Pune, India is home to several well-known educational institutions and high-tech companies and is especially noted for STEM education. Located about 90 miles from Mumbai, India’s financial capital, Pune is the country’s de facto capital for engineering and high-tech industries. In many ways, the city is similar to Huntsville, with its robust economy focused on information technology, engineering, precision manufacturing and automotive services.
And it is the hometown of Rigved Joshi, the director of Huntsville’s newest business incubator for innovative startups.
The Dorothy S. Davidson Invention to Innovation Center (D.S. Davidson I2C) is to be located in a 45, 000-square-foot building on the campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). The $14 million project, funded through private donations, the state, the Madison County Commission and the city of Huntsville, will focus on providing space and resources for startups, innovation teams and corporate partners. And Joshi, with a long history of work in business building and innovation, will lead the way.
“My family has been involved in technology- and engineering-related businesses for generations, ” Joshi says. “Exposure to that culture in my formative years provided a window into entrepreneurship in the most organic way, [including] the highs and lows, successes and failures, and most importantly the need to evolve, assess, pivot and in some cases, make hard decisions to close and move on to the next venture.”
Throughout his formative years in the bustling, entrepreneurial city of Pune, Joshi was included in many aspects of running and growing his family’s businesses, including preparing funding proposals, business plans for investors, interacting with customers and business development. “These early experiences were priceless and shaped my thought process as I continued to focus on developing and honing my skills towards a career dedicated to entrepreneurship and new venture creation, ” he says.
Beyond the Family Businesses
Joshi, who trained as an engineer and holds an MBA, has career experience in venture capital, private equity, startup incubation and intellectual property monetization. Recently, he managed new ventures, strategy and innovation at Vanderbilt University, and also has run a venture capital fund and his own technology startup.
The I2C is “the first of its kind for Huntsville, ” focused on becoming a platform to launch and develop high-tech startups into sustainable, scalable and investable businesses, Joshi says. And his breadth of experience will be a good fit for leading the project.
A key component of the incubator will be a focus on collaboration. “My best successes in entrepreneurship, whether it was mentoring founders, sourcing deals for investment, developing related curriculum for students, or starting my own ventures, have all happened through collaboration and partnerships, ” Joshi says.
Through collaboration and partnerships, Joshi and the I2C will encourage entrepreneurship, promote calculated risk-taking, support development of disruptive technologies and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders at UAH, he says. “The key to our success is to champion and ignite a community that can support and enhance this experience for our students and faculty, ” he adds.
Getting to Know Huntsville
While he was working at Vanderbilt from 2012 to 2015, Joshi had an opportunity to visit Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and tour Cummings Research Park. From his first introduction to the city’s business community, he was hooked.
“It was an enthralling experience to see what was happening in Huntsville, with the focus on R&D, technology, biotech and other related areas, ” Joshi says. “The more I learned about the characteristics of Rocket City, such as its small business culture and the fabric of this STEM-
focused economy, the more I was convinced about the potential of this place emerging as a dominant entrepreneurial hub in the Southeast.”
In late 2015, Joshi left Vanderbilt to pursue his own fund and a startup venture in the financial technology space. Last year, he began looking for his next opportunity to participate in a university-led innovation initiative. When he learned about the I2C opportunity in late 2016, he was interested. “I was most excited about the location being Huntsville and the fact that it was a regional effort led by UAH, ” Joshi says.
Now settled in Huntsville, Joshi is looking forward to growing the I2C into a regional resource for emerging technology companies through leadership and support of entrepreneurial initiatives throughout northern Alabama and south-central Tennessee. The center will serve a 15-county region including Madison County and neighboring Blount, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Marshall and Morgan counties.
“All of I2C’s activities and programming elements conducted for the regional communities are to encourage sharing, build cross-sector connections and attract like-minded members or participants to contribute, collaborate and thrive under an entrepreneurial environment, ” Joshi says. “I2C will focus on venture acceleration, mentorship, programming and incubation — a vibrant and dynamic platform that supports and stimulates co-creation and open innovation.”
Joshi says he is looking forward to playing a pivotal role in championing innovation, entrepreneurship and new venture creation for the North Alabama region in the years to come. “The I2C presents a unique opportunity to be a powerful collaboration of resources, people, communities and like-minded organizations, ” he says.
Nancy Jackson and Tyler Brown are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Huntsville.
TEXT By NANCY MANN JACKSON // Photo by TYLER BROWN