Poonam Gupta-Krishnan is a woman with purpose, vision and determination. With two master’s degrees, she founded and oversees a successful tech business, sits on a number of boards, and has been lauded with numerous awards and honors. She also has a loving husband and two children.
Yet, she says she is not fulfilled, because her life mission is to give back and help others.
Fostering Innovation to Help Communities
To that end, Gupta-Krishnan meets each month with corporate executives and government leaders to discuss forming productive partnerships with an emphasis on technology. Her goal is to bring technology experts and the government together to define best practices and devise innovations and solutions to help government function better. She says that will ensure optimal utilization of resources, create jobs, provide great services for residents, and help to build a sustainable economy.
“Those from the public sector can share their needs, frustrations, problems and go back to their jobs,” says Gupta-Krishnan. “From the corporate and entrepreneurial side, the execs can bring possible solutions from which the public sector can choose, study and make decisions. This all involves sharing ideas, sharing resources, sharing talent and money. When we share, costs go down. That’s what I am trying to do. Reaching out to more corporations is my goal. I’ve gotten great responses from corporations and government-side professionals as well.”
To advance her mission, Gupta-Krishnan hosts an annual Technology Innovation Summit. The last one, in October 2012, focused on the theme Sustaining Main Street with Innovation. Featured participants included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Sam Pitroda, advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information and Infrastructure and Innovations. Gupta-Krishnan says she’s had productive follow-up meetings since the summit that may lead to new partnerships.
Gupta-Krishnan has done all of this while still running her primary business. In 2000, she founded Iyka Enterprises Inc., a global company that provides data management services to government, health care, telecom and financial institutions. Iyka was listed among the top 10 fastest growing Asian businesses by the Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce, designated as a top employer to work for by the Business Ledger, and rated “the fastest growing minority company” by the Chicago Minority Supplier Diversity Council.
She points out that her community efforts are separate from Iyka’s mission. “This is not what I do with my company,” she said. I wanted to go beyond my business. I want to give back. Helping is where my heart is.”
Determined to Succeed From an Early Age
Her determination was evident when she was a girl growing up in a humble village in India. She was determined even then to stretch the limits of her expectations and chart her own path. By the time she was 13, she was tutoring children in her village and performing other tasks so she could earn money to buy books. “Books opened my eyes to the world,” she says. “From books I learned that the United States was a great place with opportunities for women as well, and I wanted to go there.”
After high school, she earned two bachelor’s degrees and a masters in science at Kanpur University, becoming the first woman in her family and village to study beyond high school. Still she was determined to study in the United States. Her father, a college professor who was an official with the Reserve Bank of India, initially expressed support for her goals– until he realized she was serious. Others in their village criticized him for letting his daughter travel so far away rather than making her marry, as was traditional in India.
“People in the village thought my parents were crazy to let me go,” she says. “My mom was quiet, but my dad threw tantrums. When boys in the village went to study in the U.S., their families threw big parties for them. I didn’t know of any other girls who had gone away to study.”
Despite the discord, the young woman was not deterred. She worked, saved money and found someone to drive her to New Delhi to get a visa and passport, but her father would not pay for her plane ticket to the U.S. Still, she managed to get to Bloomington, Ill., where she had been accepted at Illinois State University. She arrived with less than $20 and felt out of place with her two long braids and speaking British English.
After earning a master’s degree at Illinois State, she worked for multinational companies Cabot Corporation and INX International, but left when she had her first child to start her own company.
Over the years, Gupta-Krishnan has served on the boards of numerous non-profits and helped disadvantaged people in India as well as the U.S. She says having a major impact on the lives of others has given her self-confidence. Her advice to others in the business world: “Go beyond your job and personal aspirations. When you see someone doing something global to improve the world or lives of others, learn about it and contribute. Leave a legacy that goes beyond just profits.
“Making money has never been my primary objective,” she added, “but making a difference in people’s lives has always been at the core of my being.”