Dhirendra Shukla first visited Canada as a child and fell in love with the country. Born in India, raised in Zambia and educated in the UK and Canada, he came back to Canada and – to his surprise – was offered his ideal job commercializing new technologies with Nortel Networks.
When Nortel collapsed, Shukla came across an opportunity for a role at the University of New Brunswick, Faculty of Engineering, as the Dr. J. Herbert Smith ACOA Chair. His interest in the position was piqued as he saw huge potential in New Brunswick. He applied and was successful. Since accepting the position at UNB, Shukla has become an integral part of the entrepreneurial community and ecosystem.
The J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) at UNB was recognized by Industry Canada as the top university for entrepreneurship and, more recently, Startup Canada named UNB the most entrepreneurial university in Canada.
TME is connecting people and making things happen in the community through not only the education they provide students, but also through the programs and funding they provide to startups in the area.
I had a refreshingly upbeat conversation with a very enthusiastic Shukla. As a New Brunswick entrepreneur myself, I was anxious to hear his perspective. I was also very curious about how he landed in Canada from the UK, where he studied…
A: I finished grad school and came to Canada in 1988. I handed out my resume and never really expected anything but I had a job offer within a few days with Nortel Networks. They told me during the interview process that they’d make me a job offer and I’d never go back to the UK.
Q: You don’t appear to hide your enthusiasm for Canada.
A: When people become negative toward Canada I’m always there with my positive energy and super pumped about why Canada is relevant. Canada is the type of nation that is set up appropriately, it needs to stand up and do exciting things because the world needs more of Canada.
As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, I’m celebrating my 20th birthday in Canada. I’ve had some of the most magical experiences of my life. I’ve just had a brilliant time.
[Tweet “I’ve had some of the most magical experiences of my life in Canada. – Dhirendra Shukla”]
Q: Why do you think you fell in love with Canada?
A: When I was a child growing up in Zambia, I had this feeling of liberation, I felt so free and connected to nature. I felt the people in Zambia were amazing.
When I came to Canada – obviously it wasn’t in the winter – it had the same beauty. The people were amazing, they were so kind, caring, it was green and it was just beautiful. I knew it was my new home. I felt connected and felt the same sensation, the same feeling of home that I felt when I was in Zambia.
Q: You are also a big fan of New Brunswick.
A: I’m so pumped about being in Canada, but particularly in New Brunswick. I call New Brunswick Newton’s apple orchard, it’s the place that you can actually sit, connect dots and really begin to create meaning and excitement about life in general, create exciting new discoveries. And it can all happen within New Brunswick.
[Tweet “And it can all happen within New Brunswick. – Dhirendra Shukla”]
Q: I understand you’ve won some awards and had some recognition with the Technology Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) program at UNB?
A: I joined in 2009-10 and we were recognized as a leader in entrepreneurship education in Canada. In 2014-15 we were recognized as the most entrepreneurial university in Canada.
Q: I have noticed that when asked about the TME program’s success you are quick to give credit to this region?
A: The program is positioned where the entire community is involved. It is everyone’s startup, it’s everyone’s next generation of leaders whether it’s in government or in the entrepreneurial sector or whether it’s working for a corporate, changing their culture to be more innovative and entrepreneurial. It’s everyone’s success, it’s everyone’s story and it’s been fantastic. It has been an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience.
So whatever we have done, we have done it locally. We didn’t bring in resources from anywhere else, we found the support within the communities. ACOA was the organization that seeded this center and the chair in 1988 – they planted the seed. Look at how long it’s taken for that seed to turn into something that is bearing fruit.
Q: How many students do you have today?
A: Enrollment at TME has grown from 20-25 in the early days to over 500 students in the program. Every year we are launching about 25 new startups. We’ve come a long way.
[Tweet “Every year we are launching about 25 new startups. – Dhirendra Shukla”]
Q: The startup world often suffers setbacks, how do you approach the subject of dealing with failure?
A: We need to have a long-term story, we can’t let the initial ups and downs in life bring us down. No, we should take all of that and create a better story because we are defining what the future is going to look like 30 years from now. We can’t worry about immediate success and failure. Failures should really make us more successful.
We also don’t need to be another Silicon Valley – we need to harness the energy that we have here and become a better and more beautiful version of ourselves.
Q: Are you seeing a different attitude emerging from members of the startup community in New Brunswick?
A: They are far more confident, they are able to get funding, resourcing and respect externally – in other communities and in other countries.
While they make global impact, their roots are getting deeper and deeper into New Brunswick because they know it’s the place that cares and that celebrates their success so their money goes a long way here. They have access to resources, people and talent that they would not have anywhere else in the world.
Q: Do you think New Brunswick is unique?
A: I think so. In New Brunswick amazing mentors surround you. You are also surrounded by design, by executives who have done this, by faculty and the smartest people on the planet. You have a prototyping lab, you’re getting funding to help you launch – you will not get all of this anywhere in the world.
[Tweet “You won’t get all of this support anywhere in the world. – Dhirendra Shukla”]
Q: What does the TME program look like in 2025?
A: The next 10 years for us will be building on our story. Focusing on making greater impact, being recognized – from a Canadian and a global perspective – as a powerhouse.
Q: It’s like that old saying,“the harder you work the luckier you are.”
A: Yes, and we need to be careful that just because we have seen a little bit of success, we need to make sure that it does not stop us and prevent us from constantly iterating, constantly prototyping, constantly testing.
Q: Any advice for the young leaders of our province?
A: My encouragement is go out there and see what’s happening in the world, be involved, learn. But don’t forget your roots.
[Tweet “Don’t forget your roots. – Dhirendra Shukla”]
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This article published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, October 28, 2017.