Jul 27, 2019·4 min read
To kick off this feature series on the members of TiE Boston, we spoke with Thara Pillai, the current Director of Alumni at Harvard Innovation Labs and TiE Boston Board Member, about her journey and what led her to TiE.
Where is your hometown?
I was born in London, England but spent my formative years in Edmonton, Canada. Following high school, I lived and worked in nearly a dozen cities around the globe so I’ve spent the greater part of my life outside of Canada. However, I have now firmly planted roots in the Boston area and feel connected to this community. My husband always says that he has a couple more cities he’d like to explore…we shall see.
TiE Boston Board and Charter Member, Thara Pillai
How did you get your start?
My professional career began in journalism as a television producer and reporter working for Canadian and American networks. It was definitely the most exciting and adrenaline-inducing part of my career. Some of my most life-changing stories included September 11th, the Gulf War, and the plight of refugees in the rebel-held territory of Northern Uganda. Working in broadcast for nearly a decade taught me how to quickly grasp complicated topics and trouble-shoot any scenario. In fact, on September 11th, I hired a fishing boat and hitchhiked up the coast of New Jersey in order to meet a satellite truck when NYC was in lockdown mode.
Covering these types of events were all-consuming and emotionally crushing. You never recover from seeing death and destruction of such magnitude. As a result, I decided to apply to business school and see if there were other ways I could make an impact. After earning my MBA, I spent a decade as a consultant, focusing on marketing and business development for startups and multinational corporations. While not quite as adrenaline-inducing, it’s been just as rewarding to help some remarkable companies and work along visionary business leaders.
Then in 2015, I had an opportunity to work on a project for the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School which quickly morphed into a full-time role. Today, I’m the Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at the Harvard i-Lab overseeing alumni entrepreneurial programming across all the schools at Harvard University. What’s most motivating about my current role is that it has shown me first-hand the power of bringing people together from across disciplines when building solutions to problems.
What did you see in TiE Boston that prompted you to get involved?
Post business school, I worked for a corporate consulting firm in London that advised American and European companies on how to enter, expand, or outsource to the Indian market. The founders of the company were TiE members in London and Delhi. It was in that role that I saw the power of the TiE network. Whether I was trying to access a government minister or meet with senior management at Bharti Airtel, my TiE contacts always came through for me. They helped me navigate the Indian business landscape and facilitated introductions that would not have been possible for me to orchestrate.
When I arrived in Boston, I knew that TiE would be a valuable partner and resource in immersing myself into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Through TiE, I’ve made valuable contacts, advanced my knowledge base, and been inspired by this incredible community of founders.
TiE Boston 2018 Gala (From Left to Right): Desh Deshpande, Founding Member and Past President of TiE Boston and Serial Entrepreneur; Nilanjana Bhowmik, Founder of Converge and TiE Boston President; Rushika Fernandopulle, MD., Founder of Iora Health and 2018 Rising Star in Digital Health Award Recipient
Why should people get involved with TiE Boston?
Whether you want to learn how to launch a company, identify new technology trends, or network with the region’s top business leaders, TiE’s community and programming will help you advance professionally and personally.
Networking with Aron Ain, CEO of Kronos, TiECON East 2019
You can hyper-accelerate your network, by regularly attending TiE events. TiE Charter Members have started companies and been in all of these situations and can offer advice that no one else can. Many of Boston’s top serial-entrepreneurs and venture capitalist are members of this organization and are accessible at our events. For the people who are looking to invest or mentor, TiE Boston offers a great platform to give back through its various programs such as the TiE Young Entrepreneurs (TYE), ScaleUp, and TiE Angels. In addition, my TiE experience has connected me to other valuable organizations within Boston.
What advice would you give to people who are starting their entrepreneurial journey?
The people who typically succeed in this space are the ones who have perseverance and are genuine about solving a problem. Those are usually the same people who are open to taking advice and iterating quickly. It’s important to be passionate about your problem but not to fall in love with your solution.
What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
I’m continually inspired by female founders and investors in TiE and beyond, but it’s still not a level playing field for women. I would like to see my next role serving and supporting this community whether it’s in a policy, advocacy, or educational position and feel confident that my time at TiE will help me carve a path to my next role.
Thank you to Thara Pillai for sharing her story and to Hugh Rossi for capturing it. To learn more about TiE Boston and how to get involved, check out boston.tie.org or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.