Lokvani Talks To Desh And Jaishree Deshpande
Dr. Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, the founder and Chairman of Sycamore
Networks is an influential technology entrepreneur and a visionary
whose companies and ideas often reshape entire industries. After
attaining superstar status in the world of entrepreneurship, Desh,
along with his wife Jaishree has turned his attention to philanthropy
and social entrepreneurship to help both US and India. In
addition to Sycamore, Desh is also involved in six other companies
including Tejas, Airvana, A123 Systems, HiveFire, Webdialogs and
On the nonprofit side Desh is on the Board
of MIT, IIT-Madras Trust, TIE Board, TIE Foundation, Chinmaya Mission,
Deshpande Foundation Sandbox, Akshaya Patra and the Public Health
Foundation of India. Jaishree works with Desh on nonprofits and
is also a Trustee of the Museum of Science and is supportive of their
Deshpandes’ generous donation has made possible MIT's
Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The Deshpande Center was
created to serve as a catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship by
supporting collaboration among entrepreneurs, young companies, MIT
students, alumni and faculty.
In India the Deshpande
foundation has created a social entrepreneurship sandbox which
incubates NGOs that have the potential to create a large impact.
Akshaya Patra is one of the first experiments that is well on its way
to becoming a success story.
Dr. Deshpande holds a B. Tech. in
Electrical Engineering from IIT Madras, an M.E. in Electrical
Engineering from the University of New Brunswick in Canada, and a Ph.D.
in Data Communications from Queens University in Canada. Jaishree
Deshpande earned her MSc in Physics from IIT Madras and holds an M.S.
in Computer Science from Boston University.
In this interview
with Lokvani, Jaishree and Desh share their exciting journey and talk
about their philanthropic work in India and the US.
What were the key factors responsible for your phenomenal success as an entrepreneur?
I have been fortunate to be surrounded by good people in every
initiative that I have undertaken. That has been the most
important key to success. I strongly believe in constantly learning
from my experience and feel a great need to constantly re-invent
myself. I believe that these two factors have been critical to success.
While you were growing up was
it your goal to become a successful entrepreneur? As a young man did
you ever imagine that you will be in the position that you are in
Desh: It is not my nature to have grand goals. I
always plan for about three to five years at a time. I have taken time
in between these periods to rethink about my life and goals. These
periods of reflection have been extremely useful to re-energize me to
get to the next step. Often in life we get so wrapped up in the
everyday routine that without time for reflection we can get lost in
gathering micro-information and lose track of the big picture. For me
the pleasure has been in the journey. Whatever I do I always make
sure that I have fun doing it. Dreaming about your next destination is
a lot of fun.
while Desh was having a very busy career you, an IIT graduate, decided
to quit your job and decided to stay home. Was that a difficult choice?
Do you regret it?
Jaishree: It is always a difficult
choice for any mother. Earlier when I used to see my friends who
have pursued the career path I would feel a little twinge. As
time progressed it became easier and I made peace with my choice.
I have never regretted it. I have thoroughly enjoyed raising my
children. Looking back it was absolutely the right thing to
do. If I were to do it again, I would do the same except that I
would not twinge.
After our two boys went to University, I have
regained my freedom. I now enjoy working on philanthropy and
traveling. I was fortunate that Mahesh Ganmukhi and his daughter
Swati introduced me to trekking in the mountains. I enjoyed my
trek to the Everest Base Camp with them. It was one of the most
challenging experiences for me and it broadened my comfort zone.
Last year I was also lucky to have the opportunity to trek to Mount
Could you describe your journey into philanthropy?
Cascade went public in 1994. At that time, Jaishree and I started
thinking about how we can have a bigger impact given the new resources
we had at our disposal. We formed the Deshpande foundation. Our
first gift was to IIT Madras. We felt that IITians have been so
successful that if we formed an alumni network, IITs would benefit in
the long term similar to the way that Harvard and MIT benefit from
their Alumni network. Our first big gift was a quarter million
dollars that we donated to IIT Madras to establish an IIT Alumni
Network. We have given several more millions to IIT since
then. It is very heart warming to see that IITians now come
together in thousands and not only share their own life experiences,
but also give back to IITs.
After Sycamore went public we
donated $20M to MIT to set up the “Deshpande Center for Technological
Innovation”. We also funded MIT’s Undergraduate Practice
Opportunities Program (UPOP).
We gave the initial capital
required to build the Chinmaya Mission in Andover. We have
established a Social Entrepreneurship Sandbox in India to incubate good
ideas and refine them so that they can be replicated and have a large
impact on the most marginalized population. We are also the
founding donors of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) along with
Bill Gates and other donors. PHFI is setting up 7 IIPH (Indian
Institute of Public Health) to train 10,000 Public Health Professionals
The Deshpande center has a strong focus on innovation. Could you describe its mission and philosophy?
As we see the economies of India and China moving forward it is clear
that the strength of the US lies in innovation.
US, we spend over 100 billion dollars in research. Lot of innovative
ideas that get generated in the process get shelved for they do not
find the right market and in the process they get lost. MIT has been at
the center of the innovation process. MIT has a long tradition of
nurturing innovation, providing the technology for new companies, and
of building successful relationships with larger corporations that fund
research. But historically, obstacles remained in the innovation
process, between initial concepts and commercialization. Unproven ideas
had little opportunity to advance beyond their theoretical stages, and
younger companies lacked ways to discover and fund new ideas. We
established the center to solve this problem.
We created the
Deshpande Center to connect MIT’s innovators with the
marketplace. Through the grants program we provide funds
for research for faculty and students. We have a catalyst program where
we choose entrepreneurs to serve as catalysts that can help bring the
research idea to market. We have the I-teams program which is a
unique opportunity for students to develop Go-To-Market strategies for
MIT Technologies. We also have an IdeaStream symposium which gathers
together the leading minds in innovation and entrepreneurship for an
invitation only event each spring.
We have had several successful
companies that have emerged from the center. Brontes technology is an
example of such a company whose founders had excellent patented
technologies in 3D imaging. Through the Deshpande center programs they
realized that their technology had a major application in dental
imaging, a market that they would have never considered
previously. Today they are leaders in dental imaging and have
been acquired by 3M.
You have a
unique approach to social entrepreneurship in India. Could you describe
the mission of the “Social Entrepreneurial Sandbox” in India?
India has an excellent tradition of individuals taking the initiative
and setting up NGOs to help others. In fact, there are over a
million NGOs in India. However, the NGO sector in India is
fractured and we need to create a more systematic approach to scale the
good ideas. In the for-profit world, the companies invest in
product development, perfect the product and then mass produce it for
consumption. However, in the non-profit world, people start with
noble intentions and a very good heart. However, they are always
under resourced and their ideas don’t get an opportunity to become
real. We are setting up the “Social Entrepreneurship Sandbox” to
experiment with the ideas and give NGOs the opportunity to prove and
refine their ideas.
The “Sandox” is based in Hubli, Karnataka
and covers approximately 8 million people living in a couple of small
cities and hundreds of villages. It is an area large enough to
represent different types of problems that exist in India. We invite
NGOs to apply for grants to the Deshpande Foundation to bring their
programs to the Sandbox. This year we are supporting about 50
programs. Nishith Acharya, Executive Director of the Deshpande
Foundation, champions these programs and is based in Boston.
Jha, who recently completed Masters in Sustainable International
Development from Brandeis, is moving to Hubli to lead the effort.
The value we provide to the NGOs in the Sandbox, in addition to money,
is that we are developing a community that will set the bench marks for
the best practices in the NGO sector. There are several fellows
from USA who will go and spend a year or two in the Sandbox. We
have one fellow who started her work a year ago. She has been an
excellent change agent and is having an enormous impact in the
area. Our hope is that if we support this initiative for 5 to 10
years, the Sandbox will become a hot bed of Social Entrepreneurship,
just like Boston and Silicon Valley are for High Tech
Entrepreneurship. We have been lucky that we have had some
initial success with a program called Akshaya Patra.
Patra Foundation provides mid-day lunch to school going kids.
They have developed a process where they can build a kitchen for
approximately a million dollars and serve a hot meal to over 100,000
kids from the centralized kitchen. We funded the kitchen in the
sandbox. They have now perfected the process and their supply
chain. They have quickly scaled the organization to feed 570,000
hygienic and nutritious meals to underprivileged school children
everyday across ten locations in India which is an enormous
undertaking. The Akshaya Patra Foundation functions on a model of
public-private partnership where the Central Government, State
Governments and companies have come together with Akshaya Patra to
support the program.
Akshaya Patra (http://www.akshayapatra.org/)
has the ambition of scaling the program to feed a million kids everyday
by 2010. We felt that this is such an impactful, efficient and
appealing program that several people in USA would like to get involved
with this program. Therefore, the Deshpande Foundation set up the
Akshaya Patra, USA in Boston and is housed in the same office as our
foundation. Shikha Bhatnagar is the Executive Director of the
Akshaya Patra, USA and can be reached at
email@example.com. We are hoping that all
your readers will get involved and support this program. For a
donation of $28, the organization can provide hot nutritious meal to a
kid for the entire academic year. We are also very pleased that
the US Congress recognizes the efforts of Akshaya Patra as one of the
best and the largest efforts in the world to beat hunger. We are
very pleased that the US Congress has granted a US Congressional
fellowship to this organization.
How do the two of you divide the responsibilities of managing so many companies and non-profits?
Desh: The key is to hire good people.
Executive Director of the Deshpande Center - Leon Sandler, Executive
Director of Deshpande Foundation - Nishith Acharya and the
Executive Director of Akshaya Patra Foundation – Shikha Bhatnagar are
all very good at what they do.
I look after the
for-profit companies. I am fortunate to have excellent CEOs and
founding teams that are world class. It is a lot of fun working
Jaishree manages the non-profit initiatives. She is
very instrumental in working with the Sandbox concept and leading our
philanthropic efforts in India.
Do you provide opportunities for NRIs to work with the “Sandbox” initiatives?
There are 2 million Indians in USA. Some of them can afford to
donate a dollar and some can donate millions. Some of the NRIs
can spend a few hours a year and others can spend full time helping the
marginalized people in India. We are hoping that we can create
platforms like Akshaya Patra where any one can get involved to whatever
extent they can and it all adds up to helping the needy.
What advice do you have for youngsters aspiring to climb the success ladders?
It is important to find things you are passionate about and to do
things that you want to do rather than doing things that the world
expects you to do. Enjoy the process of doing things rather than
waiting to get to your goal before enjoying life. There is no
substitute to hard work and disciplined life. However, I have
found that hard work comes naturally with passion.
encourage everyone to live a simple life; don’t complicate your
life. Simplicity frees up resources both in terms of time and
money to do things that you really want to do.
you are the mother of two children. Both are MIT graduates with good
values. What is the secret to that success?
Jaishree: Raising kids with simplicity.
all have resources and have an urge to give the kids everything even
before they need it. This leads to entitlement and lack of
gratitude for what they have. Having the discipline to let the
kids struggle to get what they want is important. This is a good
way to help them find their passion.
Thanks so much for your time
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