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Discovering Himself Through the Lens of Entrepreneurship

Sanjay Zimmermann ’15 always wanted to visit India and learn about his roots. He spent the first part of his life in Germany, where his mom was born, living there for 10 years before his family moved to Canada.

Sanjay Zimmermann ’15 in New Delhi, India

Sanjay Zimmermann ’15 in New Delhi, India  Photo: Sanjay Zimmermann

But his dad grew up in an orphanage in India. With no family to visit, Zimmermann never made the trip. “I didn’t want to go to India as a tourist,” he says.

So he wondered what the country was like. In the meantime, he heard stories of India from his father. In high school, he became friends with a few classmates who were from India. Then he came to Babson. “So many students are from India,” says Zimmermann. “I started making friends from all over the country.” Suddenly, a trip to his father’s homeland made sense. He could include visits to his friends, who could also help him choose which cities to see to experience true Indian culture.

Being a Weissman Scholar, Zimmermann decided to apply for the scholarship’s accompanying stipend to fund the trip. But how, he wondered, could he fulfill the stipend’s education component? At first he considered writing an essay on business in India. Then, as he wandered around the Babson campus, the Define Entrepreneurship campaign began showing up—everywhere. “I started thinking, there are all these entrepreneurs in India, and all these new businesses coming up, so it would be really interesting to go and meet entrepreneurs, talk to them, and get their definitions of entrepreneurship,” he says.

Entrepreneurship intrigued Zimmermann on a personal level as well. His father is an entrepreneur, and business was a common subject at the dinner table. He decided to make a documentary about the stories of Indian entrepreneurs, which would bring in his other love, film, a passion he has developed since taking an after-hours class during high school.

With his financing set and plans mapped out, Zimmermann arrived in Mumbai in early July for an eight-week stay. He then trekked to 11 cities, traveling by train for more than 3,400 miles in a huge loop around the country. Along the way, he talked with more than 35 entrepreneurs, almost all of whom were Babson alumni. “The alumni were so amazing,” he says. “Some were like, ‘Hey, come stay at our place. This is so cool, the project that you’re doing.’ And they introduced me to other alumni.”

The entrepreneurs he interviewed represented a vast array of industries, from information technology to health care to social ventures to entertainment to manufacturing. “I saw the same drive and passion in these entrepreneurs. They’re always trying to do something another way, a different way, a better way—constantly trying to improve,” says Zimmermann. “I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, about the broader implications it has, not just for one person but the big social change and value you can add to society by being an entrepreneur. It’s motivated me to think about starting a business some day.”

Coming back to his roots, Zimmermann also learned a lot about his heritage and his father. “My dad used to tell me all these stories that had Indian values in them, but they didn’t always make sense to me. For example, he used to tell me about the importance of family, and how important it is to greet the elders. But I’d never go to my friend’s house and see their grandparents. In India, most people live with their grandparents. There is a custom of respect,” he says. “Also, just being hospitable and helping others. In India, even if a person has very little, they’ll still try to give help to someone else. My better understanding of my dad is one personal thing that will always stick with me.”

Zimmermann hopes to film a documentary of entrepreneurs in another country, most likely Brazil, next summer. “I understand the world a little bit better after having been exposed to India,” he says. “That’s why I want to do this in different countries. I see the value you get out of every country, every culture.”
Donna Coco