The guidance Naresh Kumra (MBA ’99) provides entrepreneurs to build their business ventures has roots in Rajpura, a small town in Punjab, India, where he grew up. Only a handful of students there went on to university at the time, and Kumra was one of them.
While good grades and determination helped him gain admission to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), he says luck also played a role. He wants younger generations coming up to have more opportunities.
“Given my experience, I am most motivated by reducing the luck factor for the many talented students from small towns who may not have the same chances,” he says. “So education, equal opportunity and entrepreneurship are big themes for me.”
Kumra has counseled younger students from his town and elsewhere for decades about education and careers. Through La Rochelle Ventures Ltd., an investment firm he founded in 2012, Kumra also became an angel investor in Asia-based companies that target global markets, with a goal to help young entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
More recently, Kumra has begun incubating ventures, helping young professionals become business owners in consumer tech, B2C brands and ecommerce. He says he learns a lot from the creative ways the entrepreneurs solve problems.
“They usually have insights that aren’t commonplace. They are just made different — the way they look at things and analyze, their courage, tenacity, passion, humility, learning mindset. In nearly every interaction, I walk away thinking I got more out of it than I gave as an adviser,” he says.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from IIT Delhi, he worked in Europe and India with Schlumberger. His next move was a risky one. He was established as a cross-functional manager, married and starting a family. But Kumra wanted exposure to fresh ideas and opportunities. He chose to pursue an MBA at Darden for its great reputation, intimate size and case method approach.
Two of his courses had a lasting impact. “Consumer Marketing” with Professor Paul Farris helped him switch from a 20-year B2B career into consumer markets, he says, “which I now enjoy so much more.” And “Acquisition of Closely Held Enterprises” helped him to later close a management buy-in at JMATEK.
At Darden, Kumra found the small community he was hoping for. His learning teammates smoothed his transition from India and France. And long, almost-daily walks with classmate Kumar Iyer (MBA ’99) allowed him to test his ideas and weed out the bad ones.
After Darden, he worked at McKinsey, leaving after six years when he realized, with the help of a career coach, he would rather be a business owner, eventually launching the venture-building he continues today from his home in Hong Kong.
Kumra is encouraged by a growing emphasis among young entrepreneurs to create a business case for making life better for others — from the local community to the planet as a whole.
“I am most inspired and excited about the economic and social impact that good entrepreneurship generates,” he says.