‘My passion has always been in creative solutions using technology’: Venkat Srinivasan

The Boston-area entrepreneur, who exited from Rage Frameworks in March, speaks to The American Bazaar.

Venkat Srinivasan

Boston-area entrepreneur Venkat Srinivasan sold Rage Frameworks, a knowledge-based automation technology, and Artificial Intelligence company based in Dedham, MA, in March this year to Genpact, a global business process management, services and information technology company.

For Srinivasan, who ran Rage for 10 years, it was his third major exit. The Indian American entrepreneur exited from eCredit, which he sold in 2001 after running it for nine years, and Corporate Fundamentals in 2006.

A serial entrepreneur, Srinivasan is also the founder of EnglishHelper, which uses AI to address literacy challenges. He is a member of the Board of Directors and Trustee of the American India Foundation’s Boston chapter.

In an interview with The American Bazaar, Srinivasan shared his thoughts about Rage, entrepreneurship and his philanthropic interests.

1. Why did you choose to exit Rage Frameworks at this stage?

The primary reason was my desire to stop being in an operating role. I turned 60 and had promised my family that I was going to stop all operating roles when that happened.

2. Rage Frameworks had a long association with Genpact. Was this marriage always on card?

First, I think Rage Frameworks is an incredibly good fit for Genpact. You dont generally find such a good fit. Both Genpact and Rage have had a deep, strategic objective – to transform enterprise processes. Genpact had historically approached it from a process optimization and measurement lens and Rage had approached it from an automation lens.

Second, the long partnership made both sides realize that the fit was indeed real. Both sides worked together on real projects. Conceptually, we had thought that if the partnership turned out to be of value, we should explore putting the companies together.

3. You had a fairly long ride with Rage, which you founded in 2001. What are you going to do next?

I started Rage with a different business model. We set out to incubate businesses using the Rage platform initially. Rage was a technology holding company and we would launch diff businesses leveraging the Rage platform as independent businesses. We did incubate Corporate Fundamentals in that model. And ended up selling corporate fundamentals in 2006. Then in 2006, I decided to turn Rage into an optg company. So the current Rage business is about 8 years old.

As I had said before, no operating roles any more. But my passion has always been in creative solutions using technology. I intend going back to the incubation model, create next generation technologies. I also believe social enterprises hold great promise to solve the issues of our generation and I am going to try and creae social enterprises to address some of today’s challenges.

4. Being a serial entrepreneur, you have exited twice before — the first time from eCredit.com and then from Corporate Fundamentals. Is the current one any different?

No different. We have been lucky that in all cases we have had excellent acquirers.

5. You published a book, “The Intelligent Enterprise in the Era of Big Data,” last year. What was the inspiration behind the book?

The inspiration was the work we have done at Rage and prior to Rage. I felt like the story needed to be told at a different level. In many ways, it is a belief i have had for more than 2 decades that business technology can be dramatically better than what is commercially available. We can dramatically change the way software is developed.

6. Besides Rage Framework, you have also been running English Helper. Tell us more about it.

I founded EnglishHelper but don’t run it. We have an excellent CEO in Sanjay Gupta, who runs the company. In my view, EH is one of very few social enterprises globally that are creating impact at scale. EH has successfully rolled out its reading comprehension product to over 1M students, 15k teachers across 5,000 govt schools in 8 states in India. Based on randomized control trials, improvements in reading fluency, comprehension and spoken English is quite noticeable and significant. We are seeing across the board uptick in these metrics in these students. I dont think anybody anywhere in the world has come anywhere close to scaling educational technology products to this size especially in such infrastructurally deficient settings as EH has done in India.

7. You came to this country as a student. What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?

I was an academic prior to being an entrepreneur. I was part of the faculty at Northeastern University’s Business School with tenure. As I often say to various forums, I am not a pre-meditated entrepreneur. If I look back, it all seems that way but it just wasn’t. When I was a professor, I had the opportunity to be a consultant for a number of Fortune 500 firms like Apple and at some point, I decided that what my clients needed was an expert system [AI]. I proceeded to build it. That eventually led to my first company.

I dont find much difference in being a professor and my brand of entrepreneurship. My work is very innovation-centric; we are always innovating something radically new and different. And in that sense, it is similar to the research I loved doing when I was in the academe.

8. You are closely associated with the American India Foundation. Can you share with us your philanthropic engagements?

AIF is our [Pratima’s and mine] primary vehicle to give back to our country of birth. We chose AIF because of its transparency, secular values, its portfolio approach to intervention, and the integrity and quality of people involved. It is not about any individual but about the people who need our help. In addition to AIF, from an India point of view, we do support several other organizations which are doing very good work, Akshayapatra, Pratham come to mind.

Equally important to us are our efforts here in the U.S., our adopted land. We support several local organizations including Northeastern University, BUILD which aims to help students at risk of dropping out in schools and Boston Harbor Now, which is a public-private partnership with the goal of promoting the Boston Harbor Islands.

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