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Deshpande on Obama Panel to Support Innovation Strategy
SI Team
Friday, July 30, 2010
India-born Gururaj Deshpande, Chairman of the Bangalore-based Tejas Networks, A123, and Akshaya Patra, once said, “India is a land of limitless potential,” and he is now proving it just right. The man who has to his credit taking three multi-billion-dollar companies public and once the richest Indian origin man in the world is now again adding feathers to his crown. Despande, popularly known as ‘Desh’ is now appointed as the Co-Chairman of U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Desh will support Obama’s innovation strategy by helping to develop policies that foster entrepreneurship, create jobs, and drive economic growth. He is one of the 26 members of the Council, which counts serial entrepreneurs, university presidents, investors, and non-profit leaders among its members and the only Indian co-chairing the Council, with the other Co-Chairs being Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and co-founder of AOL, and Mary Sue Coleman, President of the University of Michigan. Commenting on his new role, Desh says, “The U.S. spends approximately $60-70 billion a year on research, and I would be looking at ways to get more out of that.”

Deshpande is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who serves as a member of the MIT Corporation and has contributed around $20 million to make possible MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The Deshpande Foundation is one of the leading philanthropic foundations in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship, and international development. Through its grants, the foundation has helped launch innovative companies, assisted non-government organizations develop an international presence, and launched partnerships with some of the most remarkable change agents in the world today.

Born in Hubli, Karnataka, Deshpande graduated in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology - Madras, and went to Canada to do his master’s degree and PhD. He used to be an academic before a fellow professor got him into the world of business. Since 1981, Deshpande has started and taken public three multi-billion-dollar companies including A123 Systems, which debuted well on Nasdaq. Now the challenge for Deshpande will be to divide his time equally between each of his not-for-profit initiatives and his six businesses - Sandstone Capital, Sycamore Networks, A123 Systems, HiveFire, Tejas Networks, and Airvana Inc. He is the chairman of the first five and an investor in the last one.

“Many Indians based in the U.S. today are involved in innovation and entrepreneurship, and the future of the world depends on this. The key learning that emerged from the work that I had been engaged in, particularly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was that I need not only innovate, but also to connect innovative ideas to markets, to create impact by getting thinkers involved with relevant ideas,” says Deshpande.

The 61 year old Desh believes in mentoring his son Pawan at his startup Hive Fire to dream big. Today, Deshpande does not need another claim to fame. Nevertheless, his brother-in-law is N R Narayana Murthy. Since 2000, Deshpande and his wife have been involved in several non-profit initiatives that include support for MIT, IIT, TiE, Akshaya Patra Foundation, Public Health Foundation of India, and the Social Entrepreneurship Sandbox in Hubli.
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