Friends remember the power that was Naren Gupta

Ritu Jha-

 

Indian Americans in the tech industry were in mourning after the death of Narendra (Naren) K. Gupta on Dec, 25.

Gupta, 73, the founder and managing director of Nexus Venture Partners in Menlo Park, California, was on a vacation with his family when he suffered a heart attack. Though he had cardiac issues, he was quite active and appeared to be in good health.

The family is back home but has not decided a time and place for a memorial. Still, close friends poured in to meet the family.

At their home, friends offered compassionate hugs to wife Vinita Gupta. Near the fireplace, a candle lit up Naren Gupta’s photo, To the right was a family painting of him; to the left, one of Vinita Gupta.

Below was an old photo of the couple celebrating Christmas. “Look. It will make you smile,” Vinita Gupta said, pointing to the photo. She could not recollect which year it was from. She did not talk much about her husband, in one case changing the topic to Theranos, run by Elizabeth Holmes, the entrepreneur accused of fraud. She mentioned waking up at 3 am to get dressed and be in the courtroom to watch Holmes testify.

“I have to be strong,” she told indica in a candid moment. Married for 47 years, the couple were achievers, strong, and not given to expressing weakness.

Paying tribute to Naren Gupta, Thomas Kailath, the Hitachi America Professor of Engineering emeritus, at Stanford University, told indica, “Two words will suffice to characterize the trajectory of Gupta’s life and career: Consistently Brilliant.”

(L to R ) Prof. Thomas Kailath with late wife Sarah Kailath, Vinita Gupta, and Naren Gupta.      Photo courtesy: Prof. Thomas Kailath.

 

Kailath shared his four decades of friendship with Gupta after the latter won a gold medal as a top student at IIT-Delhi, Gupta came to Stanford in 1970 after earning a master’s degree at Caltech.

“Though registered in the Aeronautics Department, he also took my (electrical engineering) classes on systems and control” Kailath said. “After his Ph.D. in 1974, Naren joined a relatively new company called, interestingly enough, Systems and Control, Inc.

“Naren was not too happy with the recognition he got there, and in 1980 he and I founded Integrated Systems, Inc. As CEO, apart from technical leadership, he soon brought himself up to speed on the various nontechnological aspects of running a company, such as financial and tax issues.”

Kailath did not go into the details of how he built the company, except to say, “It attracted the attention of Summit Partners, which invested in us in 1990 and helped us go public 10 years later.”

He said that when he and some students founded Numerical Technologies, “Naren was the first person we approached to serve on the board.” As a board member, Gupta helped the company go public in 2000, and then when Numerical Technologies was acquired by Synopsis in 2003.

“Naren never stopped learning and growing. In his activities and ventures,” Kailath said. “Naren was strongly supported by his wife, Vinita, an entrepreneur in her own right. They have supported me in various ways, including helping to establish the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies at UC Berkeley.”

Kailath reflected for a moment.

“It is very hard for me to think that I will not have the opportunity to meet with him again,” he said.

Kanwal Rekhi, managing director, Inventus Capital, was to start a project with Gupta.

He told indica, “Naren was a quintessential Silicon Valley Indian American success story. Techie, entrepreneur, VC and mentor – as if done by the central casting. A thorough gentleman and very generous of spirit.

“I first met him in 1991 when he called me to discuss a deal between his company and Novell. It didn’t go anywhere but we kept in touch. We did do a couple of deals together and were talking about a deal only last week.”

The Guptas had last visited him at his 50th wedding anniversary celebration at Mountain Winery.

Gupta was born on September 30, 1948. He received a BTech in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi in 1969, an MS in aeronautics from Caltech in 1970, and a PhD in applied mechanics from Stanford University in 1974.

In 1980, Gupta co-founded Integrated Systems Inc. (ISI), an embedded software company that he took public in 1990. He served as the company’s president and chief executive officer (CEO) until 1994 and as its chairman until 2000. After ISI merged with Wind River Systems in 2000, Gupta served as Wind River’s vice chairman as well as the company’s interim president/CEO. In 2006, Gupta founded and launched Nexus Venture Partners, a firm based in Menlo Park, California, with offices in Mumbai and Bangalore, India.

As an active adviser to entrepreneurs as well as large-company CEOs worldwide, he served as chairman of the board of Red Hat Inc. and as board member for several privately held companies. He was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in 1991 and named a distinguished alumnus of IIT in 1997. In 2004, he was named as a Distinguished Alumnus by the Caltech Alumni Association.

AGK Karunakaran, TiE Silicon Valley, president, told indica he first met Naren through TiE at a conference on embedded systems when he was running ISI.

“It was in the 90s and I clearly remember walking around his company Integrated Systems Incorporated, a big player in the market,” Karunakaran said. He recalled a keynote at the TiE CEO forum, where entrepreneurs, facing the threat of being replaced by venture capitals after the first or second round of financing, came together in a CEO forum to just avoid that.

“I remember him talking about what it takes to be a CEO, who can scale,etc., and that was so valuable,” Karunakaran said.

TiE Silicon Valley former president Venktesh Shukla, who also is a former chair of TiE Global, and founder and managing partner at Monta Vista Capital and described Gupta as his mentor and “a pillar of the Indian community.” He said whether it was the founding of TiE, the Indian Venture Capital Association, supporting various non-profits, or any other good community initiative, Gupta was generous with his time and money.

“In 2015 again, when we were hosting [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in Silicon Valley, he was one of the earliest supporters and helped facilitate a few key introductions for the PM’s visit,” Shukla said. “He was also helpful to me when I started my venture fund in terms of introducing me to potential investors and taking time to explain his way of doing venture investing right. In all this, he never ever wanted any credit or publicity. Helping a good cause was the ultimate satisfaction for him. Monta Vista launched in 2014 but he helped me in 2017.”

Shukla said that despite Gupta’s outsize influence, his enormous success as an entrepreneur and later as an investor, his humility was striking. He described Gupta as being grounded, always smiling, always willing to lend a hand.
“He will be missed. I have personally lost a mentor and a friend,” Shukla said.

MR Rangaswami, another venture capitalist and founder of Indiaspora echoed Shukla’s views, telling indica that he had the good fortune to meet Gupta several decades ago. Rangaswami said it was immediately apparent that Gupta was a visionary, a generous human being, and one of the earliest investors who saw India’s tech potential and focused on it.

“He was an Indiaspora Founders Circle member who graciously opened his home to our community events and supported a lot of philanthropic causes. We lost a great soul,” said Rangaswami, who hosted a summer soirée at the Gupta residence on July 25.

Gupta was a senior member of the Caltech Board of Trustees since 2011 and at the time of his death, Gupta was a member of its Nominating Committee and the Technology Transfer Committee.

In 2021, Gupta and his wife, Vinita, established the Naren and Vinita Gupta Fellows Program, which provides fellowship support for Caltech graduate students, with a preference for scholars in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. Gupta Fellows focus on developing smart devices and mathematical models, leveraging artificial intelligence to propel transformative innovations in scientific discovery, sustainability, and human health.

“Naren’s modesty belied his fearlessness in staking out new paths in the world of technology,” Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics said in a press note. “He believed fiercely in the power of fundamental research and the contributions that our students could make. The Caltech community will miss his leadership and friendship.

“Naren was an extraordinarily creative and energetic trustee, and a truly wonderful gentleman,” Dave Thompson, chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees, said in another press release. “His keen understanding of the power of technology to propel global harmony and economic growth challenged all of us to consider new ways the institute can expand its beneficial impact at home and around the world. On behalf of the entire Caltech community, the board extends its heartfelt condolences to Naren’s family during this difficult time.”

Prabhu Goel, a long-time friend of Gupta and chairman of Signet Solar who also visited the Gupta home to pay his condolences, in his own statement described Gupta as a man of incredible energy and passion for life. He said Gupta was an avid traveler who had set himself the goal of visiting more than 100 countries. Goel said Gupta’s inimitable laughter kept every conversation light and that his very warm personality attracted numerous people who considered him their friend. Goel said Gupta set a very high bar with his numerous accomplishments.

Like others, Goel said the loss of Gupta is truly incalculable and that he would be sorely missed.

 

[Above photo copyright: Naren Gupta. indica]