SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Indian American entrepreneur Jay Chaudhry, founder and CEO of the cloud-based security service Zscaler, won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Northern California regional award in the “Public Companies in Technology” category at a black-tie event here June 8 evening.
Twenty-four entrepreneurs – among them four Indian Americans – competed in seven prize categories at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Northern California regional awards. The winners will now meet winners from other regions in Palm Springs Nov. 10 for the finals of the coveted award.
The Indian American competitors included Chaudhry; Mohit Aron, founder and CEO of Cohesity; Nick Mehta, CEO of Gainsight; and Nirav Tolia, founder and CEO of Nextdoor, a web platform and app that allows neighbors to connect with one another. Tolia lost to Beth Cross, founder and CEO of Ariat, a 25-year-old company that makes comfortable boots for equestrians.
Tolia later told India-West he had no expectations about being a finalist. “Ariat is a role model. It was an honor to be included.” Tolia and Cross competed with Andrew Paradise, founder and CEO of Skillz in the “Consumer Driven” awards category.
At least nine of the 24 honorees were first generation immigrants, hailing from India, Iran, China, Israel, and Central America. Several were older men and women, challenging the notion of entrepreneurship as a millennials-only endeavor.
San Jose, Calif.,-based Zscaler — a tech unicorn with a market valuation of $1.87 billion — held its initial public offering March 16. Chaudhry noted onstage as he accepted the EY award that the company, a pioneer in cloud-based security services, held its first earnings call the day before the awards ceremony. “The market reacted very well,” he said, eliciting a laugh from the elegantly-dressed audience, gathered in the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel.
In his acceptance speech, Chaudhry noted that he was born and raised in a tiny village at the foothills of the Himalayas, to farmer parents who had never gone to school. “They taught me the value of hard work and a good education,” he said.
The serial entrepreneur said he is proud that 30 percent of his employees at Zscaler are millionaires because of their stock options. He advised the crowd: “Great ideas are a dime a dozen. If you’ve thought of it, chances are someone else has already thought of it.”
“It is great execution that makes those ideas a reality.”
After accepting his award, Chaudhry told India-West offstage that he is committed to his company reaching its milestone of $1 billion in sales. “We’re at a quarter billion now; it’s just four-X,” he said with a laugh.
Chaudhry and his wife Jyoti have launched six start-ups, including SecureIT, Air2Web, CipherTrust, CoreHarbor, AirDefense, all helping customers fight off cyber security threats. The Chaudhrys launched their first start-up with their life savings, noted Jay Chaudhry onstage, crediting Jyoti for initiating the plunge.
In 2011, Chaudhry told the Mercury News as he launched Zscaler that the cloud security space was a $5 billion market that could be $10-$12 billion over the next 10 years.
Before the winners in each category were announced, each company presented a short video. Aron, competing in the Infrastructure and Operations category, said he had a vision of combining all the platforms a company uses into one platform to simply access to data, files, back-ups, and the like. Cohesity is a key innovator in the $50 billion secondary storage market. Aron said he was most proud of the team he has built within his company. He lost to Alex Solomon and Jennifer Tejada of PagerDuty
Mehta of Gainsight competed in the Software as a Service category. “Gainsight is all about customers being proactive with their clients,” he said, noting that the company’s software allows clients to retain their customers for longer periods of time and guide them towards buying more of their products or services. Mehta lost to Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications.
Rebecca Norris, partner at Ernst & Young LLP, and Entrepreneur of the Year program director, congratulated all the honorees onstage. “Because of your work, our region is known as the best in the world for entrepreneurship and innovation,” she said.
“These awards celebrate those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses in Northern California.,” said Norris. “The 2018 winners exemplify the spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership and we salute them for transforming individual lives, entire industries and economies.”
Also honored at the event was designer Shami Oshun – the youth scholarship recipient – who organized a fashion show featuring several of her flower-themed creations. Peter Pallares Torries, CEO of the Center for Social Dynamics, which works with developmentally-delayed children, received a special recognition for social entrepreneurship.
Kailesh Karavadra, managing partner of EY West Region Growth Markets, spoke about the finals event to be held this November, where top entrepreneurs from throughout the nation would be featured, and announced that Kelly Clarkson would be headlining the entertainment segment.