Wednesday, October 4, 2023

“Discovering highly talented technologists with the mindset for scaling business is my biggest challenge.”

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What all roles can a technologist play in the industry? If you believe the options are limited—take a look at Sundara Nagarajan’s profile, and I guarantee you—you will be enthused. While he started his career as an assistant R&D engineer—he’s been the head of several R&D units, co-founded a tech firm, and now enables technologists to scale their ambitions. Thanks to Neeti Toila, who pointed me to Sundara—as a perfect example of a Guru—I was able to connect with him and draw these valuable insights….

Q. Can you describe your current role? What are the primary results that you are expected to achieve for your organisation in this role?

A. I am Managing Director at IndusAge ScaleUp Advisors, an innovation scale-up advisory firm. I am responsible for leading the enterprise advisory practice targeted to help technology-led companies to monetize their intellectual property, globally. We help tech innovators scale up their innovative ideas into business with economic value. The primary result we seek is to build valuable businesses based on technology innovations.

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Q. What are the things that excite you–about this role?

A. I am passionate about helping technologists to build and scale their innovation, so they can impact the world positively. My current role provides me with the opportunity to execute on that passion. In this role, I am working with technologists in larger firms (intrapreneurs) and tech entrepreneurs to fulfil their ambition to build a valuable company for their investors. I am also working with investors who bet on innovative technologists. Our customers and our products are one and the same—the company we help to scale. Therefore, we try hard to be diligent while choosing our clients.

Q. What’re the top 2 or 3 challenges for you in this role?

A. Even though IndusAge has been in this business for close to 17 years, we are less known in the market as we weren’t trying to scale our practice until recently. Discovering highly talented and promising technologists with the mindset for scaling business is our biggest challenge.  Following that discovery, every situation is unique requiring patient, longer-term engagement to help them.

Q. How, are the kind of firms you invest in, different from typical start-ups?

A. We are looking for technology development or technology-enabled business start-ups that have or aspire to build differentiating intellectual property. Such businesses are built on innovation as the foundation. Usually, the founder behind such companies come out of university or corporate research background or deep practice experience, have a deep understanding to formulate the problem definition and are eager to improve people’s lives with their innovation. There will be invention and creativity combined with clear people-oriented vision and economic value creation model. In almost all the cases that I have studied closely, we can discover one individual who is possessed by a challenge deeply and inspires several others to engage with them in their mission. They build institutions that are scalable to incredible levels. My favourite inspirations from India are Aravind Eye Care System and Jaipur Foot.

Q. Any common type of challenges that you help these technologists with—that you can share with the audience?

A. We make the technologists aware of the multi-dimensional nature of challenges.  We challenge the innovator to prove their engineering design to be scalable beyond a lab model. We clarify the subtle but important differences between product management, technology management and engineering management. Most technologists do not naturally internalize the people and economic aspects behind building a business. It takes several hard lessons before techno-preneurs internalize the difference between unit economics and company economics–role of intellectual property, operational excellence and company culture in building a scalable business.  I consider humility as one of the important values for us as external advisors to cherish when we work with creative techno-preneurs.

Q. Is this the kind of role that you had dreamt of when you were in college? If not, how did the shift happen? Are you happy with it?

A. I had certainly dreamt of becoming a respected scientist/technologist from my earliest days. I pursued that path for over 33 years with some level of success, but quite different from what I set out to do. I realized the importance of timely and appropriate coaching/mentoring in achieving against our full potential. I perceived the need for technology innovators to get the right kind of support to execute on their dreams. I decided to spend the rest of my life sharing the learnings of my life and build a sustainable organization whose mission is to help technology innovators to scale up their business. I am very delighted that I made this switch in my life based on my experiences.  I believe it will eventually benefit at least a few young technology innovators to fulfil their dreams in creating a positive impact on the society, as they create economic value.


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