Alumni Profile: Dhaya Lakshminarayanan

Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (GECD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Register to hear Dhaya speak on campus on Monday, May 14th at 6pm in 4-149.

Dhaya Lakshminarayanan

Education

headshot of Dhaya Lakshminarayanan

MIT, BS in Urban Studies and Planning MIT,
MCP/BS Energy Economics/Infrastructure Finance

Biography

Dhaya Lakshminarayanan is a sought-after consultant, storyteller, performer & speaker. A sample list of her clients includes Adidas, Agni Energy, Intuit, Peet’s Coffee, Reebok, Seven Figures Management, Stanford University, Twitter, Yelp, entrepreneurs, and political candidates. She has been an invited speaker at over a hundred panels and conferences. She was hired by the Entrepreneurs Organization to speak about Entrepreneurship, Leadership & Innovation in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Calcutta, and Kathmandu. She brings humor and storytelling to all her endeavors.  

She hosted the Emmy Award winning series “High School Quiz Show” which premiered on the WGBH in Boston. She was a featured Storyteller on the PBS station, KQED, is a regular contributor to NPR’s “Snap Judgment” a storytelling program, which Ira Glass called, "Amazing. Like a cousin of ‘This American Life’ that grew up in a wildly different neighborhood…” She hosts the Moth Story Slam, a monthly storytelling event, in San Francisco, which consistently sells out 200+ seats.

At Omidyar Network, $400M a mission-based, return-focused investment fund headed by eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, Dhaya was an Investment Manager, responsible for sourcing, executing, closing, and managing both venture capital and non-profit investments. Her for-profit investments included: Innocentive, CircleLending (acquired by Virgin), Prosper, Meetup, Voxiva, Eventful, PatientsLikeMe, and Collaborative Drug Discovery on whose Board of Directors she served. Her non-profit investments include Myelin Repair Foundation, KaBoom!, Sunlight Foundation, and Guidestar.

Dhaya has also been a management consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton and also worked in asset management for Parnassus Investments, a $1 billion socially responsible mutual fund where she focused on the health services sector. She received a research grant to study sustainable development and renewable energy entrepreneurship in Cuba.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of City Planning. Her graduate work focused on energy economics and infrastructure finance in Puerto Rico. She helped teach negotiations to second-year MBA students at the Sloan School of Management.  

Dhaya was awarded the Liz Carpenter Award for Political Comedy. The award was previously given to Samantha Bee and Wanda Sykes. KQED named her one of the twenty “Women to Watch” a series celebrating women artists, creatives and makers in the San Francisco Bay Area who are pushing boundaries in 2016. She was named Best Comedian 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s “Best of the Bay” Readers’ Poll. Comedy Central Asia crowned her Grand Prize Winner of “The Ultimate Comedy Challenge” filmed in Singapore. Her solo play, “Nerd Nation” received grants as well as a sold-out workshop run in San Francisco. She has worked with the following: Janeane Garofalo, Marc Maron, Greg Behrendt, Jello Biafra, Dick Gregory, Anthony Jeselnik, Norm Macdonald, Maz Jobrani, and Greg Proops. The Boston Globe, The Bay Guardian, and The San Jose Mercury News have all run profiles about her.

Dhaya hosting the “High School Quiz Show” on WGBH Boston

Interview

What influenced your decision to major in Urban Studies & Planning and Energy Economics/Infrastructure Finance?

I wanted to solve large complex problems that sat at the intersection of public policy, finance, economics, engineering, and business.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Variety, constant learning, creating my own future.

What motivates you to do the work that you do?

Social impact and creativity. 

What is the biggest challenge you encountered in your career and how did you overcome this challenge?

Wanting to leave a place and not knowing what is next. Building yourself rather than waiting for an institution or brand to define you. Overcame both with a multipronged approach: seek out friends, build a support network, and embrace being different.

What professional development activities did you participate in when you were in school and early on your career?

Dormitory government (yay East Campus) and the dormitory council (I was president).

What professional development activities do you participate in now?

Speaking on panels, making time for women and minority entrepreneurs, giving of my time and skills pro bono.

Looking back on your experience at MIT, what advice would you give yourself if you knew then what you know now?

Take more psychology classes, it will help you deal with difficult/unpleasant people.

What advice would you give to current students that are interested in pursuing the same undergraduate and graduate majors as you or a career in finance, consulting, television, or comedy?

Prioritize your health.

Do you have any tips for networking or job searching for current students and recent graduates? 

Barely. I created my own job! 

What is something that you did not do at MIT that you wish you had done while you were here? 

Learn to program better and hang out at the media lab more.

What is the best career advice that you have ever received? 

Negotiate and do it well. From MIT alum and former professor, Paul F. Levy.

What does “work-life balance” mean to you and what do you do to maintain a work-life balance?

Dhaya on “The High School Quiz Show”

I exercise, I cook for others, I have gone on almost 10 silent meditation retreats, make time for friends.

What do you like to do outside of work (e.g., to relax, for fun, as a hobby, on your free time, etc.)? 

Part of what I do is perform on stage, so in a sense I am someone else's fun and relaxation. 

Do you participate in any extracurricular or volunteer opportunities? If so, how do you manage your time and balance your professional and personal responsibilities? 

Yes. Learning about how to deal with people is more important than an ‘A’. Allow your grades to slip a bit.