Wednesday, May 27

Alum encourages students to explore business field at speaker series


Nick Desai, UCLA alumnus, spoke at the Ronald and Valerie Sugar Distinguished Speaker Series, which aims to connect students with industry professionals in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Courtesy of Heal)


Nick Desai graduated from UCLA with a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1992. But instead of becoming an engineer, he used his science education to enter the business world.

Desai spoke to a crowd of more than 200 engineering students about his experiences on Monday and encouraged them to lose the fear of hearing “no” in the business world. UCLA Engineering hosted the event as part of The Ronald and Valerie Sugar Distinguished Speaker Series, which aims to connect students with industry professionals in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Desai co-founded Heal, a medical technology startup, with his wife two years ago as a way to modernize home-based doctor visits with the use of smartphone technology. Heal is an app that allows users to request medical professionals for house calls, including checkups for minor illnesses and injuries.

Desai discussed the intersections between medicine, business and engineering during the hour-long talk. He said he thinks an engineering education provides students valuable preparation entering the field of business.

”The nature of engineering involves labs, projects, hands-on group activities and contests,” he said. “Nowadays people are making things at a younger and younger age and they want to know, ‘How do I do something great with this idea?’”

Desai said he thinks an engineering background can be advantageous in launching a startup. But he also advised students to start their ventures early.

“If you want to do a startup, do it as early as possible in your life, before you get used to a big salary,” he said. “Lots of people start work at big companies and buy an apartment, but then you get mortgages and car payments (to take care of). And then you’re like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

He added that he thinks engineers tend to over-analyze problems. Business strategy often requires more gut feeling than analysis, he said, so he encouraged students to lose their fears of rejection.

“The worst thing someone can do to you is say ‘no’ … (But) people are so afraid of hearing the word ‘no’ in their life that they’re never going to ask the (necessary) questions,” he said. “Being in a startup includes doing things that haven’t been done before, and going for it.”

The series continues in January with speaker Ronald Sugar, former CEO of Northrop Grumman Corporation and UCLA Engineering alumnus.


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