Gururaj Deshpande

Country of origin: India

Year came to U.S.: 1984

Education: BS Electrical Engineering,
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras;
ME Electrical Engineering, University of New Brunswick;
PhD Data Communications, Queen’s University, Ontario.

Businesses: Coral Networks (1988), Cascade Communications (1990), Deshpande Foundation (1995), Sycamore Networks (1998), Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship (2006)

Headquarters: Chelmsford, MA (Sycamore Networks, now Infinera)

2011 revenue: $48.7 million (Sycamore Networks)

Worldwide employment: 259 (Sycamore Networks)

  • Gururaj Deshpande founded and took public several billion-dollar companies.

  • He was co-chairman of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship under President Obama.

Gururaj Deshpande, the son of a labor commissioner in the Indian government, journeyed from India to Canada to further his education and begin a career as a professor. His desire to make his mark in business drew him to Boston in 1984 for its concentration of innovative companies and venture capital investors.

Within four years, he had co-founded his first company, Coral Networks. Deshpande once said that a successful entrepreneur must “demonstrate inner strength, take risks, tolerate pain and face challenges.” He lived up to these values when in 1990 he left Coral Networks with no severance package because he disagreed with his partners over the company’s direction.

The risk paid off with his second start-up, Cascade Communications. There were many who doubted this broadband switchmaker could compete with industry giant Cisco Systems. Deshpande started the company with one partner and $125,000. When the company was sold in 1997 for $3.7 billion, Cascade had 900 employees and serviced 72 percent of Internet traffic.

By the time Deshpande launched Sycamore Networks in 1999, there were no more doubters. Sycamore allowed existing fiber optic networks to deliver greater bandwidth at lower cost. Fortune magazine named Sycamore one of the coolest companies of 1999 and said Sycamore would “do nothing less than change the nature of the Internet.” When the company went public later that year it was valued at $18 billion, making Deshpande the world’s richest Indian and one of the wealthiest self-made businessman in the world, with a fortune of $3.7 billion. In 2013, the company merged with Coriant and was re-named Coriant America Inc., which was subsequently purchased by Infinera.

Deshpande has used his wealth well. In 1995, he and his wife, Jaishree, set up the Deshpande Foundation. Its first initiative was a $20 million donation to establish the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation at MIT to act as a stimulus to economic growth and help New England maintain its position as a leader in the field of new technology. Dr. Deshpande also co-chaired the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship under President Obama.

Updated July 2021