology at a later time.

Don’t just wait for others to take actions. You can take actions as well: Many times, people wait for change to happen thinking that someone else would take in charge and take actions against the societal problems. If you wait around for such change then it might take some time. Instead you could take actions and eventually others will follow.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to create a vision and legacy for others to follow. That being said good leaders should be a good follower first in order to learn how to lead properly.

Throughout my journey being an entrepreneur, an engineer and a scientist I have made many mistakes. Given my expertise, ability to create several successful projects, I have also acted arrogant, which ultimately led to some failures. When I acted arrogant because of my capabilities I have forgot one rule before I could lead others: Learn how to follow first. Regardless of someone’s expertise, experience and ability that person is always lacking in something, and instead of acting like an all-knowing-being and lead others to the wrong direction because of being egotistical person, it is better to realize the shortcomings in yourself. After you realize the shortcomings learn from others who are good in those shortcomings and work to improve those areas. Once you have improved after following the leaders then take charge and lead others. In that way you will reduce your chances of failure by many folds. So, always have mentors who could help you positively during your journey of making a social impact.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Some of the lessons I have learned along the way which I wished someone had told me before are as follows:

If you need constant motivation to pursue your goal of making a social impact then don’t pursue it at all. Trying to bring change in the society you will face constant hurdles, sometimes from people who care about you the most and are close to you.

Don’t get disheartened because of these hurdles. Learn from them and carry on moving forward. Every hurdle is there to teach you a lesson, which would be valuable in the long run.

Don’t start your entrepreneurial journey with an exit in mind. I have known so many entrepreneurs who started their journey with the goal of a successful exit or with the sole purpose of gaining wealth and fame. Having such aspiration is not a bad thing but if you start your entrepreneurial journey because you are bored of your ‘9 to 5’ job and lower income than expected then starting a company is not a solution to solve these issues. You should really pursue the journey because you want to solve an existing problem with a substantial customer demand, and a vision to accomplish the solution to that problem.

Have a firm vision but be flexible. To see your idea coming to life you need to have a firm vision of where you are going and where you want to lead to. This vision is not just important to shape a product or project or the idea you have. This vision will gain more followers and believers over time, and having a firm vision of your idea and where you want to go will instill confidence in the believers of the idea. However, that being said, any entrepreneurial journey is full of hurdles and unforeseen challenges, which might force you to change or slightly modify the vision you have in order to succeed in the long run. Don’t be stubborn in such case. Realize the truth, and be flexible to make slight adjustments to your vision.

Don’t think you are the only one fighting for the cause. There are many likeminded people who are pursuing similar goals. Seek them out through your networking capabilities, and ask for their help and assistance if needed. One of the key skills any successful entrepreneur should have is the networking ability. Often times a new entrepreneur sees other entrepreneurs in the same business as competitors, but seasoned entrepreneurs see other competing entrepreneurs as good mentors, friends-to-learn-from and/or business partners.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” — Steve Jobs

Whenever I planned something for long term it somehow never took off. In the meantime, something completely different ended up happening. This led to several valuable life lessons where my previous experiences and learned lessons came handy. Along the way I only had one thing in the back of mind which never changed regardless of my plans failing sometimes. I want to help people around me and my experiences and lessons have helped me to achieve this goal in the long run. So just believe in something and let the universe guide you to your destiny.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me or drop a direct message on Twitter @somdipdey.

Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!

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