Co-founder and president of IvyCamp Dr. Anju Gupta, who is a Stanford and IIT alumni, continues to be associated with some of the best educational institutions in the world.
IvyCamp, an initiative by IvyCap Ventures, has been launched to promote innovation and entrepreneurship through a common platform across India’s engineering and management institutions.
Before IvyCamp, Anju worked in California handling risk management for the insurance sector for more than a decade. She spoke to us about her experiences and how she has never backed off in front of a challenge. For a person with a fear of jumping from heights, Anju once casually said yes to skydiving and when faced with the reality, instead of backing off, she jumped.
Born in Bangalore and brought up in Delhi, Anju did her schooling from the Air Force School in Delhi. With two other siblings who were much older than her, Anju was the tomboy of the family. When she was seven she asked her father for a carpenter’s tool kit. Her father got her the tool kit and Anju spent many hours building a table and chair in the balcony of her house. “I was so happy and satisfied to see my handiwork,” she says.
Engineering was Anju’s choice of career. Since her dad didn’t want her to move out of the city and go elsewhere, the best option in Delhi at that time was IIT. She made it and was one of the 11 girls in her batch and the only one pursuing a degree in civil engineering. “It was very competitive, and being the only girl there, I wanted to be on top all the time.”
Her time at IIT was not just about books. She had a lot of fun riding motorbikes, being a day scholar and slinking out of the hostel through the open window at night to hang out with friends or bringing a huge gang home to raid the fully stocked fridge.
Anju loved to challenge stereotypes. When she and her friends heard themselves being referred to as plain Janes, they decided to challenge it. “There used to be this thoroughfare called the wind tunnel. We landed there with a music system, played loud music and danced our hearts out with passersby joining in. After that day we never heard the words plain Jane on campus,” she said.
No one wanted to be a part of the literally non-existent choreography team at IIT Delhi in those days. People were randomly selected and sent to be a part of it; it was more a form of ragging. When Anju and a few others got pushed into the team, they gave it their all and won at different college fests, much to everyone’s surprise. She shares, “From next year onwards auditions began to be held for selections.”
Post IIT, Anju was not interested in doing structural design, an MBA or sitting for IAS exams like most other people. She decided to go abroad and study. Knowing her dad was against the idea, she knew she could go only if she had a scholarship. She applied to Stanford without telling her dad and got a scholarship too.
During her dreaded discussion with her dad about moving to the States, she found that his primary worry was that she would get married to “some American bloke.” In 1993, Anju set out for Stanford with a very important piece of advice from her dad, “Do everything on your own, do not rely on others to do things for you. That said and done do not shy away from helping others whether you like them or not.”
“Stanford was a cultural shock,” says Anju. For the first time I saw people doing things other than studying; be it music, sports, theatre etc. Everyone was doing something more than just studying. The other thing about her Stanford experience, Anju is quick to point out, was the attitude of people. Everyone – from teachers to staff to students and seniors – was friendly and always ready to help.
Anju’s HOD at Stanford happened to be an Indian professor whose passion was infectious and he convinced her to do a PhD.
Risk Management Solutions Inc (RMS), California
Anju’s natural progression after she finished her PhD was to join RMS, the provider of catastrophe risk models for the global re/insurance industry, a company her professor was associated with. Most of the staff at RMS was from Stanford too. Anju joined the company in 1998 and worked with them for 15 years. “I have never once interviewed for a job,” she shares.
Anju loved working at RMS and stuck for so long because she loved what she was doing; the company was small so she got the chance to do many different things. The 1995 earthquake in Los Angeles was her first experience with risk and catastrophe management. She and two other students were sent to take stock of the catastrophe.
Anju recalls, “We saw cracks in the building, people helping each other out. We saw how people were allowed five minutes to go and get what they wanted from their houses, a grandmother carried off her pictures, a professor his English books. This was an eye opener; it showed me how disaster brought out the best in people and how people were ready to help each other at such a time. This reinforced what I was doing and the plans I had for the future. It was a sort of validation.”
In the 15 years she spent in California, Anju has worked in a number of roles; the most recent being that of senior director. Her roles have included building risk assessment models for earthquakes, leading the software development cycle for RMS’s first ASP weather derivatives product, leading the product management team for RMS core catastrophe software product line and playing a key role in the core team that laid the groundwork for RMS next generation modelling platforms. Product development, according to Anju, was one of her biggest challenges.
Anju quit RMS in 2014 and returned to India. She was looking out for something different to do when she met her IIT batch mate Vikram Gupta, who is the Founder and Managing Partner at IvyCap, a venture capital firm. Vikram told her he was planning to set up a venture which would link alumni with educational institutions and asked her if she was ready to come on board.
IvyCamp tries to create a common platform of innovation across the IITs, IIMS and other educational institutions by leveraging the power of the alumni network of the institutes to build new entrepreneurs and help them turn their ideas into successful ventures.
For now, Anju is enjoying learning something new every day with IvyCamp and as an IIT alumnus, she is very happy to be giving back to her alma mater.