Was the startup idea prevalent during your
time at Purdue?
It was just starting to blossom back then (2000-04).
Faculty founded some of the startup companies that
I was aware of, but I don’t really recall any programs
tailored for or targeted to students. It was definitely
nothing compared to what’s available today. Actually,
I just checked out the University’s page for innovation
and entrepreneurship and am a bit jealous. We didn’t
have these resources — or at least I wasn’t aware of
them — when I was a student. If I were a student in
West Lafayette today, I would definitely be taking
advantage of as many of these resources as
Was this your first venture into a startup
while in academia?
I did join one startup prior to forming my own com-
pany, and it was there that I gained the confidence
in myself and in my ability to found a company of my
own — (Vatic Labs, a financial tech company).
You recently finished a postdoctoral degree
at Princeton. Would you ever return to aca-
demia? Do faculty with background like
Meru impress students?
I don’t think I’ll ever formally go back to academia,
but I’m working in a space that intersects with science
and research, so I’m able to stay in contact with the
academic community and stay up to date with the
state of the art, which is important as a startup. … I
left academia to join a startup before launching my
own company, so I never got to be simultaneously an
educator/founder. However, in the past, my work and
conversations with the grad students whom I super-
vised often touched on the idea of starting up a
company based on our research. Meru Apps has a
bit of that at its kernel.
What lessons or inspiration from your time at Purdue have helped you during your career?
First, and most obvious, was my education. I think the Computer Science program at Purdue offered a great mix of practical and theoretical work, which I’ve come to appreciate in a concrete way at my startup. Another important feature of the science program at Purdue is its emphasis on personal and professional development past the classroom. For example, I was involved in a corporate mentorship program where I was paired with an employee from Eli Lilly. Through that program, I learned a lot of so-called “soft skills” like networking and career development, and those lessons have stuck with me since graduating.
What advice would you give to science under- grads of today who are looking to make it in the startup world?
I would say to always keep your eyes open for prob- lems to fix, especially among your fellow undergradu- ates. College students and young professionals are the key influencers when it comes to a lot of recent consumer-facing startups. That said, don’t worry about trying to be the next Facebook. What is most important is that you’re solving a problem, have a decent business/monetization model and are persis- tent at what you’re doing.