Thomas Thekkekandam JD/MBA '10

April 6, 2010Duke Law News

Thomas Thekkekandam JD/MBA ’10 often finds himself simultaneously involved in a number of entrepreneurial projects. But he says he isn’t the ideas guy.

“I don’t want to say that I’m not creative, but I always find myself humbled by the creativity of the people I work with,” Thekkekandam says. “I think of myself as more of an execution person in the group. Part of the reason I am attracted to legal studies is that lawyers are often really good at identifying problems and trouble shooting or identifying potential hurdles and figuring out how to work around them.”

Thekkekandam developed a passion for entrepreneurship during his undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill when he became involved with a student club called Hunger Lunch.

“The purpose of the group was to eradicate poverty by enlisting students to do entrepreneurial ventures on their college campuses and then use the money raised to fund sustainable development projects,” he says. “When we graduated, we decided we wanted to build it into a national nonprofit.”

Through the efforts of Thekkekandam and several other former UNC students, Hunger Lunch has transformed into Nourish International, a national nonprofit organization with chapters at 30 universities that have invested in 15 projects in 12 different countries. One of these projects, formed in partnership with MOCHE, Inc. in Ciudad de Dios, Peru, teamed a group of UNC Nourish students with members of the community to build a clean water system with the capacity to serve 5,000 people.

After his graduation in 2004, Thekkekandam worked as the co-director of a fundraising campaign for The Fund for Public Interest Research, then joined The Link Group to do market research for Fortune 500 companies. During this time he began thinking about pursuing a JD/MBA degree.

“I think the JD/MBA program almost doubles your opportunities,” he says, noting that he entered the program planning to do advocacy work, but then became increasingly interested in his business classes and the opportunities to do social good through entrepreneurial ventures. “If you already know you want to pursue a law degree — and especially if you want to go into corporate law — a year for a business degree is a small sacrifice and it makes you super marketable to most firms.”

While at Duke Law, Thekkekandam served as vice president of the JD/MBA Club, was a member of the Moot Court Board, and recently reached the semi-final round of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, a year-long entrepreneurship competition, with a concept called YourStory.com.

“The idea was to essentially create the Shutterfly for oral histories — to create a means for people to record and preserve their family stories, share them online in a safe environment where they can restrict access, and then provide a means for friends and family across the country to order a recording at the click of a button,” he explains.

After he and his business partner, Adam Mangone, a student at The Fuqua School of Business, both experienced the death of family members last year, Thekkekandam says they started talking about ways to share the stories of those individuals — both the stories the individuals had told themselves and stories told about them by others — and the idea for YourStory.com began to take shape.

“We see this as a jumping off point,” he says, noting that in the future they envision the possibility of transcribing the oral histories with the use of voice recognition software or tagging the stories with key words that could pull in photos or newspaper clippings relevant to the historical events being mentioned. “We think there are a lot of ways to go with it and the more we talk about it and explore it, the more sense it seems to make.”

Throughout his JD/MBA experience, Thekkekandam says he has enjoyed numerous classes that he believes have set him on track to achieve his career goals. Some that stand out include Business Associations taught by Professor Mitu Gulati, Professor Barak Richman’s Contracts course, and a new entrepreneurship series of courses offered through Fuqua’s Program for Entrepreneurs.

“[The entrepreneurship series], directed by Jon Fjeld, is a cycle of courses that takes you from the conception of an idea to the inception of a business,” he says. “It forces you to go through the very fundamental thought processes of what the consumer wants and what they’d buy, all the way to thinking through strategy, thinking through operations, knowing what you had to achieve and how much money it would take to achieve that, and anticipating challenges and obstacles. I think it was a really holistic approach.”

For his course project, Thekkekandam investigated the financial feasibility of developing the infrastructure for clean energy in developing countries. “In America, the energy derived from burning fossils is much cheaper than the energy derived from wind,” he says. “At the same exact cost, if you take wind energy to Central and South America or to Asia or even into Africa — if you can get the infrastructure — it is much cheaper than the cost for those same consumers burning fossils.”

Renewable energy is a field he hopes to learn more about as he joins McKinsey & Company as a consultant after graduation. “I think it’s a huge area of opportunity in the future,” says Thekkekandam, adding that he sees entrepreneurship as a way to achieve two goals: “I’m always interested in how you can blend the for profit world with a social mission.

“I want to make money just as much as anyone else and I think it’s safe to say that my colleagues do, too, but I think the question is ‘how can we make money in a really conscionable way?’ Even if we’re selling a product for profit, is the product doing something productive for humanity?”