Five Questions For … Fannin Innovation Studio’s Atul Varadhachary

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his personal life. I was with him when he saw patients, basically he was, like, ‘Pay me what you can.’ When I was very little in Mumbai, there was a street vendor who sold peanuts and sometimes he would just give us some peanuts. Years later I found out, my dad wouldn’t take money from him.

He actually introduced me to one of the philanthropies that I’m very involved in, Pratham. I worked with Pratham in ’98-’99 for a year. My dad, who was the one to make the introduction, has started a health program. That time was when I really realized how important his influence was, when I was talking about it to my daughters, trying to communicate how we can have an impact on others.

X: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

AV: The two things I wanted to be were, number one, an astrophysicist and I wanted to be an astronaut. That was another reason I went into medicine. If I wanted to do astrophysics, I would have to go to the US and there was no way I was going to leave India.

[Varadhachary did emigrate to the US in 1987.] Then I decided I did want to be an astronaut. But you had to be a US citizen. The year I became a citizen was when the program got shut down after the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. By the time they revived the program, I was, shall we say, too old. But it didn’t stop me from applying, so I have the rejection.

X: Where do you think your drive comes from?

AV: To be honest, I don’t see myself as being that driven. In many ways, I was kind of … I’m a big believer in random walks, experimentation. My whole life has been that way. I almost feel like I ended up where I was because of a series of events. I decided I wanted to do research; I applied to 50 PhD programs in the US. It was 1986, ’87, there were not a lot of medical school graduates applying for PhD science work. I had no clue what I was getting into. I sent out an application every week and only stopped when I got my first acceptance at the University of Louisville. I ended up at [Johns] Hopkins; one of the few places that people know about in India. I loved it there. After the PhD was when I realized I wanted to do something other than bench research all my life. This was in the early ’90s and this idea was even more absurd at the time.

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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