Practical Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Meeta Kothare

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Currently, I am the managing director of the recently launched Global Sustainability Leadership Institute (GSLI) and adjunct professor at the McCombs and LBJ schools. I grew up in Mumbai and moved to the US for graduate studies, fell in love with the country and with a young man I met in grad school, and we’ve been here ever since. We have two daughters who often fondly refer to me as “Profmama,” which pretty much describes what I deeply care about. I’ve worked in industry, academics, and the nonprofit sector and enjoyed them all for different reasons, but being surrounded by the next generation of leaders is deeply rewarding.

What are your favorite courses to teach?

In all my courses, I teach students to either create or finance sustainable innovation. I love teaching any course that persuades students to commit to positive social and environmental impact in their personal and professional lives.

What was your first experience with entrepreneurship?

I launched my own consulting firm over twelve years ago, but even before that, I would say I always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I consider myself an “intrapreneur” in all the organizations that I work with. I joined two startups soon after they were launched and worked with them until they were successful and sustainable.

Is there an achievement that you are most proud of?

My latest adventure is the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute. I was the inaugural managing director of its precursor, the Social Innovation Initiative. I remember sitting in my empty office four years ago and wondering what I had promised Dr. Starks and Dr. Limberg who hired me. What exactly should I propose to do, what’s my strategy, where do I begin, how do I make an impact? But with the help of some amazing graduate students, a little bit of grit, and a whole lot of optimism, we ran what was essentially a startup in a large institution for four years. Nothing was beyond us — if we thought it, we did it. Finally, the demand for sustainability in the business world caught up to our enthusiasm. I’m so proud that our work laid the foundation for an institute like GSLI. It will change the face of sustainability education at UT, and hopefully, send leaders out into the world for whom purpose and profit are connected, leaders who will create a regenerative, inclusive world in their own lifetimes.

Do you have pointers for students at UT Austin looking to pursue entrepreneurship?

a) First, learn how to sell — your ideas, your product, you. My first job out of school was in sales. I’m an introvert, had studied accounting, and had an accounting job lined up, but I took the sales job because it paid a bit more. It was the scariest and best thing I could have done at that age. If you want to be an entrepreneur or anything else, learn how to sell first.

b) Figure out what a customer wants. Notice I did not say “needs.” Especially in social entrepreneurship, it protects us from manifesting our worst colonial instincts. Ask individuals and communities what they want, spend time among them, don’t go by what you think they need. Learn to apply human-centered techniques as you research your potential customers or other stakeholders.

c) Take care of yourself. The success rate for startups is low. Learning how to nurture your mind and body is part of your entrepreneurial journey, not a sideshow.

Final Thought?

The science is conclusive — Our planet is in peril. We urgently need human ingenuity and innovation. Think carefully about what you create or invest in. Is it sustainable? Is it inclusive of diverse communities, or is it unduly extractive? For the sake of humanity’s future, don’t screw up.

About the Series

Practical Entrepreneurship features faculty at UT that both teach and have real-world experience with entrepreneurship. By providing insight into each individual’s journey and passions, we are illustrating the many opportunities in academics and throughout life there are to reach fulfillment and success through the pursuit of entrepreneurship.

Lightly edited by Lydia Ward

At HKEC, we’re all about igniting world changing ideas and preparing UT Austin student founders with the tools for startup success. herbkellehercenter.com