Each week, Paul Wood talks with a high-tech difference-maker. This week, meet MANU EDAKARA, associate director for entrepreneurial communities at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business. He manages the iVenture Accelerator and helps teach two courses in the college’s honors program.
Where are you from and how did you get here?
I was born in sunny San Francisco, raised in cold Illinois and completed my undergrad at the UI in the College of Applied Health Sciences.
You’ve done volunteer work, such as with the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club through the Man2Man program a few years ago, and before that, Alternative Spring Break. How did you juggle that with being a UI student?
For me, college is all about growth and learning through experience. Statistically, going to a top university in America is an immense privilege. Realizing that, I felt an appropriate thing to do was donate my time and efforts to numerous volunteer efforts such as Disability Resources and Educational Services and the wonderful programs put on by Alternative Spring Break (trips to serve adults with mental disabilities and injured military veterans, where my work was recognized by the chancellor). Luckily for me at the time, volunteer work, shadowing and working were expected for students on the medical path and we were given support to incorporate this alongside our science classes. I must confess, I did spend a lot of my fun weekends at the library, though.
Do you have a start-up yourself?
Besides Man2Man, which was a nonprofit working with at-risk male youth in the local community, I co-founded three software startups in the on-demand, social-media advertising, and e-commerce industries. I currently serve on the board of advisers for a few select startups in industries such as sports safety and video messaging.
What attracted you to entrepreneurship?
The UI has a rich history and tradition of innovation and changemaking — some of the most disruptive companies in the world have their roots on our campus. During my undergrad, I was inspired by my peers who were building multimillion-dollar ventures while in college. Here at Gies, we’re about business on purpose, and in entrepreneurship, you are working constantly, and working very hard. This is why it’s imperative that everything you do has purpose, because wasting time and effort while working on a startup can have large consequences. I love entrepreneurship because I get to work hard with smart and fun people on ambitious projects, with purpose.
This a pilot initiative for the landmark Discovery Partners Institute. Since 2015, entrepreneurs have raised more than $10 million. How did the program achieve that?
A core strength of our program is a steady focus on community building. We are supported strongly by partners across campus, have established synergistic relationships with most major innovation hubs in the state, and work closely with our alumni base. Our focus on community has given us an expansive network from which students can draw mentors, board advisors and investors from.
What’s your best advice for someone who’s starting up?
Just do it. Startup ideas, business plans and talking about doing something mean nothing. If you want to start something, you should have started building yesterday. Test it, get feedback and reiterate. Action is everything.
TECH TIDBITS ... from MANU EDAKARA
Do you have a favorite thing to follow on social media, or an app you really love? I’m biased, but I follow iVenture Accelerator. You should, too — we’re a ton of fun. Octane (driveoctane.com) is an awesome app to connect car enthusiasts.
Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I’m a voracious book reader and former librarian. I’m currently reading “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca and have “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by Nicholas Taleb on deck.
Do you have any wearable electronics? I do not have wearables. I work with technology and screens all day and try my best to unplug.
Do you have an entrepreneur hero? I’m inspired every day by our amazing student entrepreneurs. They’re tackling issues as diverse as early screening for cancer, making language easier for people with dyslexia, and educating young girls in rural India. I wake up fired up to work with them.