Story and photos by Samantha M. Novick
Significant financial reforms in the 1990s set India on a course toward a freer, more open economy ripe for entrepreneurship. I traveled to five cities in India to meet Thunderbirds who have ditched the corporate world to strike out on their own. All across the country, Thunderbirds are leveraging their global mindset and corporate business acumen to take advantage of the booming environment. Here is the final installment in a seven-part series on how they did it, and how you can too.
Chennai: Recovering from Setback
Krishna Chilukuri ’10 was in Lagos, Nigeria, with a problem. As the founder of Roanakh, an energy company that built and sold custom solar panels, he came to Africa to capitalize on growing interest in the renewable energy sector. He had completed a few projects and had several promising leads with the Nigerian government when the recession hit. Oil prices dropped, and then all bets were off.
So Chilukuri, who worked internationally for 16 years in software sales and development with Dassault Systemes before starting Roanakh, hit the books. He enrolled at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and then Thunderbird to complete a certificate in advanced studies. Once on campus, he began to see the far-reaching entrepreneurial opportunity his home country offered for someone with his background and skills to bounce back.
“Ten to 15 years ago, there were a lot of barriers to doing business because the government controlled so many aspects of the economy,” Chilukuri says. “But we’ve opened up. Now is the time. Today the whole country is growing so fast that I feel if you aren’t dynamic, you could be left behind.”
When he finished at Thunderbird, he went home and started a new venture that built on his corporate background: Catapult Tech Inc. in Chennai, which outsources 3-D CAD modeling.
“Those of us who have worked abroad bring knowledge back to India that gives us an edge and helps us to stand out,” he says. “Going to Thunderbird gives us that exposure and confidence to talk to global customers. We feel we have the skills and the knowledge to contribute to the economy, and it’s almost a responsibility that we have to shoulder.”
Right now, Chilukuri is taking advantage of India’s highly skilled technical workforce to build his business. He’s also coming out with his first book, “India’s Place in the World,” essentially an International Political Economy primer specific to India inspired by Thunderbird Professor Roy Nelson, Ph.D.
Roanakh is on hold for the moment, but Chulukuri is optimistic.
“Today in every sector there is space for all kinds of private ventures,” he says. “To me, I think that is the monumental shift that gives entrepreneurs the confidence to do things.”
India Catches Its Stride
Part 1: Timing Is Everything, Andy Khandwala ’92
Part 2: Profit from Your Passion, Kimiko Thakur Menzies ’94
Part 3: Pursuit of Inclusive Growth, Harsha Moily ’97
Part 4: Taking Advantage of Opportunity, Vijay Anand Jangiti ’88
Part 5: Riding the Technology Wave, Samarth Sangal ’08
Part 6: Bursting with Optimism, Narasimha Reddy ’11
Part 7: Recovering from Setback, Krishna Chilukuri ’10
|India Catches Its Stride: Thunderbird School of Global Management alumnus Krishna Chilukuri talks about entrepreneurship in India. View the video on YouTube (2:37).|