A Venture Capitalist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Gururaj Deshpande is not a man to rest on his laurels. Fondly called ‘Desh’, he was born in Hubli, Karnataka. Hugely successful in his field, he has also helped set up several charities including Akshaya Patra and the Sandbox.
In 2010, he was appointed by Barrack Obama as a co-chairman of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (US). The aim of this body is to support the President’s Innovation strategy.
Gururaj Deshpande – A Self-Made Man
His career began in Ontario, Canada at Codex Corporation (a subsidiary of Motorola) which manufactured modems. Later, he moved to the United States and co-founded a company called Coral networks which developed routers. He sold this company for $ 15 million and in the 90s he went on to build another – Cascade Communications. This company was sold in 1997 for $ 3.7 billion.
But, perhaps, he is best known for Sycamore Networks. It was based on the concept of bringing Intelligent Optical Networking to their customers and was set up with the assistance of talented researchers from MIT. Founded in 1998, it went public in 1999. This and his 21% of shares resulted in Deshpande becoming one of the richest businessmen in the world. Even Forbes listed him as one of the 400 Wealthiest Americans.
Scaling up Philanthropy
Gururaj Deshpande’s core ideology has been that ‘an idea does not have an impact unless it is directed at some burning problem in the world’. This is the philosophy that he has applied to his philanthropic efforts as well.
Together with his wife Jayashri, he set up the Deshpande Foundation which helps budding entrepreneurs. The Foundation works at the grassroots level and is operational in his hometown of Hubli. It has a refreshing take on philanthropy, rather than just providing financial support, they encourage innovative ideas that are relevant to social change. Then, they nurture the idea and help them scale up until the business idea can finally sustain itself rather than depend on handouts.
The Foundation frowns upon ideas that eventually cannot reach this goal of self-sustenance. It was to this end that the Hubli Sandbox was set up in 2006, just like the Sandbox Deshpande set up in MIT, this too is a space for budding entrepreneurs to experiment. This is just a small part of his humanitarian efforts, Gururaj Deshpande believes in giving back to society as much as he has received.