Lakshmi Balachandra: When Facing Challenges, Babson Assistant Professor Often Asks: “What Would a White Guy Do?”

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Lakshmi Balachandra

Lakshmi Balachandra, a leading expert in improvisation, negotiation and entrepreneurial pitching, is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College. She is also Fellow in the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where she examines the impact of gender on entrepreneurial success in acquiring early-stage funding.

Her research investigates the applications of improvisation and trust in negotiation and entrepreneurship. Her dissertation on entrepreneurial pitches and trust development in angel investors was awarded both a Graduate Research Fellowship from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and a Kauffman Dissertation Fellowship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Ms. Balachandra has taught courses and international programs to students and executives on entrepreneurship, negotiation, improvisation, and leadership. She consults to a wide range of companies including Goldman Sachs, Genzyme, Novartis, Shell and the CIA, and frequently guest lectures in several courses at the Harvard Business School. She teaches a course she designed on improvisation and leadership at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

While working for the largest women-owned, women-focused venture capital firm in the country, she founded the Women’s Venture Capital Network, the first network of its kind in the country where she organized, created and managed numerous networking events and educational panels for women professionals in the industry. During (and in-between) her professional career in finance and entrepreneurship, Ms. Balachandra has also been a professional stand-up comedian and improvisational comedian performing in comedy clubs across the country.

Prior to joining Babson College, Dr. Balachandra was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and a Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Extension School. She has also taught at Boston College and UCSD Rady’s School of Management. She received her BA in Environmental Studies and Economics at the University of Chicago and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. She has a PhD in Management from Boston College.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

Lakshmi Balachandra: I am an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College where I teach entrepreneurship and negotiation and study things I used to do, like entrepreneurship and venture capital funding, and why VC funders decided to invest in certain ventures over others.  Lately my research has focused primarily on the role of gender in funding, specifically why the significant gender gap in VC funding persists today.

I worked in VC when the first Diana Report, the study that analyzed the amount of VC funding that went to women (with very depressing results) and had a chance to be a member of team to update the report 15 years later…unfortunately with similar depressing results.  The enormous gender gap in funding persists – and in fact the gender gap in the number of investors has widened.  I believe it is this gap that drives much of the gender gap in funding and this has become a focus of my research and now my practice as I want to do something about the problem!  I’m exploring starting a women-led VC fund.

Lakshmi Balachandra

INE: To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

LB: I am a member of the Academy of Management (business school professor professional association) and belong to the 100women of needham charitable organization.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

LB: I would say if I didn’t have 3 young children and a demanding job that I have tons of hobbies and interests!  But since I do, I have to say I have almost no hobbies except for vegging out in front of the TV and taking walks.  I wish I could do gardening, home reno and travel more, but who has time for that?  Plus I have allergies and with 3 young kids, I have neither the budget, the patience, or ability to garden or leave them and travel…    Ideally I would travel to cool places with good food and then take long walks in those places.

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization or professional field?

LB: I help create Capital W: the Boston Women’s Venture Summit from 2015-2017 with my former VC boss Sheryl Marshall and my future VC partner Jill Kravetz to address the venture funding gap for women entrepreneurs in the Boston VC ecosystem.  I write and speak about the role of VC for venture growth and the impact of women entrepreneurs and society by not having women in senior leadership positions creates gendered assumptions of what is valued in that context.

Women will inherently be at a disadvantage for obtaining funding when the dominant and persistent image of success in entrepreneurship and funding is white and male.  I have written on this topic and hope to have more of my work in this area and on this type of bias published to spread more awareness about how gender is perceived and subconsciously influences multiple aspects of decision-making.

INE: What are your favorite books?

LB: The only way I can answer that right now is that I would have more current favorite books if I had time to read!  I do read a good bit (like hobby of vegging out with TV, when I can, I veg out with fiction novels I grab from the library).  I have read a few good ones but can’t remember what they are.

Back in Business school, I said The Godfather which I actually loved to read – – and then I heard from a b-school prof that half the people in bschool said their fav movie was godfather, which is actually kind of scary to think about.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

LB: “When one door closes a window opens.”  It’s something like that.  It’s the quote on my birthday from The Birthday Book and I was astonished to see it was the quote for my birthday as I have always lived my life with this attitude.  The other quote is not really a quote but now an expression I run through my head when faced with a challenging/difficult situation where I have to ‘fight’ for myself  “what would a white guy do?”

INE: Who inspires you the most?

LB: Probably Hillary Clinton.  She faced some of the most vicious gender bias imaginable with some of the most horrible comments daily for years, but somehow she manages to pick herself up and keep going.  Unbelievable courage.  Lately I’ve been blown away by the kids from Parkland – especially Emma Gonzales and Sarah Chadwick.  Remarkable, strong girls who will change the world.

INE: What core values do you try to live by?

LB: Stand up for what you believe in.  Integrity and intellectual honesty.  Hate fakeness.  Living a full, happy life with no regrets.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact either myself or Upendra Mishra at (781) 373-3220 or at this email.

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