Name: Raja Bhattacharya
Title and company/organization: Director, Steve and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship, Columbia College
Years lived in Columbia/mid-Missouri: Less six months
Original hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal
Education: MBA, Western Kentucky University Gordon Ford College of Business, Fellowship in Entrepreneurship, University of Kentucky
Community involvement: Because I recently moved to Columbia, I am studying to see where I can make substantial contribution. I am sure you will see me very active in the Columbia startup scene through organizations such as REDI, Missouri Innovation Center and the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, I also plan to work with high school students in growing their understanding in entrepreneurship.
Professional background: I was involved with the Western Kentucky University entrepreneurship program for 10 years. In 2005 I left academia to run a startup called Kumari Rugs, which I ran and grew for seven years. I have been involved with four startups in my career with two failures. I learned a lot from my failures.
A favorite recent project: The Governor’s School for Entrepreneurship in Lexington, Kentucky, where we brought 60 high school students from rural Kentucky and created a learning laboratory where they tested and validated their ideas in teams. This is a three-week-long summer residence program.
A Columbia businessperson I admire and why: Let me give you two names. Although I moved to Columbia recently, I have been very impressed by what David Keller from The Bank of Missouri has been able to achieve in his professional career. His community involvement is tremendous, and I can see he does everything with great passion. Matt Clervi from Fresh Ideas is another businessman I admire. The creativity I saw within his organization is just spectacular. His organization has treated food like art. Plus, Matt is a Columbia College graduate. I am looking forward to meet other great leaders in this city in the future.
Why I’m passionate about my job: I get to work with students who are dreaming about starting their venture one day. I get to work with young creative minds who are the backbone of any vibrant society. They are full of energy, which can be very intoxicating. As a mentor to these young minds, I also understand that most of them will fail at the beginning, but the learning they will go through is priceless. Plus, once in a while you also get a chance to associate yourself with a great success.
If I weren’t doing this for a living, I would: I would not substitute what I am doing for anything else. Working with entrepreneurs is an absolute blast.
What people should know about this profession: The field of entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Starting and running your own business will keep you awake at nights. Although the stress level is high in this field, rewards can be higher. The sense of accomplishment that you will get from running your own business can be very intoxicating. For students, the only way you will learn entrepreneurship is by doing it. There is no substitute.
What I do for fun: I am an avid sports fan, and I enjoy playing almost anything, with soccer and tennis topping the list. Traveling with my family is a close second. Also, because my partner is an Italian, cooking is a big thing in our house.
Family: Simona Flaiban is my partner, and we have a 14-year-old named Claudia Grosoli. She is a swimmer, fluent in Italian and goes to Rock Bridge High School. I am also close to my sister, Dr. Baishali Bhattacharya, who is a physician in Phoenix. Two most important people in my life are my mother, Sharada Bhattacharya, and my aunt Archana Bhattacharya. My sister and I are products of their upbringing.
Favorite place in Columbia: My family and I are still getting familiar with the area. We have found out that Columbia has some incredibly interesting places. Ask me this question six months from now, and I will give you a list of our favorite places.
Accomplishment I’m most proud of: Coming to the United States as a 19-year-old kid from Nepal on a soccer scholarship and living my dreams.
Most people don’t know that I: Can water ski even though I don’t know how to swim (I need a life jacket though).