Tanvi Shah Rangwala is  the director of the iAccelerator project at the Centre of Innovation, Incubation and Enterprise (CIIE), IIM-A. An Engineer by training, she completed her Bachelors in Computer Science from Gujrat University and got an MS in the same from the University of Southern California. She has worked in Cisco as a Senior Software Engineer, heading several projects before getting an MBA from the Goizueta Business School in Emroy University, Atlanta. She has an Executive Education from ISB, Hyderabad before joining IIM-A. We caught the professor at a less busy time and she kindly agreed to be interviewed by us. Here is the transcript.

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You successfully completed BE, MS and MBA degrees, all from premier universities across the world, add to that the executive education at ISB. Today you are the director of India’s best incubation center, mentoring entrepreneurs, many of whom are fascinated by the idea of dropping out of formal education. Where do you place the importance of formal education in an entrepreneur’s life?

At the top. I believe in finishing what I take up. So my advice to students who are thinking about this is – finish your education. It is very important, especially in the Indian scenario. In the USA and may be few other countries, possibility of going back to college exist at any age. Not so much in India.

I come across many student entrepreneurs and most of them maintain balance between study and startups very gracefully.

Could you tell our readers un aware of the idea of an Incubation Centre, what they actually are? How different is CIIE from the others?

There are around 65 incubation centres across India. Most of these are part of either technology or management institute. They provide funding and infrastructure support in terms of office space etc.

CIIE is part of IIM-A. Apart from being one of the oldest in the country, the center has capability to provide business mentoring to its startups through teams’ experience and large network of industry and functional experts.

Tell us something about iAccelerator. We hear it is India’s first internet and mobile accelerator programme?  

Since its inception in 2009, iAccelerator program has supported 26 startups in Internet & Mobile domain. 24 of these startups are active and going strong with 8 of them are already funded or generating revenue to support their business.

The program is three months long, residential, mentorship based and very intensive. Selected startups receive investment, infrastructure and business mentoring from iAccelerator ecosystem of experts, mentors, investors and enthusiasts. It ends with a big bang Demo Day – one day event where iAccelerator startups pitch to early stage angel and VC investors. During iA2011, startups met and interacted with 40+ investors during the program and on demo day.

Application for iA2012 will close on 31st July. Startups interested in participating can apply at our website.

How was the experience working with GVFL (Gujrat Venture Finance Limited)? Was that the first time you mentored an entrepreneur in a way?

Yes. At GVFL, I looked after early stage investments in high-tech segment. It taught me first things about investment in India and technology entrepreneurship in general.

After finishing your MS in the US, you pursued a MBA after a 6 year gap. What prompted you to it? Do you think it is a prerequisite for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I worked on product development at CISCO during those six years. After working in a same environment for such a long time, I was mainly looking for a change. MBA seemed like the most logical option. To tell you the truth, I had no clue what I would do after I finish my MBA. So I went ahead to take courses that I thought will be interesting. Fortunately, towards the end of the program, found my liking for VC and decided to pursue that further.

My MBA experience at Goizueta Business School at Emory University taught me lot of things. Apart from business and management concept, it gave me rich experience in leadership, communication and team building. I am not saying it’s a prerequisite for aspiring entrepreneurs but it does help to have thorough understanding of business and management concepts.

Steve Jobs often spoke about “connecting the dots.” He said that it was “impossible to connect the dots looking forward.” 17 years back, when you were a student at LD College of Engineering (Gujrat University) were you able to connect the dots? Did your success story turn out the way you had visualized it?

Frankly, when I was an engineering student, I had not visualized this far. Like most other students, I went with the flow and tried different things. The only thing that was common throughout these years was yearning to find my true calling. Success is having found it. Today, I am doing exactly what I want to do!

You’re at an envious position today. Though your world may seem very utopian for a Layperson, what difficulties do you face as the director of CIIE? How do you overcome them?

As my CEO puts it, we are also a startup who is trying to create an ecosystem for other startups to flourish. We, both at Centre and iAccelerator level, face challenges any startup would face – funding, attracting good applicants, delivering what we promise.

How important should CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) be for any firm? Startup, and multinational alike.

It should be way of working vs. project. It is important at individual as well as professional level. One might argue that with strict budget constraints, startups might not be able to do much. But there are many thing socially responsible things that a startup can do. Few mentioned here.

If you had a time machine right now would you go back to the past and change something?

Everything happens for a reason and teaches us valuable lessons. So no.

What prompts you towards entrepreneurship? How would you describe that feeling when someone mentored by CIIE becomes a success?

Being able to touch lives of many people, generate employment and value for shareholder. Excitement of building something from the scratch and then seeing it being appreciated by users/customers – there is no other such feeling in the world.

I get same the feeling when one of my startup succeeds.

Any final words for our readers and the budding entrepreneurs?

If you can dream it, you can build it. So just go for it!

– Interviewed by Mihir Haryal

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