Sainsbury Management Fellows

Interview 9: Jeg Sithamparathas

Jeg Sithamparathas (Meng Hons, Imperial College London), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Sloan School of Management

 

Prior to starting his MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jeg’s personal experience involved forays into both the startup world and consultancy. A keen interest in artificial intelligence led him to founding the Vaazhkai Academy, an online education platform aiming to use machine learning in order to provide students with bespoke learning experiences. Afterwards, he wanted to spend time getting both deep and broad exposure to business, although his long-term intention was always to return to pursuing his interests in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

At Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co), he was chosen for a secondment as a direct report to the new Head of Artificial Intelligence at PwC where he worked with startups, product development teams and early stage investors on a variety of initiatives including an incubator, developing a passion for the VC sector. Currently, Jeg is Chief Product Officer for Drag, an MIT startup focused on making inboxes 100x more collaborative and productive by transforming Gmail Inboxes into shared Trello/Kanban boards.

What do you hope to achieve through your MBA experience?
MIT is at the cutting edge of innovation with a thriving startup ecosystem. The MBA provides a low-risk environment for first-hand insights into building nascent companies in AI and other disruptive technologies. MIT’s strengths in product design and venture capital financing will further teach me what is required to develop and launch successful startups whilst also addressing other gaps in my skill eg finance and marketing. I have recently also joined an MIT startup, Drag.

How will you use your MBA to further your career?
From founding a startup to establishing a startup accelerator and AI policy think-tank, I have had the privilege of interacting with extremely talented individuals who could be founders of the next Snapchat or Google. My experiences have only reinforced my belief that the UK can be a leading global technology hub – evidenced by successes like Deepmind, Improbable and Shazam.

In the short term, I am aiming to be a product manager at an early stage tech company, ideally AI-focused, or start my own company. Either path will give me crucial operational insight into challenges faced by startups and build credibility as a future VC. To achieve my goals, I believe an MBA at MIT is the ideal next step.

What are your expectations of being part of the SMF network after business school?
The SMF award will be a significant enabler to attending MIT by mitigating the sizable costs associated with the programme so I can take the risks necessary to pursue my post-MBA plans. However, beyond financial support, what really interests me is the mentorship from the SMF network. Being able to get indispensable advice from fellows – like Charles Haythornwaite (Partner at Chrysalix VC) and Phil Wescott, (co-CEO of Filament.ai) provides a unique opportunity to learn from accomplished leaders with diverse experiences that will help inform crucial career decisions in the future. I also hope to contribute to the SMF community in the future as a mentor and patron.

How do you hope to support SMF after you graduate from business school?
I hope to support the SMF in a few key ways after the MBA. Firstly, I hope to be a mentor to those from similar backgrounds to me – professionally and socio-economically – and encourage more young engineers to consider an international MBA experience. Secondly,

When did you start thinking about doing an MBA?
There were three things that made start thinking about an MBA. Firstly, I realised at some point that I had stopped learning and the things I needed to learn required some formal foundations before I could learn through practice. For example, I was, at times, overwhelmed and intimidated by the confidence and fluency with which dealmakers could move between accounting numbers and tangible parts of a company. I knew I needed a foundation of knowledge before I could learn from having more of these interactions.

Secondly, I knew I wanted to have another go at entrepreneurship but was also interested in several areas of technology as well as VC. I wanted a ‘lab’ where I could explore all these things and the time I spent on these would be hedged – having a great brand, like MIT, means I can pretty much use these two years to explore what I want without having to actively hedge my bets.  If things don’t work out, then I just get a job after having been at MIT for two years. Of course, there is opportunity cost – professionally and financially – so this line of reasoning is not for everyone.

Thirdly, I wanted to experience the tech scene in the US and the MBA is a common way for Europeans to do this. I want to learn as much as I can from the US and hopefully, with some of the global opportunities at MIT, also learn from China’s tech ecosystem, and bring back lots of lessons learned to the UK tech community.

How did you learn about the SMF scholarship?
I first heard about the scholarship early on at University whilst I was on the RAEng Engineering Leadership Award scheme for future engineering leaders identified at the undergraduate level. At one of the away days, it was the man who would become one of my dearest mentors, James Raby, who introduced me to the idea of an MBA and what the SMF scholarship hoped to accomplish. Having just passed recently after accomplishing a great deal with his life and giving back so generously to countless young engineers and the SMF scheme as a trustee, I feel incredibly fortunate for how much the RAEng overall has played in my undergraduate, professional and graduate lives to date and I am sure will be a big part of my future life as well.

What did you learn by going through the scholarship application process?
I learnt that behind every resume and list of accomplishments is another human. It can feel really daunting to think about applying to the SMF scholarship and going through the process, you may be constantly doubting yourself and wondering if you measure up to all the amazing SMFs you meet and read about. I would give all applicants this one key piece of advice – everyone was in your shoes at some point. No one is born a CEO, an entrepreneur or an investor. Everyone at some point or another, likely stood where you stand today. So use that as both a motivator and a source of comfort when applying to the SMF scholarship and more generally, an MBA.

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