EP 16: What Legacy Will You Leave Behind?

Sanjay Gupta | Entrepreneurial Tech Innovator

The entrepreneur Sanjay Gupta made a bold career move after realizing he’d earned a great education but almost no real-world experience. Now he’s a prolific inventor and a mentor to the next generation of consumer electronics developers in the Penn and MIT networks and beyond. (Listen)

Sanjay Gupta

Disclaimer: This is not a solicitation to sell securities, which is only done through appropriate disclosure documents and only to appropriately qualified investors.

Episode Summary: Sanjay Gupta spent several years getting advanced degrees (B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.) and had his work and research published more than 40 times in academic journals. Despite his renown, however, he woke up one night in a cold sweat, having suddenly realized that his life’s work would be marked by a bunch of papers that few people would ever read.

So Sanjay virtually started over, wanting to leave a legacy that would make his children and future grandchildren proud. He took a low-level job at a nearby technology company and now — 18 patents later — he has helped develop some of the most well-known consumer technologies.

In this podcast, Sanjay shares the lessons he learned outside the classroom.

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Introducing Sanjay Gupta

Sanjay Gupta is an entrepreneurial tech executive who conceptualizes and launches innovative hardware, firmware, and software solutions. He has led product management and development at multiple startups, and he launched the world’s first wireless charging laptop. Across his efforts, Sanjay identifies market opportunities to create revenue-generating products, develops and implements product strategy, and establishes market leadership.

Previously, Sanjay was Vice President of Product Management and Development at Motorola, where he led the commercialization of consumer electronic products for wearable and mobile devices in the accessories market. Prior to joining Motorola, Sanjay was a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology. He holds more than 18 patents and his work and research have been published more than 40 times.

With Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees from University of Pennsylvania, Sanjay is the connection that led Penn-alumni venture fund Chestnut Street Ventures (CSV) to C2Sense, which CSV invested in alongside sibling funds Castor Ventures and Green D Ventures. C2Sense, which builds digital gas sensors that transform smell into real-time, emerged from MIT’s startup ecosystem, where Sanjay is now heavily involved.

AVG sibling funds often share deals, so C2Sense — where Sanjay is an advisor — was a perfect fit: A Penn alum with strong MIT connections brought the AVG family a deal that worked for multiple funds. Top VCs like MIT’s Engine Fund, Boston Millenia Partners Fund, and the Thiel Foundation also backed C2Sense.

Like the team at Chestnut Street Ventures, which pools money from Penn alums to invest in Penn-connected companies, Sanjay believes the school’s alums are building some of the most interesting and important consumer electronics on the market today.

Three Takeaways from This Podcast

Three years into his career as a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology, Sanjay Gupta woke in the middle of the night with the realization that his life’s work would not leave the kind of legacy he wanted.

“I’m going to have grandkids one day,” he shared on Founders and Funders, “and I’m going to have a tough time explaining to them what I did with my career—which is publish a whole bunch of papers that few people have read.”

After much soul-searching, he left academia to work for a company that he believed would allow him to make a visible impact on the world in a way that both his parents and kids would understand. Though he admitted the transition was “scary as hell,” he found a home at Motorola and never looked back.

Sanjay made the impact he intended to: He is among the early pioneers of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and many other consumer-facing technologies, such as the world’s first wirelessly charging laptop, the Android smartwatch and fitness monitoring ecosystem, and the first smartphone with Wi-Fi and VOIP.

Following are three key lessons that Sanjay learned along the way. He also highlights a few of his latest efforts.

1. Education must be balanced with experience

When Sanjay left IIT to work at Motorola, he did so “at the lowest rank on the ladder,” doing things that he says most people coming from academia would not lower themselves to do. Occasionally Sanjay wondered what he’d gotten himself into, but he’d refocus on his goal, which was gaining the real-world experience that he lacked.

“I learned so much in that process and I realized how much of the real-world training I had missed in education,” he says. “Academics do not teach you how to be a successful entrepreneur. It doesn’t teach you how to put a product on the shelf.”

2. Technology should solve problems

Sanjay is a tech entrepreneur who loves to conceptualize and bring innovative hardware and software solutions to market, but he does not develop that technology unless he can define a problem that it will solve. Though sometimes consumers have problems they cannot articulate, Sanjay puts consumer needs at the forefront of anything he is working on.

“I take pride in…defining a problem that needs to be solved and then finding the technologies to solve the problem, rather than thinking ‘I have an awesome technology and I am going to see if I can find a market for it.’”

3. Mentoring is the new way of giving back

In Sanjay’s opinion, “the world has evolved and how we give back has evolved.” Previously, he says, people gave to charity as a way of helping others. But devoting your time, money, and expertise is a higher level of giving and something that this accomplished entrepreneur finds much more satisfying.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have some absolutely wonderful mentors, without whom I would not have been successful,” he says. “If I can give back some of what I have learned to young folks at Penn, that’s what drives me. Giving money and walking away is probably the easiest thing to do, but it would not be satisfying, honestly, for me.”

For people who do not have time or the ability to mentor in a structured way, networking can still provide opportunities to give back. Much success in venture investing and career building has come from introductions made to contacts who would’ve otherwise been inaccessible. That’s why it’s helpful to join communities like Chestnut Street Ventures regardless of whether you’re in a position to invest yet.

In this episode of Founders and Funders, Sanjay shares great advice for founders and explains that “sensing” is the next evolution of consumer electronics. C2Sense, he says, is leading the charge by putting a “nose on your phone.” Listen to find out what that means.

Learn More

If you are a Penn graduate and want to learn more about how fellow alums are investing together, sign up for the Chestnut Street Ventures newsletter or schedule a call with Gail Gilbert Ball, the fund’s Managing Partner.

If you are an accredited investor with different university ties (or no college affinity), then sign up for the Alumni Ventures Group newsletter to learn more about how AVG makes venture capital available to the largest collection of potential investors ever accumulated. The newsletter is also where AVG shares information about all the alumni and select funds at the company. You’ll find out what deals are in the works and even receive special offers only made available to this unique community.

Subscribe to Founders and Funders

Founders and Funders is a podcast where we discuss how entrepreneurs and investors work together to build great companies. Our guests — many of whom are connected with AVG as entrepreneurs, investors, managing partners, fellows, and more — are invited here to talk about the journey of building companies from incubation to early stage investing and beyond.

Subscribe to Founders and Funders on iTunes, Founders and Funders on Android, Stitcher, TuneIniHeartRADIO, and other popular podcast channels to find more fascinating stories and insights from the entrepreneurs and investors who comprise the Alumni Ventures Group community.

See all Founders and Funders podcasts.

Related Episodes

  1. Episode 6: The Easiest (and Newest!) Way to Break into VC
  2. Episode 12: How an MIT Grad Is Using Old Science to Build Futuristic Technology
  3. Episode 13: The Most Important Class You Didn’t Take


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