Conversations with Innovators — Q&A with Sejal Desai of Entrepreneurs for North Texas
This week we are talking with Sejal Desai, Program Director for Entrepreneurs for North Texas (EFNT), a program of Communities Foundation of Texas.
Sejal manages community engagement and philanthropic strategies for small to mid sized companies in North Texas. She is also the Founder of SevaYatra, a social venture that offers short-term service project opportunities at NGOs in India.
In her career, Sejal has worked with over 300 entrepreneurs and 35 venture-backed companies and investors.
1. With so many opportunities in Dallas to volunteer what makes EFNT unique?
EFNT is a Program of the Communities Foundation of Texas and we facilitate community involvement and philanthropy for small and mid-size companies who want to make a beneficial impact on their communities.
We are a membership based organization that provides a platform for small to mid-sized companies to connect to the nonprofit community through meaningful and strategic volunteer engagements. We bring together like-minded good corporate citizens to give back together – so they are doing well while doing good. Out platform allows management and employees of different companies to serve alongside others in our community and this offers a rich volunteer experience at our carefully curated community engagement programs throughout the year. We also customize programming for our members. Learn more at http://efnt.org/membership-benefits/.
2. Freedom Day is one of EFNT’s biggest annual events. What is it and how can people get involved?
In 2002, Freedom Day was set up as a day of service to commemorate the lives that were lost and forever changed on September 11, 2001. Since 2002, over 10000 volunteers have served in close to 50 different nonprofits in our community. For the past few years, we are focusing on supporting our veteran community by either serving at nonprofits that work with Veterans or by serving alongside Veterans at Freedom Day. If a company is interested in participating in Freedom Day, it can either become an annual member of EFNT or sign up as a Freedom Day sponsor.
3. We read recently that Craig Hall, founder of Hall Group and fund holder at Communities Foundation of Texas, structured a complex donation of two premium restaurant spaces in the Dallas Arts District to his fund at CFT. Can you tell us more about that and Communities Foundation of Texas?
Craig Hall recently donated premium real estate to his fund at CFT. The proceeds will benefit local art organizations, such as the Dallas Opera. Find out more at www.cftexas.org/craig-hall.
4. How can companies sign up to join EFNT?
There are three ways to become an EFNT Member. You can either pay an annual membership fee based on the number of employees in DFW; open a fund at the Communities Foundation of Texas and have your first year of membership fees waived or sponsor an EFNT event. For details please refer http://efnt.org/join-efnt/
5. What piece of advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur starting out?
Start a business with an idea you are either passionate about or are knowledgeable in. It’s a tough journey and only passion and knowhow can help you survive it.
Find a group of people that can serve as good advisors/mentors – who will not just validate your ideas but challenge you.
Find ways to get involved in the community and build a culture of giving back from the beginning.
6. What’s your “one thing” that most drives your professional success?
Authenticity – I have been fortunate to carve out a career path based on my passions and so I am very authentic in my dealings with people. I am sure that has had a role to play. Hard work, honesty and integrity have played their part too.
7. What are the 5 things you have learned as an entrepreneur and program director of EFNT?
These are some lessons I have learned along the way:
1. Define Success for yourself and be happy with your own definition of it. Do not let others define success for you. 2. Be grateful at every stage in your life. 3. Hope for some early failures – as that will teach you a lot. 4. Count your wealth in terms of the number of meaningful relationships you have built not $$ in the bank. 5. If you were lucky, pay it forward.
Sejal Desai, Program Director of Entrepreneurs for North Texas
Sejal Desai is the Program Director for Entrepreneurs For North Texas (EFNT) where she manages community engagement and philanthropic strategies for small to mid sized companies in North Texas. Sejal is also the Founder of SevaYatra, a social venture that offers short-term service project opportunities at NGOs in India. Sejal previously worked as a Principal at MHT Partners, a boutique investment bank based in Dallas where she worked on cross-border merger and acquisitions primarily between US and Indian companies. She was also a Co-Founder and Principal of STARTech Early Ventures, a seed stage venture firm, that invested in early stage technology ventures in Texas. She also led various entrepreneurial education and training efforts as CEO of STARTech Foundation, a sister organization of STARTech Early Ventures. In addition to STARTech, Sejal also co-founded and sold a hands-on science education business, Mad Science of Denton County. Prior to her work in the U.S., Sejal served as a manager in the corporate advisory services division for Ernst & Young in Mumbai, India for a few years where she worked on various foreign inward investment projects, valuation as well as due diligence studies. She began her career at D.J. Shukla & Co., where she handled personal taxes and conducted audits for domestic corporations.
In her career, she has worked with over 300 entrepreneurs and 35 venture-backed companies and investors. She also has extensive working knowledge of the philanthropic community in India and US. Sejal has served on the boards of The Dallas Assembly, thinkIndia Foundation and Texans Credit Union and On-Target Supplies & Logistics Ltd. She currently serves on the Board of the DFW South Asian Film Festival and on the Philanthropy Council of North Texas Food Bank. She also serves on the Leadership and Education Advisory Councils for the American India Foundation and is a graduate of Leadership Richardson. Sejal holds a Masters in Liberal Studies from Southern Methodist University. She has an MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas and she is a Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.
Sejal lives in Dallas with her husband, Hemang and two children, Mohan and Maya.
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