As a teenager living in India before the internet revolution, Gaurav Garg, BS ’88, MS ’90, relied on the Fiske Guide to Colleges and word-of-mouth to learn about Washington University. He liked what his research uncovered. Family friends spoke highly of the university, and it offered degrees in his areas of interest: computer science and electrical engineering. Still, attending the university was something of a leap into the unknown. “I didn’t know anybody there,” he says of his arrival on campus. “In fact, I didn’t know anybody within 500 miles of St. Louis.”
Despite the initial challenge of unfamiliar surroundings, Mr. Garg thrived at Washington University, immersing himself in the humanities and economics as well as engineering courses. This broad education helped ignite his intellectual curiosity and laid the foundation for a successful career as a tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist. “In my world, everything is interdisciplinary,” he says. “Innovation comes from the fact that you’re breaking down silos. I’ve always been very thankful that I experienced that at the university at such a young age.”
Inspired by the training he received—and the relationships he has formed with faculty members, administrators, and students as a member of the School of Engineering & Applied Science National Council—Mr. Garg recently made a $1 million commitment to the school with his wife, Komal Shah, an investor, art collector, and former tech industry executive. The gift, which pushed the engineering school over the $150 million mark for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, will establish the Gaurav Garg and Komal Shah Lectureship and support undergraduate scholarships, facilities, and other needs.
The passion for pursuing new opportunities that brought Mr. Garg to Washington University has played a central role in his career. After several years of working as an engineer for a data communications firm, he founded Redback Networks in 1996. The company developed hardware and software to manage broadband services. In 2001, he decided to try his hand at investing. It proved to be a smart move. As a partner at Sequoia Capital, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm, he demonstrated a knack for identifying and nurturing promising technology companies.
In 2013, he joined forces with a partner to found Wing, which invests in early-stage business technology startups. Recognized as one of the world’s leading venture capitalists, Mr. Garg has made multiple appearances on Forbes magazine’s Midas List of top tech investors and was named Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist of the Year at the 2014 Technology Fast 500 Awards. He has received Distinguished Alumni Awards from both Washington University and its School of Engineering & Applied Science.
Mr. Garg, who recently was elected to the Board of Trustees for Washington University, is impressed with the St. Louis startup scene, including the Cortex Innovation Community, formed in 2002 by the university and other area institutions. “I was stunned at how much is going on at Cortex,” he says. “It shows that if you want to have great, innovative places, you have to pull from centers of world-class excellence like Washington University.”
Reflecting on his career and his involvement with Washington University, Mr. Garg is quick to point out the similarities. “The greatest pleasure of being a venture capitalist is watching someone build an institution,” he says. “Likewise, there are a lot of people at the university who can do great things, and I want to hang on for the ride.”