Growing up in Mumbai, India, Sunil Gaitonde had to choose a career by age 18, and without any engineers in his family, his decision to go into electrical engineering was the first risk of many that paid off in the end.
In 1983, he chose to pursue his master’s at Iowa State after talking with a friend who studied here and enjoyed the university. He adds that the engineering program being among the top 50 in the nation at the time also helped his decision.
Personal computers were just coming out when Gaitonde came to campus, and they instantly drew his attention. With an interest in computer programming, he switched his major from electrical to computer engineering and went on to get his PhD at Iowa State, as well.
After college, Gaitonde worked at IBM for 5 years, all the while thinking about building his own company. He moved to the Silicon Valley and started Internet Junction in 1994. Putting endless hours into his new business and working full-time was stressful, especially when the outcome was so uncertain.
“I could have been on the street if my first business didn’t work out,” says Gaitonde. “I didn’t have any family here to back me up if it didn’t work.”
It turned out to be a good gamble for him, as he sold Internet Junction to Cisco in 1995 and worked with the company until 2000, when he co-founded a second business called Sarvega. Intel acquired Sarvega five years later.
Gaitonde currently runs two of the companies he founded: Great Software Laboratory (GS Lab), which is based in India and the US, and kPoint, which was incubated by GS Lab. kPoint is a platform that helps product companies build customer-centric videos using existing collateral and making them searchable on the Internet without any extra effort.
While kPoint is open to anyone, it is mainly geared at business videos—although it would be an ideal resource for college lectures. “If you miss a class or you have to watch the video for the class, you might want to skip over some parts,” Gaitonde explains. “Our videos allow you to search a word and jump right there and listen to that part.”
Since the company is still in its early years as a startup, Gaitonde says he hasn’t been pedaling it to many colleges yet. He is focused on his businesses now and is excited about the potential.
Gaitonde’s high hopes for kPoint are not hindered by its location in the Midwest because he sees many possibilities for cultivating a business in the area.
Living in California for several years gave him insight into the Silicon Valley, and currently living in Chicago, he now has some experience in what has been called the ‘Silicon Prairie.’
The Midwest has become an ideal place for new businesses, with incubators such as Startup City Des Moines or 1871 in Chicago helping to develop them. While Gaitonde admits the Silicon Valley isn’t in any danger of being taken over by the Midwest right now, he does believe there is potential for the area.
“If you look at the people who start companies in the Silicon Valley, many are from the Midwest,” he says. “The education system here is great, much better than the coast—barring a few exceptions.”
Gaitonde mentioned two things holding back the development of new businesses in the Midwest: capital and willingness to take risks.
“Risk-taking is not at the same level,” he says. “ Some people that go to the coast are able to take risks, but they are not as easily taken here.”
But living in the Midwest didn’t prevent Gaitonde from building a full résumé, and it shouldn’t stop future entrepreneurs. His advice for students: “If you feel you’re an entrepreneur, start early. You can take most risks when you’re young.”