"Just follow your passion and all of the things that interest you whether they make sense to anyone or not."
It all began when Rajiv Tandon (BF’87) was teaching production management at the University of Minnesota and he was asked to work with a student’s budding company over the summer. That summer turned into 18 years and the company in question became quite successful. So successful, in fact, that it left Tandon with a thirst to better understand the concept of start-ups.
“I was feeling that I needed to understand this concept of innovation, and who better to learn from in terms of innovation than entrepreneurs,” he says.
To achieve this, Tandon used his Bush Fellowship to enroll at the University of Minnesota. The only catch? The university didn’t have a doctoral program in entrepreneurship at the time. Undaunted, Tandon
went to the Board of Regents and created his own.
“To work on my doctoral dissertation, I studied 300 start-up ventures — half successful, half failures,” he explains. “That dissertation really was the very first doctoral dissertation in the field of entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota and might have been one of the first in the country.”
The Fellowship not only helped him finish the dissertation, it also established him as one of the foremost experts in the field of entrepreneurship. Since completing the program 30 years ago, Tandon developed and implemented the entrepreneurship program at the University of St. Thomas, built three different companies, and is now back at the University of St. Thomas as an executive fellow.
In addition, Tandon launched Rocket Network, a community of leaders of fast growing enterprises, entrepreneurs and students. These individuals share a singular focus: to build stronger companies by helping current and future entrepreneurs navigate uncharted waters.
“The Rocket Network aspires to combine conceptual frameworks with practical experience to help entrepreneurs,” Tandon explains. “All of this is offered to entrepreneurs at no charge. It is my way of giving back to society.”
"We can talk about it, we can go to seminars about it, but then we need to do something about it."
This inspiration to give back stems from a history of exceptionally few start-ups in Minnesota, and Tandon’s desire to help change that. “We can talk about it, we can go to seminars about it, but then we need to do something about it,” he says. “That is what I am working on.”
But how does one go from thinking about it to putting it into practice? According to Tandon, by exploring, taking risks, thinking as big as we can, and most importantly, not being afraid to fail. Tandon believes this level of freedom is what makes a Bush Fellowship so special, and something he touches on every year when he is called to speak to current Bush Fellows.
“I tell them to feel free to break every rule they know of because the Fellowships allow them to do that. The ability to explore, take risks and fail with really no consequence is such a fantastic and rare opportunity,” he advises. “Just follow your passion and all of the things that interest you whether they make sense to anyone or not because sooner or later they will.” Indeed.