2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Nisha Garimalla, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Nisha Garimalla

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“A creative & strategic designer with a technical background and a focus on social impact.”

Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas

Fun fact about yourself: I used to be a pageant queen. I’m definitely not into it anymore, but it was fun while it lasted.  The title that was most meaningful to me was when I won Miss India Tristate (NJ, PA, DE) in 2007 because it was a culturally-themed pageant, which made me feel more connected to my roots and proud to represent the diaspora that I’m from.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  Stanford University, BS, (computer science); Stanford University, MS, (computer science)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Director of Good Grid in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? Director of Good Grid in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* Form + Fund Fellow. I was accepted into Berkeley Law’s Form + Fund program for entrepreneurs.  FORM+FUND teaches the core legal, financial, and organizational aspects of starting and scaling a venture-backed business.

* Class Representative for the Data Analysis course. I served as a liaison between teaching staff and students.

* Class Representative for the Creating Effective Organizations course. I served as a liaison between teaching staff and students

* Participated in LAUNCH Accelerator, one of Haas’ accelerator programs for early-stage startups. I pitched my organization, Good Grid, to refine the business model.

* Organized Cohort Connect, a new way for our classmates to connect and bond online.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m proud of the deep connections I’ve made in business school. In spite of, and in some ways because of, the pandemic, my cohort and I have cherished and co-created unique opportunities for connecting beyond “networking” even though we’re not in person.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of the first contract Good Grid ever secured, which was with the Arkansas Department of Community Correction (ADC). Good Grid is an organization that connects individuals to much-needed resources, including employment, housing, and other social services.

Our collaboration with ADC validated that a solution was needed to improve the lives of those coming out of prison. It also demonstrated local and state government leaders’ commitment to investing in a better Arkansas and better outcomes for all Arkansans, which aligned with Good Grid’s mission to provide resources to those in need in an accountable, transparent, and collaborative way. Through this collaboration, Good Grid, ADC, and state government leaders were able to invest in and improve the lives of hundreds of formerly incarcerated individuals by providing them with vital navigation services to food, employment, housing, and government assistance resources.

Why did you choose this business school? As I work in both the social impact and technology spaces, there was no better place than Haas. Situated on a campus that’s often on the front line of social justice movements, all while a stone’s throw away from Silicon Valley, Haas fosters leaders who’ve not only mastered practical & theoretical business frameworks, but have also mastered the art of leading from both empathy and strength.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is very tough because there are so many professors who have changed my life. But the Executive MBA Program Office recently organized an in-person Silicon Valley Immersion Week for us with Professor Toby Stuart and he was incredible!  I found Toby to be charming and just a no-nonsense, genuine person who was truly invested in our success.  He was brilliant and knew everything about VC!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Our Leadership Immersion Week was the first week I spent with my cohort and it was a real eye-opener for me. Of course, I’ve been to meetings where ice breakers were used for levity and building some amount of comfort, so I expected Leadership Immersion Week to be similar, but I was stunned. My peers and I allowed ourselves to be vulnerable with each other. We spoke about our tragedies, our aspirations, our fears and we really gave it our all. I respect Haas for showing us that strength and vulnerability are interdependent and for providing a space for us to do so.

What is the biggest myth about your school? (and how was it the same or different than what you experienced)
One myth about Haas is that there is a hyper “political correctness” that leaves little room for discussion. Haas indeed cultivates an atmosphere where hate and discrimination are not tolerated and commits to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. For example, opening events with an acknowledgement of the Native communities and territories that Berkeley now sits upon, is a step in this direction I was proud to witness Haas moving in. The Haas community brings an openness and emotionality to talk through and process conflicts and difficult conversations.

What surprised you the most about business school?  My cohort has surprised me the most with their sincerity and self-awareness. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group with as much collective EQ. This experience has really shattered (to my great pleasure) the business school stereotype of the cutthroat shark tank I grew up hearing about. I am optimistic about a world in which my cohort are among the leaders of the future, leading from the depth they possess more than the distance they’ve traveled.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I gave the application complete sincerity. In terms of the initial application, telling my story to myself and others helped me connect the dots of my own journey and develop a compelling narrative that reflected my life with truth and conviction. I would offer that advice to any prospective MBA candidate as I believe that being genuine and sincere is what allows us to be open to and offer true connection, not only during the application process but as leaders in our careers.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Rachel Stern is a really big deal.  Apart from being a wildly successful investor, she also owns a wine business with her partner in Napa, Calif. Rachel is articulate, emotionally intelligent, and strategic.  The way she can roll up her sleeves, analyze a case, and really get down to the core of the lessons is beyond the abilities of anyone I’ve ever met.  She also genuinely cares about her classmates and their well-being. I’d suggest keeping an eye on her – she may very well take over the world and I can’t sing enough of her praises. Did I mention she’s also a talented opera singer?

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit?
COVID has been pretty disruptive, but we’ve made it work. The biggest negative is that we can’t be around our classmates in person, and it’s disheartening sometimes to not be able to end class and get a beer together. However, we’ve found unique ways to bond – sending Slack messages (and GIFs) to each other, collaboratively taking notes, and hosting bachelorette viewing parties. I’m really proud of how we’ve gotten through this uncertain time. I think COVID has forced each of us to nurture that seed of true grit that’s in each of us – the same seed that told us to take a chance on business school during a pandemic and just ‘figure it out’.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother most influenced my decision. Though she did not attend business school, she started and ran a business with my father for decades. Throughout my life, I watched her manifest her vision and build her own company. I appreciated the nuance, balance, and complexity of managing multiple individuals and aligning their unique talents with the mission, while navigating and leading the creation of a product. I am inspired to use my creative energy in the same way and am grateful to have the opportunity to attend business school in order to make my vision a reality.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Give back to the community I grew up in.  I would love to create a scholarship for high school students in Little Rock, Arkansas. I attended Little Rock Central High School, one of the first sites of school integration in the U.S., thanks to the courageous acts of the Little Rock Nine. I am proud of the progress our school has made, but I’m acutely aware of the deep rifts and inequalities we still have left to address. I would love to be a part of the mending and building that lies ahead. I believe the best way to do that is to work with youth and use the scholarship to set them up with a firm educational foundation upon which to build a prosperous future.

Open a restaurant/community.  I love hosting large dinners for all my friends and family, with lots of food, wine, and games. Being able to create these spaces brings me so much joy. While I used to hold off on this dream for a “later” that came after all my other work and goals, I am realizing that this, too, is a part of my vision. I believe that everything you have to offer and have a natural affinity for will come together in complex, unexpected, and joyful ways to make an impact on the world.

What made Nisha such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“In a year that upended life for millions around the world, and exposed deep divisions and inequalities in our society, the need for selfless leaders who dedicate themselves to making the world a better place couldn’t be felt more acutely. These are the individuals who always Question the Status Quo so change can happen, who bring a level of Confidence without Attitude that inspires everyone around them, who maintain an ethos of Students Always so they can keep learning and growing, and whose actions push everyone to look “Beyond Yourselves”.

At the Haas School, we instill these Defining Leadership Principles in all our graduates, and no one exhibits these principles better than Nisha. Nisha’s commitment to using technology and entrepreneurship to bring about social change in different parts of the world is outstanding. She has worked to measure and improve educational performance among students in Indian villages, designed a platform to encourage microentrepreneurship for women in Kenyan slums, and implemented agricultural solutions to reduce poverty levels among farmers in rural China. She then leveraged her skills and experience to create Good Grid, an online platform that connects those seeking assistance in navigating difficult circumstances with community partners, mentors and advisors. The platform enables community partners to substantially scale up their impact through tools that help them provide a variety of services from housing and mental health issues to employment and banking needs.

Nisha brings this experience and dedication with her to the classroom and to the Haas community. She is eager to learn and apply the concepts to her work, and is equally excited to initiate social activities (Bachelorette parties anyone?) as well as rigorous group problem solving with her peers. Her intelligence, humility and a passion for positive change makes her a natural leader, the kind the world needs more of. I enthusiastically support her inclusion in the Best and Brightest for the Class of 2021.”

Sudheer Gupta, Ph.D.
Visiting Professor
Haas School of Business University of California, Berkeley


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