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University Research & Startups Are 'Completely Synergistic,' says Entrepreneur Jignesh Patel

Jignesh Patel utilizes his research as a computer science professor to help create new startups that address the needs of the changing data landscape.

A native of Bombay, India, Jignesh Patel never touched a computer until he went to college. But he knew that computer science was an exciting area where a lot was happening, so he chose it as his major.

Credit UW-Madison
Jignesh Patel is an expert on data management at UW-Madison and uses his big data skills to help create successful technology startups.

Patel came to UW-Madison in 1991 to get his master's degree and Ph.D, then left for a professorship at University of Michigan. He returned to Madison in 2008 to join the faculty and has built a solid reputation as a computer science professor. He's also built a strong record of entrepreneurial success.

"What does it mean to have a real impact for your research? It's when it actually makes it into the hands of people where they can actually use it in direct ways," says Patel. "And as a researcher, you hope for someone else to carry that torch to that final stage. And what was really empowering was seeing that you could do it, too."

Patel has co-founded three tech startups, all of which have been acquired — one of them by Twitter. He’s currently founder and CEO of a fourth startup, DataChat, which has what he calls a conversational intelligence platform that helps companies understand their data.

"If you know what you want to do and how you want to get there, this is the fastest way to do it. [Startups are] not for everyone, it's definitely not accepted by everyone. There are definitely people who say you do it at the expense of research. For me, it is completely synergistic and it is a far more productive way to get impact from research," says Patel.

Here are some tips Patel has for other entrepreneurs:

  • Constantly work on product/market fit: The market is always moving, so continuously work to see how your product is still relevant.
  • Hire great people: One of the big advantages Wisconsin has is very talented people who are looking for great opportunities.
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