Five Questions For … Fannin Innovation Studio’s Atul Varadhachary

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created a post-doc association that became a model for other programs; I was the founding president. Part of what we did give people was exploring what alternatives there are beyond research. [Wife] Gauri had finished her residency and came to Houston for her fellowship. What I did—you got the Yellow Pages in those days—and wrote 300 letters to any company in town that had some connection to health, science, and business. They ranged all over the place: biotechs to consulting companies, and one of them was McKinsey. I had no clue; I just asked, ‘Can you send me some information about the company?’ I was really fortunate; they were at the tail end of that [hiring] cycle. If I’d been off by a day or two, I would’ve missed … one of the most transformative experiences of my life.

I came to Houston … and I got a very broad range of experience. I spent six months in Texarkana at a paper mill, at an Omaha railroad, utilities, oil companies, as well as hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.

Then I was at Agennix, and stayed there for nine years. I took the lead drug to Phase 3 [clinical trials] and then sold it to a German biotech company.

There was a feeling of comfort to be able to take a risk. I had a safety net because I had a wife that was working.

X: What’s the most embarrassing thing about yourself that you’re willing to admit publicly?

AV: I was a child movie star in a Bollywood movie, “Shaque.” It had Shabana Azmi, Vinod Khanna. It was really low budget, but ended up being successful. They needed someone who would play the son of the leading couple. We heard about it through a friend of a friend. They had me go try out for that. I actually got nominated for best supporting actor; there were subsequent offers for movie roles that I received after that. That could’ve been an alternative career … I don’t know how successful I would have been. In the credits, I am “Master Atul.”

I did almost get into another offer. It was after I was married. My parents got approached for me from a wannabe film star who was looking for a good house-husband who could support her career. Unfortunately, my wife said, no.

X: How do you define success?

AV:  It’s very context dependent. Success is all about how impact makes a difference in the lives of the people around you. In my profession, it could be getting a drug to market. To me, it’s really what difference to you make to things around you.

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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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