Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gururaj Deshpande: Fuelling a passion for innovation

Gururaj Deshpande: Fuelling a passion for innovation
GORDON PITTS | The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Nov. 04 2012, 7:00 PM EST

Gururaj (Desh) Deshpande is the one who got away – the young engineer who left Canada, launched a batch of U.S. start-ups, built an influential foundation, and has served as an adviser to President Barack Obama. Now, at 61, he is putting money and ideas into the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at University of New Brunswick – where he had arrived as an Indian graduate student in the early 1970s. Teaming up with local tech investor Gerry Pond, Mr. Deshpande seeks innovation that meets both commercial and social needs. 

And he knows the ups and downs of innovation. His high-tech winner of more than a decade ago, Sycamore Networks, recently announced it will be liquidated and will sell its technology. “Sycamore is a public company and we have to do what is in the best interest of the shareholders,” Mr. Deshpande, still chairman, said in an e-mail.

How did you end up as a U.S. serial entrepreneur?

In the early 1980s, I was working [as a manager and engineer] for a Motorola subsidiary in Toronto. In four years, it went from 20 people in a garage operation to 400 people, to $100-million in revenue, and very profitable.

I thought, “If I can do this for Motorola, I can do this for myself.” Unfortunately there was no venture capital in Canada at that point. The only two places to go were Silicon Valley and Boston. That got me to Boston and I have been there since.

So you went from a manager in Toronto to launching a number of Boston-area tech companies?

I’ve done about 10 of those but now my wife, Jaishree, and I spend a lot of time with our foundation. What we are trying to do is use that innovation/entrepreneurship to make a better world.

Don’t entrepreneurs sometimes make the world worse?

Yes, they do. It’s a tool, like a chainsaw, which you can use for good or bad things. Essentially, entrepreneurship is thinking about a product that you believe people need and then making it happen. You could be trying to make an economic intervention or a social intervention. It requires the same thing – the conviction, the passion, the execution.

Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Excellent Interview. MIT Deshpande Centre is a well known Centre promoting Top class innovations.

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