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Managing Change

Jun/03/2023 / by Abhijit Masih

Shilpa Sanger has donned many hats. She is an orthodontist turned homemaker turned entrepreneur turned angel investor. She is an active member of the largest educational NGOs in the US – Pratham. Currently, she works as a full time Business Manager at a leading long-short hedge fund company – Geosphere Capital Management. Sanger has managed her professional and personal journey through her sense of curiosity, willingness to learn and working hard. She uses valuable life lessons from the East and the West to stand out from a crowd and to bring success and excellence to every role that she takes on in life. Sanger spoke to SEEMA from her office in Miami, Florida about the fluidity of her professional life which she managed by blending the best of both her worlds. 

Growing up in a Marwari family in Mumbai

I was the oldest of 5. We have 4 girls, and my brother is the youngest. My parents did not graduate from college. My mom only studied up to fifth grade in the village, and my dad completed his twelfth grade to join the family business. Circumstances did not allow them, but they encouraged all of us to get postgraduate degrees. I went on to join Dental School in Mumbai, received some additional training at UCLA, and graduated as an orthodontist, and held a private practice in Mumbai for 12 years.

Moving to the US

I was determined to pursue my career. My parents had emphasized that education and being financially independent was so important for a woman. On one of my trips to New York City for a continuing education program at NYU, I met my now husband. We got married after dating for 18 months. He lived here, so I had to sell my practice and move to New York City in 1999.

Orthodontist to homemaker

It was a big decision. When I look back at the years in Mumbai, I think of them as phase one of my life. Since I wanted to have kids, I decided against going back to Dental School and get a license here, which would have meant another 7 years. The clock was ticking; I wanted to have babies and raise a family. Our son was born in 2000 and our daughter arrived 18 months later, so I plunged full time into motherhood. So raising kids became a career for me and I applied all the energy and skills towards this new role. I did not miss or regret giving up my practice when I moved here. I took this as an opportunity to build my community and focus primarily on my children.

The making of the angel investor

When both the kids got to middle school I had a lot more time on hand and immense amount of energy. I would love going to interior design shows. I happened to discover a startup called, Bespoke Design, which commissioned artists to build furniture and other functional objects. I really liked what they were doing. I asked the two co-founders – how did you come up with this idea and who funded you? They told me it was Golden Seeds who invested in them. They introduced me to the founders of Golden Seeds. I was so fascinated that a group can enable someone like these two entrepreneurs to create a company and live their dreams. 

The power couple Arvind and Shilpa Sanger

The world of finance and Investment

I was raised in a business family. Investing is not new to me. I dabbled in it a little bit in India and here when I had time, I found an organization like Golden Seeds. The opportunity to meet so many different entrepreneurs was something I was drawn to, and it creates an environment in which women entrepreneurs have the opportunity not only to present their ideas, but receive constructive feedback and also apply for funding. Angel investing was a perfect way to get started by looking at companies who did not demand a large amount of money. I was also meeting young entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas.

Investing in women

We invest mainly in women led companies. One of the requirements is having a woman in the C suite, and we only invest in US based companies. A recent study shows that women led companies receive significantly less investment capital than their male peers. Its 53% less on an average and yet within two years they generate higher revenues for dollar invested. The absolute revenues are usually greater for women-led companies. So it was a no brainer to invest in them.

Lending a hand to social work 

Pratham is an innovative learning organization which has been created to improve the quality of education in India. Their scope and scale is tremendous because it reaches children and youths all across India. As the largest NGOs in India, it focuses on high quality, low cost and replicable interventions to address gaps in the education system. Arvind, my husband and I really liked everything that they were doing and how far a dollar went. That drew us to this organization and slowly and steadily I got roped into helping them organize their galas and salons.

Managing hedge fund operations

Since angel investing and Pratham is not a 9 to 5 job, when our son left for college in 2018, I joined Geosphere Capital Management, a hedge fund in New York City and managed key functions on the operations side of its business. After 2020, when I became an empty nester, I started working fulltime taking on more responsibilities as the Business Manager. In 2022 Geosphere also opened an office in Miami which is where I work most of my time.

Advice on managing different roles

In my life, I have blended values from the East and the West. Integrating the good from both cultures makes me stand out even more. For the ones who have migrated like me, the first advice is don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to approach anyone for advice. We all have a toolbox of skills that we have acquired over our lifetime, and I personally believe that these can be applied across professions and across careers. If you’re curious, willing to work hard and learn – you can. I did it and I’m sure so can others. And the last piece of advice that I would give young South Asian women is that the universe is connected and we all have to help in connecting people with each other. That’s how we can all help each other and uplift each other.

PQ Suggestions:

“Raising kids became a career for me and I applied all the energy and skills towards this new role.”

“I was raised in a business family. Investing is not new to me.”

“In my life, I have blended values from the East and the West. Integrating the good from both cultures makes me stand out even more.”

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