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As managing director of Palo Alto–based Essex Woodlands, Immanuel Thangaraj, AB '92, MBA '93, has helped lead one of the world’s largest health-care- dedicated investment firms in raising over $2.4 billion and building more than 100 companies. In 2015, he spun out its early-stage investment activities into Park Lane Ventures, and he remains managing director at both firms. The 2003 Distinguished Alumni Award  winner serves as co-chair of the Council on Chicago Booth and is a dedicated volunteer across the university.

How did UChicago’s academic culture help you find your path?

The curriculum forces you to seek out and engage with other disciplines. At many other colleges, you might go in wanting to be a physician, like I did, and by chance take something else, but you wouldn’t necessarily end up in an economics course taught by a world-renowned professor. You get that at the College here.

When I was at Booth, there was a freedom—and perhaps even an expectation—to inquire about other things that would broaden what initially interested you and challenge you in ways you hadn’t expected.

How did Booth help launch your VC career?

Between my first and second years at Booth, I had a summer internship at ARCH Development Corporation, which at the time was UChicago’s sole technology transfer arm. My job was to shut down one of their portfolio companies, but we were able to secure federal funding that kept the company alive. I stayed on full-time as its general manager during my second year at Booth, and ARCH invited me to become its first associate after graduation. That opportunity gave me my first job in venture capital.

Why is it important to you to remain engaged as an alumnus?

Collectively, we can do something that none of us had planned—that’s the kind of engagement I love. I’ll give you an example: every year, I work with one or two students as part of the New Venture Lab. One year, I recruited a student to investigate medical device opportunities in China. She not only did a great job of giving me a market study, but she also sourced a couple of interesting opportunities for our firm.

One lead was intriguing enough that I flew to China and ultimately invested in the company, which I never would have found if not for that student. I ended up building an entire China practice off that one investment. 

What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Encourage people to take big risks without letting them fall over a cliff. That’s something I learned from Steve Lazarus, my boss at ARCH and a former associate dean at Booth. He was a great mentor to me.

What advice would you give to new Booth students?

Invest in relationships. The classes ahead of you and behind you are a collection of highly intellectual people you won’t ever have access to in the same way again. They want to change the world, and right now, you’re in the middle of a thousand of them. Don’t waste that.