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Take risks in entrepreneurship, alumnus urges Co-Lab students

Thomas Thekkekandam discussed his entrepreneurship experience at the Innovation Co-Lab Studio Night event Tuesday evening.
Thomas Thekkekandam discussed his entrepreneurship experience at the Innovation Co-Lab Studio Night event Tuesday evening.

The Innovation Co-Lab Studio Night—an installment of Entrepreneurship Week—strove to create a bridge between entrepreneurship and innovation Tuesday.

The Innovation Co-Lab hosts Studio Nights every Tuesday during the semester, featuring dinner and a presentation by a Duke technologist or local entrepreneur, with an opportunity for students to discuss and pitch project ideas. In the spotlight Tuesday was Thomas Thekkekandam, Fuqua and Law '10, who spoke to students about his decision between joining a consulting firm versus jumping into a start-up.

"Someone once told me, entrepreneurship is like gravity," Thekkekandam said. "Eventually, if you're meant to be an entrepreneur, then you’ll become one."

Thekkekandam was the co-founder of Nourish International—a sustainability-focused student start-up at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—prior to his studies at Duke. He then worked for several external start-ups, a consulting group and his own ventures.

He told students that the decision to join an entrepreneurial venture needs to be well-thought out, citing his decision to stick with consulting firm McKinsey and Company for a period of time rather than starting his own venture sooner.

"My gut was telling me to leave, leave, leave [the consulting company], but I also had to value my time and calculate the expected value for any venture I wanted to undergo," Thekkekandam said. "You need to leave at exactly the right time."

He then discussed two start-ups that he has started work on following his departure from McKinsey—Tom and Jenny's, a cavity-fighting candy company started by him and his wife, a dentist, and Green Top Farms, a company that encourages the growth and delivery of fresh produce in urban homes.

Thekkekandam also gave a few words of his own advice for students interested in developing start-ups, ranging from the value of failure to the kind of "shoestring" budget that is needed for such a task.

Thekkekandam's extensive experience and wide skill set are the reasons behind his selection as an Entrepreneurship Week speaker, said IT Innovation Program Manager Michael Faber, manager of the Innovation Co-Lab.

"[Thekkekandam] has dabbled in many phases of the entrepreneurship process, from innovation to marketing to consulting," Faber said. "He has a wealth of knowledge to share with the community."

Rachael Lee, a sophomore and member of the Innovation Co-Lab, said that the event was a success.

"I think he's a great speaker, and there's a lot to learn from him, especially for students who may or may not be totally aware of entrepreneurship," Lee said.

Faber also said he thought Thekkekandam was able to demonstrate to students how to bridge the gap between the realms of innovation and entrepreneurship.

"I work mainly on the innovation side of things. Most people forget [that innovation and entrepreneurship] are very interconnected," he said. "I'd say he did a great job in conveying this to people."


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