Manish Kothari, ’90, is general manager of institutions for Edmodo, a social learning platform, as well as a senior advisor in Cisco’s Entrepreneurs in Residence program. Thanks to a gift Kothari and his wife, Carmen Saura, made to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Kothari Saura Internship Fund provides participants in the Entrepreneurial Internship Program (EIP) with a living stipend, so they can focus on entrepreneurial endeavors. Andi Hadisutjipto—a Full-Time student and the founder and CEO of Chicago-based retail technology company Riviter—participated in the EIP in the summer of 2015 and benefited from the Kothari Saura fund. Bound together by their passion for the start-up scene, Kothari and Hadisutjipto joined a conversation with Chicago Booth Magazine to discuss diversity, funding, and the future of entrepreneurship.
Kothari: My own entrepreneur’s journey was fairly accidental. When I graduated from Booth, I went to work for a medical device company on the product side and then in marketing and strategic planning. I stumbled upon my first start-up in 1993 through an endeavor that my brother started with another friend from Apple. I was the first full-time employee. I knew very little about entrepreneurship. It was not something that I had intended to do. Most students who graduated from Booth at that time either went into consulting or investment banking.
Manish Kothari, ’90
Hadisutjipto: I knew I wanted to be involved in entrepreneurship. At the time I applied to Booth, I thought I might be involved on the venture capital side or in consulting. The idea for my start-up, Riviter, came when I was deciding where I would go to school. I decided to treat Booth as a two-year incubator for Riviter. This was helpful because when you develop a start-up you want to mitigate your risk. Going to business school is a great way of eliminating an opportunity cost. If in two years, it doesn’t work, you can say, “OK, I really tried.” And at least you have an MBA.
Kothari: Though an entrepreneur’s journey can be very rewarding, it’s also challenging. The gift to the Polsky Center is one way we can help alleviate some of the challenges.
I think there’s a fundamental human desire to fix problems and create solutions. That’s the thing that needs to live on.
Hadisutjipto: The gift of time is the secret sauce to the success of any entrepreneurial endeavor. How much time are you going to have to test? If that doesn’t work, do you have time to test something else? Manish’s gift allowed me to focus all of the funds from the accelerator on the company. It also allowed me to go to the Bay Area, which I might not have done without the stipend. Being in the Bay Area was an invaluable experience. It’s such a contrast to Chicago. What I learned in the Bay Area is speed and the pace at which you’re expected to show growth. If within one week you haven’t shown some sort of growth, it’s time to try something new. There are tradeoffs to that mentality. Being there allowed me to compare different environments and figure out why it might make more sense for me to have my business in Chicago over San Francisco and vice versa.
Kothari: My sense is that in San Francisco, there’s a network of people who have all been through the stumbling points of entrepreneurship. Being able to figure out what does and doesn’t work from someone who has been through a similar experience is helpful. What I’m encouraged by is students getting into entrepreneurship at an earlier stage in their careers than was the case in my time. Twenty-five years ago, few graduates from Booth went directly into an entrepreneurial track.
Full-Time student Andi Hadisutjipto
Hadisutjipto: When Manish and I first met, his desire to keep the Booth network going and make it multiregional really resonated.
Kothari: Entrepreneurs are now coming from all different parts of the world and bringing different ideas. These ideas aren’t necessarily tech focused. This new crop of entrepreneurs is thinking completely differently by virtue of their experiences in Chicago; Austin, Texas; or wherever else they might be from in the world. I like that. Too often in San Francisco, our success stories tend to be focused in certain areas. I’m not sure some fantastic idea, like Andi’s, about retailing could be born here, because there are great retail companies outside the Bay Area. There are ideas and entrepreneurs everywhere. Silicon Valley doesn’t have a monopoly on ideas
This new crop of entrepreneurs is thinking completely differently by virtue of their experiences. I like that.
Chicago Booth Magazine: Problems are regional as well. Whatever issue someone from Kansas might be trying to solve with their idea might not be relevant to people in Silicon Valley.
Hadisutjipto: Exactly. I actually have an example from Nebraska. My fiancé is working with a start-up that builds industrial shelving storage solutions for farm environments. If you aren’t on the farm, you wouldn’t encounter this issue, but the solution they are coming up with could apply to lots of other industries. The genesis of the idea, though, could only come from Nebraska. People want to help companies, but they can only help to the extent that they can relate to something. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does affect the process. The people involved in the idea’s environment determine what gets attention. We can broaden that through mentorships and additional avenues of support.
Kothari: Venture capitalists are tightening their funding. My question for you, Andi, is how do we make sure entrepreneurship isn’t just a fad? When money doesn’t come as easily, how do we continue to encourage folks to consider entrepreneurship as a legitimate path?
Hadisutjipto: I’ve heard that funding is tightening, especially in the Bay Area. In terms of creating the runway when funding resources aren’t available, we need to find alternative ways of allowing people that have the drive for entrepreneurship to have the time. Google’s 80/20 rule is an example: intrapreneurship. How can we give people the freedom to own their ideas? I think there’s a fundamental human desire to fix problems and create solutions. That’s the thing that needs to live on. It comes down to investing in alternative methods of encouraging this behavior. And creating a dialogue.
Kothari: Which is exactly what we’ve done by telling your story, Andi. Students can see that there’s a path other than consulting and finance worth pursuing. They can look at you and say, “Wow, she did it. Maybe I can do something similar.”
—By Abigail Covington