But despite dabbling in both academia and business, Mr. Deshpande - a former innovation adviser to President Barack Obama - says the two worlds shouldn’t mix.
“Tenure and entrepreneurship don’t go together,” Mr. Deshpande said Tuesday night at a dinner event co-hosted by the Ottawa chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs organization and the University of Ottawa.
Professors shouldn’t attempt to be entrepreneurs because, he said, “They’ll be terrible at it … They are too isolated from the real world.”
More effort needs to be put into connecting “thinkers” with “doers,” Mr. Deshpande said, adding universities can do more to enable their academics. For example, he said many commercialization officers wait until a professor secures a patent before becoming involved, and then tries to sell that patent. A better route, he argued, would be to “confront” professors earlier on and enable them to test and validate their ideas in the marketplace.
Mr. Deshpande started his career with a subsidiary of Motorola in Toronto before a colleague convinced him to move to the United States, where he would go on to co-found Sycamore Networks and Cascade Communications Corp., the latter of which was sold for US$3.7 billion in 1997. Mr. Deshpande is currently the chairman of Sparta Group LLC, A123 Systems, Sycamore Networks, Tejas Networks and HiveFire. He’s also the co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation.
His question-and-answer session in Ottawa on Tuesday also included a discussion of the essential qualities of entrepreneurs, which Mr. Deshpande said included naivety and optimism. Entrepreneurs, he said, are people who look for problems and get excited about the prospect about finding a solution. That thrill rarely lasts, however, forcing one to reinvent themselves and find a new challenge.
“Entrepreneurs like building a castle, and then walking away from it,” said Mr. Deshpande.
TiE Ottawa charter member Dipak Roy offered another illustration in his introductory remarks ahead of Mr. Deshpande’s talk.
“Serial entrepreneurs find golfing difficult, and relaxing on a beach stressful,” joked Mr. Roy, who is also chairman of D-TA Systems Inc.
Tuesday evening’s event also marked the kickoff to the 10th anniversary celebrations of the TiE Ottawa chapter. Formed in November 2002, the organization has a mandate to create wealth through entrepreneurship and is charted by businesspeople with roots or interest in the Indus region.