A CLOSER LOOK: Tej Dhawan
Principal, StartupCity Des Moines
Friday, March 09, 2012 7:00 AM
• Age: 43
• Education: Bachelor of arts in math and computer science at Central College
• Family: Wife Karen and children Anjali and Aiden
StartupCity Des Moines Principal Christian Renaud says that he wishes he had met Tej Dhawan years ago. As it is, the two met in 2010 and decided to pursue what they felt was an important step for Greater Des Moines in the form of a start-up incubator. They launched StartupCity and now are among a community of mentors in the area trying to grow the technology-based start-up sector. Dhawan, a native of India, previously built up his own company, Advanced Technologies Group Inc., and hopes to use his expertise to help the burgeoning entrepreneur scene in Central Iowa. In the meantime, he’s also trying to get a new start-up, Pikuzone, off the ground. Dhawan originally came from India to the United States to attend Central College in Pella.
Describe what you do.
At this time, my career is focused on helping build the start-up ecosystem in and around Des Moines, and then connecting it to the Iowa region and then over to StartupAmerica (a national organization). So Christian and I and others, as a group we are all building this ecosystem together. From a career perspective, at this point if we can figure out a way for this little neighborhood of Silicon Sixth to be able to deliver true value to our greater community and then beyond, we will have achieved many of the goals. That’s paramount in addition to building my own start-up, Pikuzone, and getting that farther and deeper into the community.
What is Pikuzone?
Pikuzone is a parent-managed email site for children who are 6 to 12 years old. As parents we try to teach our kids how to eat in restaurants, how to talk to people, how to act in society. Email is a major part of our communications mechanism. So kids naturally are asking for email addresses at an early age. None of the main sites that give accounts, like Hotmail, offer those accounts to people under 13 years old. The few children-oriented sites that exist have a lot of advertising on them. We created Pikuzone essentially to have an advertising-free, parent-managed site.
How did you become involved with StartupCity?
I was exiting a company that I had cofounded and run with my business partner for 14 years. We had come to a point where we were not going to be able to run this company together. So I took my exit option, and left trying to figure out how I could help other technology companies start their own venture and help them go around the pitfalls that naturally exist in any start-up. I ran into (Business Innovation Zone Director) Mike Colwell, and he thought I should meet Christian, because Christian was essentially following down a similar path in building the ecosystem from a larger macro view. We got together for lunch pretty soon after, sat, and essentially talked about what StartupCity could be.
What do you think you offer based on your past experiences?
One of the first lessons (learned by) anybody who has started a business and has never gone through the business curriculum is (that) sales, cash flow and products drive your business. If you can keep a very close eye on where the money is coming from, where and when it’s going, you can fund the research and development projects that will help you achieve more projects in future years. So if you can walk entrepreneurs through the intricacies of a buy-sell agreement, or board structure, or government structure, you can add to their success, hopefully. The land mines that exist in a business are many. If you can help avoid half or a fourth of them, you at least pave the way a little bit for potential success.
What kept you in Iowa after attending Central?
My wife’s family is from Lohrville, Iowa. That was a strong keeper. I had gotten a pretty awesome job at Principal (Financial Group Inc.), and I worked for two years at Principal while I created my business on the side. The community was awesome. I was able to buy a house. I liked the commute. I knew the community was nice, and I was able to make friends. So why not stay here? Why move to the coasts when you’re happy here? We knew we could build a business, and this is a good place to build it.
What do you do outside of work?
I’m still on Central’s board. I love talking with (President) Mark Putnam or professors or other members of the board. Ballet Des Moines is probably the second-most time-consuming entity for me. My daughter dances for the school of classical ballet. She’s been learning ballet there for eight years. I love photography. I love travel. I love reading.
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