Entrepreneur shares advice for students in lecture series

An Elon University parent and CEO of a company that provides software solutions for the federal government has a piece of advice for entrepreneurs: when writing a business plan, never forget to show how you’ll execute it to make money for investors. Raj Ananthanpillai offered that wisdom and more on March 14 in the LaRose Digital Theatre as the latest university guest in the C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture Series.

“Most innovation did not happen by accident, sitting in your basement,” said InfoZen president and CEO Raj Ananthanpillai.

Mixing insight and humor, Ananthanpillai joked with his audience he would “just ramble for a while” before offering several observations and tips for a crowd of students with interests in entrepreneurship. “I don’t think I’m a serial entrepreneur,” he said with a chuckle. “A serial entrepreneur is someone who fails every two years. They keep going until the get it right!”

Success came early for for Ananthanpillai when he set out to start his own company. “Early,” however, didn’t mean “easy.” His first business plan failed to attract investors because he spent too much time detailing his product and the logistics of the business – not how he’d make investors a profit.

Looking back now, he said, “if I had read that business plan, I would not have invested in it.” Another important element to starting a enterprise is to find the right investors, he said, those who will not micromanage how you spend money.

Ananthanpillai also explained to students the need for competition – even if they have an idea that they want to closely guard. “If you see you have no competition, it means you have no customers,” he said, adding that “(venture capitalists) want to know who is your ultimate buyer.”

Ananthanpillai said that at InfoZen, leaders emphasize creativity, which is fostered by four cornerstone values: agility, excellent employees, innovation and customer satisfaction. That begins by hiring the right people. The business executive reminded his audience that entrepreneurship doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

“Most innovation did not happen by accident, sitting in your basement,” he said. “It happens where you work. If you get a job, don’t be discouraged. Take that job and along the way find out if there are any inefficiencies … that will let you go out and do it better, faster and cheaper.

The father of an Elon senior, Ananthanpillai has been with InfoZen since January 2004. In this capacity he has guided InfoZen to substantial growth and profitability through inspired leadership and superior management.

He previously was a partner at The MIRA Group LLC, a business strategy and financial consulting firm. Prior to that, he served as the chief strategy officer of ePlus, Inc., a business process automation, asset management and financial services company, responsible for technology, marketing, analyst relations and business strategy. Prior to that, he was the president and CEO of NetBalance Corporation, a venture capital backed multi-million dollar software products and services company, which was successfully sold in February 2000.

Before founding NetBalance, Ananthanpillai was the vice president of strategy and marketing at I-NET, Inc., a $300 million dollar company, where he was responsible for developing new products, services, markets, strategic business alliances and overall strategy. He had also served as the vice president and general manager of one of I-NET’s business units, growing a multimillion-dollar IT outsourcing and managed services business offering to Fortune 100 and public sector customers.

Prior to joining I-NET, Ananthanpillai spent several years at AT&T and was responsible for directing and managing the company’s global messaging system managed services.

Raj Ananthanpillai visited Elon University on March 14 as the latest speaker in the C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture Series.

Ananthanpillai holds graduate degrees in engineering physics and in electrical engineering, as well as executive management degrees in international business management and financial planning. He is a Certified Financial Planner, with a U.S. patent on managing networked systems, and the author of two books in the area of systems management and managed services.

Ananthanpillai is also on the advisory board of Johns Hopkins Business School and teaches competitive strategy in the university’s MBA program.

The C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture Series, named for Elon University trustee C. Ashton Newhall ’98, brings successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their knowledge and experience managing the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial endeavors.

Newhall is co-founder of Montagu Newhall Associates, a venture capital firm headquartered in Owings Mills, Md.