Five Questions For … Fannin Innovation Studio’s Atul Varadhachary

Houston—Blame it on Bollywood, maybe, but growing up, Atul Varadhachary had his head in the stars.

Like many Indians, he considered what he calls the “straightforward path” of pursuing a career in engineering or medicine. “But I really wanted to be an astrophysicist,” he says.

Varadhachary got admission to both engineering and medical schools and ended up choosing medicine, in part, because he says it started four weeks earlier than the engineering program. “It was summer vacation and I was getting a little bit bored,” he says.

Still, his fascination with the cosmos didn’t abate. Once he immigrated to the United States and moved to Houston, he was able to nurse that interest through NASA. “Now I’m trying to convince one of my daughters that they should become an astronaut,” he says.

Varadhachary today runs Fannin Innovation Studios, a Houston-based accelerator/incubator program for young medical device and biotech companies.

In this week’s “Five Questions For … ,” Varadhachary speaks about the serendipity of random walks, bonding with his father over community service, and more about that Bollywood dalliance. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: Tell me about your early influences.

Atul Varadhachary: It sounds trite, but one of the most important early influences was probably my dad. It took me a while to realize it. He’s a physician, and he embedded philanthropy and community into pretty much everything he did on a day-to-day basis. That’s one of those things that was almost embedded in the way I grew up. It’s really about what your impact is on the community and people around you. It was done in an understated way, but something that became part of who I am. It’s not something I learned to appreciate until much later in life.

He passed away about seven years ago. When I went back [for the funeral]—he was involved in a number of community organizations—and after he passed, they had a memorial service for him. … He literally died with his boots on. He stepped into an elevator and, when the doors opened, he was unconscious. He had an inter-cranial bleed. I think one often realizes that if you have a parent that’s very sick and hospitalized and the process takes a long time, that’s easier in some ways. But when it happens literally in a minute, you don’t have time to come to grips with the process [of losing a loved one.]

After the ceremony, a lot of people came and told me about ways in which dad had helped them. That’s when I really appreciated it. I really got a deeper sense for what he did in … Next Page »

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