By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Kanishka Biddanda is one of those individuals who has been an entrepreneur almost his entire life and, like many true leaders, there’s a community service commitment that he strongly embraces.
Biddanda grew-up in Knoxville, the son of parents who emigrated in the early 1970s from Southern India with three suitcases and $128 in their pockets. He talks proudly of his father, a person who clearly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit – earning a scholarship to the University of Tennessee (UT) and working five jobs during those years.
As the old saying goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In the younger Biddanda’s case, he started developing “micro-businesses” starting at age six.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Biddanda is a successful business executive and community leader in Northeast Tennessee. And, for the past year, he has been the Interim Executive Director of AccelNow, the Tri-Cities entrepreneurial accelerator.
We’ll save the roles he plays today in his adopted hometown of Kingsport for a later article in this series. For now, we’ll focus on the earlier years and the entrepreneurial foundation that he was building.
While a student at Knoxville’s Farragut High School, Biddanda participated in the Invent America initiative, helped organize the school’s computer club, and launched the school’s first webpage. By 1992, he was an early web developer, thanks to his father’s advocacy for ARPANET which, together with TCP/IP protocol, became the backbone of today’s Internet.
At 16 years of age, Biddanda had founded a web design firm. After graduating from Farragut, he joined the UT staff as an Assistant Web Master while also pursuing his college education.
East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) “outstanding digital media program” caught Biddanda’s attention, and he transferred to the Johnson City-based institution where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in 2002. While an ETSU student, he continued to maintain his business which was thriving.
“My plan was to relocate the company to San Francisco or the District of Columbia after graduation,” Biddanda admits. He was encouraged by local business executives to stay in the area for 12 months to see if he could grow his business to the size he wanted without relocating.
Biddanda is a self-admitted fan of five-year plans, so he set a goal of earning the business of 15 specific companies within five years. He got all 15 in the first eight months, proving he could be successful from a Northeast Tennessee base.
“One year has turned into 12,” he says, adding that it was a great decision.
“I was inspired by Fortune 500 companies, like Eastman Chemical Company, who successfully established their headquarters in smaller communities like the Tri-Cities, which offer a great quality of life. In addition, their business has such a valuable offering, they are able to do business all over the world. That’s the empowering opportunity entrepreneurship gives individuals – the ability to create not just a business, but a life that fits their vision.
NEXT: Biddanda grows his company while embracing social entrepreneurship.