Sujatha Ramanujan - 2019 SPIE Women in Optics Planner
Country of Birth: USA
Both my parents are mathematicians. I simply can't remember a time when I didn't love math and science. They encouraged a fondness and aptitude for technical pursuits. For example, they gave me an electronics kit and gave my sister a microscope. Now I am an electrical engineer and she is a chemical engineer!
I currently manage a nonprofit investment fund and accelerator for optics and photonics companies. We identify ten promising companies, invest $100,000 in each, and provide six months of comprehensive training and support. They then compete for $2M in follow-up funding.
The biggest challenge I have faced is learning when a business or concept is flawed for reasons that are not technical. As a scientist, I felt the success and failure of an endeavor was completely driven by the technical validity. However, many flaws in business are far from science. I sought the guidance of business leaders to teach me the skills I lacked. I had to experience failure to learn and grow from it. Learning from success is easy. Learning from failure is powerful.
I wish someone had told me early on to have confidence in myself. It's okay to advocate for yourself. I held many positions as “second” in command—more years than I should have. Women are taught that it is arrogant to require that we are recognized, compensated, and given the position that our capabilities and experience allow. Unless we demand to be treated well, we won't be.
Take every opportunity to learn something new. Step out of your comfort zone and learn skills you did not think you could. If you are a scientist, learn sales. If you are in sales, learn finance. You may not practice these skills daily. You may not even be good at them, but you will respect them.