Thara Pillai: A Champion of Early-Stage Entrepreneurs in Boston’s Business Ecosystem

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Thara Pillai

BOSTON- A champion of youth, women, and early-stage entrepreneurs in Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Thara Pillai plays a critical role at Harvard University’s alumni accelerator, Launch Lab X GEO, guiding and supporting impact-driven start-up founders who want to make a real difference in the world.

Ms. Pillai is a veteran marketing and business development professional who mentors and advises early-stage ventures in Boston and beyond. In her current role as Director of Alumni Programs & Engagement at Harvard Innovation Labs, Ms. Pillai provides support and guidance to Harvard alumni-led venture teams and connects Harvard’s global community of alumni entrepreneurs. Previously, she held roles at Harvard Business School’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and consulted early-stage startups.

Ms. Pillai is a board member of TiE Boston, a mentor at The Founder Institute, and the founder of a networking and mentoring group for women entrepreneurs, RebelWomen. Prior to her leadership roles in Boston’s startup ecosystem, shw worked as a broadcast journalist in Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom, covering major events such as September 11th, the Clinton Impeachment Trial, and the civil war in Uganda. Ms. Pillai holds an MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, a Master’s in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, and a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting from Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

On March 6, Ms. Pillai will be honored as one of the 20 Outstanding Women of 2021 during the 18th Annual Woman of the Year Awards ceremony— to be held virtually this year. To buy a ticket, please click here.

A Q&A with Ms. Pillai:

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

Thara Pillai: The most rewarding aspect of my work is supporting impact-driven founders who want to make a real difference in the world. Leading Launch Lab X GEO, our alumni accelerator, at the Harvard Innovation Labs also allows me to learn about new technologies and scientific discoveries, while also constantly morphing our curriculum to meet the needs of our founders in this ever-changing world.

INE: If you are engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this group and what do you do for them?

TP: I’m a proud board member of TiE Boston, an organization run by a committed group of staff and volunteers who are making a difference in the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem. When I first arrived in Boston in 2010, this organization helped me grow professionally and connected me to an incredible community of entrepreneurs and innovators. Now I get to give back to this organization that helps entrepreneurs of all ages develop, build, and scale meaningful ventures.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

TP: I like to say I run in slow-motion! I started running in my 30s, and it doesn’t come easily to me. But focusing on my breath and pushing myself “further and faster” as we like to say at the i-lab gives me time to think, strategize, and be creative. It’s my form of meditation. I also have a very active family that loves to hike, cook, ski, and swim together (I learned to swim as an adult – It’s never too late!). I recently tried surfing and hope to dedicate more time staying on the board instead of in the water. 

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

TP: I’ve always tried to give back by being a champion for youth, women, and early-stage entrepreneurs. But after George Floyd’s murder, the continued loss of Black lives, and as a result of the national dialogue that is finally taking place on racial justice, I realize that I can no longer sit on the sidelines when it comes to anti-racism. I can’t wait for others to do the work. So I’m being much more intentional when it comes to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion work—and creating space for this work—with the hopes of educating myself and others along the way. People are afraid to say and do the wrong thing, but doing nothing isn’t an option. My goal is to support positive change in this space. At this moment in time, everyone needs to step back and think about where they fell short, and then, step forward and put into action being a better ally. Being an ally in not only socially responsible but it helps us build a more creative, dynamic, stronger, and interconnected society.

INE: Your rare talent?

TP: My talent isn’t necessarily rare, but I love connecting people. I enjoy finding the synergies between people and ventures. When I can bring people together and the magic happens, that’s very satisfying.

INE: Your favorite books?

TP: For me, “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth is probably one of the greatest literary works of all time with intelligent and creative prose. Seth flips between diverse characters and gives a clever and insightful overview of the political, historical, religious, cultural, and socio-economic landscape of post-independent India. I’m also a fan of Malcom Gladwell’s books. They help connect the dots on so many complex topics and question traditional paradigms, which helps me stay somewhat relevant in this constantly changing world.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

TP: Right now, I love the words recently spoken by my six-year-old son, “There aren’t girl things or boy things; there are just things.” I think this speaks to the current moment with its celebration of women leaders. I am hopeful that my children will not see color, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status as a way to measure someone’s worth.

INE: Who inspires you the most?

TP: My parents continue to inspire me. They are innovators and creators. They just make things happen, whether it’s building successful ventures to building a temple for the community. My father tried surfing in his 60s, and both of my parents worked until their late 70s and early 80s. They took risks moving countries, changing careers, and building businesses, but they always put service to others first.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

TP: I strive to be a good community member. I want to be of service to others at the end of the day, whether it’s just in my neighborhood or through my work. I am very grateful to all of those individuals who have helped me during my life and there have been many…I try to remember that always and pay it forward.

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