The 2010 Inc. 5000: Top 10 Indian Entrepreneurs
Raj Prasad, CEO and Managing PartnerKevin Paul, CEOSiva Kumar, CEO and Co-founderMehul Sanghani, PresidentNick Pahade, CEOSowrabh "Sab" Sharma, Chief Business OfficerHarini and Srini Kankanhalli, President and CTOBhupesh Wadhawan, CEO and PresidentRao Marella, Co-founder and PresidentRupesh Narvekar, CEO
2009 Revenue: $17.9 million
Three-Year Growth: 13,969.46%
Though Prasad is of East Indian descent, he was born on the tiny island nation of Fiji and came to San Francisco with his parents at the age of two. He broke into the advertising world early, at age 16, and by 25 he had founded WDFA. Prasad was not only a self-starter but independently minded. "When we started the company I never took any minority loans or minority grants, because I was really into doing it on my own," he says.
2009 Revenue: $11.2 million
Three-Year Growth: 10,925.57%
Paul moved from India to Indianapolis with his parents at age eight but he adapted quickly, cutting his teeth as an entrepreneur by mowing lawns and working a paper route. He spoke of the stereotype of Indian parents pushing their children into the fields of law or medicine, but says his folks were supportive when he joined the Army straight out of high school. His 14 years in the service taught him to handle clients at KPaul. "Just give them the facts, don't sugarcoat anything," he says.
Mountain View, California
2009 Revenue: $15.3 million
Three-Year Growth: 9,969.89%
Kumar's grandfather started one of India's major movie studios and by the time Kumar was a child, his relatives had expanded into other parts of the industry, operating theaters, producing movies, and distributing them. He says at home, he could have found an uncle to fund his venture, TheFind easier than sneezing, but he wanted to strike out on his own. If he had stayed in India and "worked for somebody else it would be an insult to the family."
2009 Revenue: $13.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 7,224.3%
Sanghani's first lessons in business came at the age of 13 when his father left his job as a civil engineer to open a motel in Blacksburg, Virginia. His parents came to the U.S. from India in 1979 when Sanghani was only three, and both his mother and father had worked their way up from juggling shifts at McDonalds and 7-11. "My parents didn't have an MBA, and they had no formal business training. The one thing they did know how to do is to work their ass off," Sanghani says. He feels he definitely absorbed a great deal of their work ethic. At the motel, "me and my parents were the night clerks, the desk clerks, the maids, we did the laundry, [we] did the toilets, we did everything." Now Sanghani runs
Octo Consulting, an IT management consulting firm.
New York City
2009 Revenue: $5.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 4,423.54%
Pahade was a hair's breadth away from becoming Dr. Pahade when he started his first company as an undergrad at the University of Michigan. Pahade, who is now CEO of Traffiq, an online marketplace for display advertising, had already been accepted to a few medical schools when he deferred for a year to kick start the ad agency Beyond Interactive with some friends. Despite his departure from the med school track, Pahade's parents were very supportive. "My dad was the original and only investor in Beyond," he says. "It was pretty much a tax write off for him at the time [but] it's probably the best investment he's made to date." Pahade's parents can also take solace in his younger brother, who is a radiologist.
2009 Revenue: $3.8 million
Three-Year Growth: 3,529.04%
Sharma describes himself as "a techie from the get-go," but the CEO of MMC Systems' also has a knack for business. At the age of 12, he started a Web design company in his native Hyderabad. A mere five years later, he picked up and came to the United States all by himself to attend college. MMC, which he became the new owner of in October 2009, provides consulting and IT services to the government and big corporations and the fact that he does subcontracting on the Indian subcontinent gives him an excuse to make biannual trips home to see friends and family. "As long as you're dedicated and understand what you're doing, and have that focus, success will come," he counsels.
2009 Revenue: $8.2 million
Three-Year Growth: 3,107.48%
Kankanhalli came to the U.S. from Bangalore at the age of 26 to study computer science at West Virginia and Fairmont State Universities. She leveraged her work experience at other technology companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation to launch the IT company clearAvenue with her husband Srini in 2002. Since then the company has grown by leaps and bounds but it hasn't been easy. "There is no work-life balance when you're running a small business. Your business is kind of entangled with your life," says Kankanhalli.
2009 Revenue: $3.7 million
Three-Year Growth: 1,651.36%
Wadhawan's parents came to the U.S. in the early 80's in search of opportunity for their family. "My dad was an architecture engineer and when he came to the states, the only job he could find was as a parking lot attendant," Wadhawan says. But his folks' work ethic definitely rubbed off on the CEO of Link Solutions, a company that provides IT and management consulting to the public and private sectors. He attributes his business success to valuable experience working for similar firms before he struck out on his own and the strength of the team he's assembled. And of course he owes it to "hard work, honest work and a little bit of luck."
2009 Revenue: $14.3 million
Three-Year Growth: 1,643.39%
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Marella didn't come to the U.S. for a degree. Rather, at the age of 45, he was put in charge of the U.S. branch of an Indian company that did importing and exporting. However, soon after Marella arrived, the company folded. "That was like a blessing in disguise," he says, because "in the U.S. there is a good entrepreneurial environment." He started Global Wedge with his wife Sarada in 2001 and the solar panel materials company has grown with alacrity thanks to increased interest in alternative energy sources.
Triad Web Design
Raleigh, North Carolina
2009 Revenue: $2.4 million
Three-Year Growth: 1,484.57%
While attending Sardar Patel College of Engineering in Mumbai in the early days of the Internet, Narvekar thought he would build a website for the school to impress his professors. What he discovered was that there were almost no local hosting companies in the area, and he promptly founded one of his own, called Bombay Biz, to rectify the problem. Soon afterward, at age 23, he moved to the U.S. for grad school and founded Triad Web Design. He says the hardest part of running a company has been differences in American and Indian business culture. "I don't want to push my Indian style into the U.S. business," he says. His secret sauce for fast growth is all about SEO and SEM: Triad Web Design spent $2 million on Google AdWords in the last 3 years.