The Power of Possibility – Poonkodi Sampath

By Nasos Papadopoulos, EF Head of Content

Article5 Minute Read

EF is proud to announce the $115 Million first close of its new Global Fund. This will allow us to continue funding even more incredible individuals from all over the world to build game changing companies. Poonkodi Sampath is an Aerospace Engineer with a PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur and is a member of our first Bangalore cohort.

The first step in innovation is to believe in the possibility that things can be different. This means that the sum of our individual beliefs about what’s possible are fundamentally linked to the progress of the human race as a collective. At EF, we believe that only a small percentage of the people who could be exceptional founders are open to the possibility of starting a company – whether that’s for financial, personal or cultural reasons. Our objective is to remove these barriers, to show these people the path and give them the resources they need to scale their ambition. Poonkodi Sampath is a perfect example of the type of trailblazing individual who we believe has the capacity to do great things – and we’re excited to have her on our first Bangalore cohort.

Poonkodi grew up in Chennai, Southern India as the eldest of three sisters. While neither of her parents went to university, they encouraged her academically and she thrived – consistently coming top of her classes and outperforming in maths and science. Everyday, the three sisters would take the 10 minute walk to the local school, chatting amongst themselves before the long day ahead. In the evenings, they’d return home and sit around the table doing their homework together – and as the eldest, Poonkodi was always on hand to help her younger siblings out.

When the time came to apply for university, Poonkodi chose to to study aerospace engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology and after a gruelling four year course, she got her first job by taking on a graduate engineering role at the Valeo Engineering Center in Chennai. But Poonkodi wanted to go deeper into her field – and she knew that to get there she’d need to continue her education. Her parents however, were sceptical about the prospect of her doing a five year PhD – she was in her early twenties now and in keeping with cultural convention they wanted her to settle down, get married and start a family.

Nevertheless, after some difficult conversations, Poonkodi convinced her parents that taking on a PhD at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur was the best thing for her, and she left Chennai to pursue a career in research at one of India’s top academic institutions. The five years she spent at IIT allowed her to develop the type of cutting edge expertise we look for at EF – and that was recognised by M S Ramaiah University of Applied Science in Bangalore when they offered her a position as an Assistant Professor, teaching courses on fluid dynamics.

The progress Poonkodi had made up to that point was nothing short of remarkable so she could have been forgiven for resting on her laurels for a while. But after just one year of teaching, Poonkodi got the itch to do something different  – and she took on a Post Doc role at the University of Minho in Portugal, where she spent 10 months doing computational dynamics research in the manufacturing sector.

Her move to Portugal was the first time she’d been out of India and on top of working in a new sector, she had to get used to a new country, a new language and new working environment. Describing her decision to make the move, she says “I wanted to do something of my own and make myself uncomfortable. I just went. I didn’t know anybody there – just the professor I’d be working under – so I had to figure things out for myself.” While in Europe she also took the opportunity to make some short trips, including one to Paris – a city she’d always dreamed of visiting and one that she’d remember with fondness in future years. After all the progress she’d made in her studies and her career, here she was, halfway around the world, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower and dreaming of just how much higher she could rise.

When she returned home to India, Poonkodi was snapped up by Boeing to work on turbulence models as an Aerospace Engineer in their Bangalore office – making history in the process as the first woman ever to join the team. Once again – she could have been forgiven for thinking she’d made it. But Poonkodi wanted to keep testing herself. So when she got a message from Sanjana Tadepalli from the EF team, telling her about the cohort that was starting in Bangalore, she had to find out more. After meetings with the team and another tough conversation with her parents, she decided she was going to try her hand at entrepreneurship, making it through the application process and joining the first Bangalore cohort.

Poonkodi is part of a trailblazing new generation of female entrepreneurs in India that’s tearing down walls and changing perceptions of what’s possible. A study by BNP Paribas showed that India topped the list of countries with the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs, outperforming Hong Kong and France which were next on the list. While there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re proud to be part of this trend – supporting a new generation of ambitious female founders in India, with around 30% women in our very first cohort in Bangalore.

Poonkodi’s story represents possibility, or as she puts it herself – seeing just how far someone can really go. She’s not just an inspiration for her two younger sisters, who have gone on to follow in her footsteps and achieve academic excellence in their studies at university, she’s an inspiration to everyone of us at EF and to every young girl aspiring to be an entrepreneur in India. We’re delighted to have an individual as talented as Poonkodi on our first cohort in Bangalore and are excited to see just how far she can really go. We know she is too.

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