Philanthropist, community builder and tech entrepreneur Rupal Thanawala named TechPoint’s 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient
Rupal Thanawala was honored as the 2023 Trailblazer Award winner during the 24th annual TechPoint Mira Awards gala presented by UKG, Salesforce and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation on Saturday, April 22 at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis.
TechPoint’s Mira Awards celebrate the best of tech in Indiana each year, including recognizing people, products and companies for their outstanding achievements. The Trailblazer Award specifically recognizes visionaries whose contributions have had lasting and significant impact on the state and its technology ecosystem. Trailblazers are among the tech community’s most inspiring and influential players. They are innovative risk-takers whose achievements and bold leadership are catalysts for growth and success.
“There are three ways that I would describe Rupal, a deep passion for her community, a tireless dedication to the community, and Rupal, definitely, is a connector within our tech community,” said Tim Coleman, senior vice president and chief technology officer at a Fortune 500 Healthcare company. “It’s been awesome to see her grow and develop on her journey as a leader.”
Thanawala is well known in the Indiana tech community. She and her husband co-founded Trident, a consulting company; she has worked in tech roles and leadership at Accenture, PwC, TenthPin Consulting and BearingPoint; and she has extensively advised leading life sciences companies including Eli Lilly and Company, Elanco, Roche Diagnostics, Dow Chemical and Bristol Myers Squibb on global digital transformation, mergers and acquisitions and divestiture activities.
She serves on boards that champion causes related to diversity, equity and inclusion, education and STEM, technology and healthcare. She has been president of the Asian American Alliance and a board member of the IU Luddy School of Informatics and Computer Engineering, Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), TechPoint Foundation for Youth and TheSnapLink, as well as tech editor of the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper. She is a celebrated podcaster, public speaker and columnist.
She was also recognized as the Torchbearer Award recipient by the Indiana Commission for Women, Trailblazer by NAWBO, and a 100 Hero by United Way of Central Indiana. She received the Rosa Parks Champion of Diversity Award from Recorder Media Group and the Beacon Award from BearingPoint.
She gained national acclaim in 2021 when she worked with “Operation Allies Welcome,” an effort to help Afghan refugees resettle in the U.S. Thanawala mobilized donations and technology for a “Digital Literacy Project” that created classrooms in tents for kids and computer labs for adults. The effort earned her WRTV’s Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good.
“Rupal recognizes the impact of technology in the community and what it can have,” said Aaron Batt, federal coordinating officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Operation Allies Welcome. “I was thinking about other basic needs. She understood the value and the importance of that technology. She deployed a computer lab at Camp Atterbury. She set up the computers and got them donated. She carried that forward in this initiative and allowed them to be in a stronger position than I think they would’ve been had she not.”
Thanawala’s networking resulted in her collecting more than 500 devices, eventually serving 7,200 refugees at Camp Atterbury and 92,000 more refugees across nine military bases nationwide. The effort evolved into setting up computer labs where they could learn basic computer skills, English and other subjects, complete legal forms, write resumes, apply for jobs, search for housing and stay in touch with family members as they resettled in the U.S.
The refugee work came even as she mentored young girls to pursue STEM careers and women to be entrepreneurs and worked to raise awareness of tech careers to Hoosiers from underrepresented groups. That included pitching Robert Shegog, president and CEO of Recorder Media Group, to create space in the Indianapolis Recorder.
“Rupal came on board at the Recorder as the tech editor about four years ago telling me, you need to do more in tech. We need to do more to get minorities in tech, more women in tech, teaching more youth about tech,” Shegog said. “So, I brought her on board as the tech editor. To be honest, that’s one of the best things I’ve probably done. It has paid off so much over the past years. We have received national awards.”
As a young girl living in India, Thanawala, never imagined that she would lead a global IT business, mingle with state and national policy leaders, or write about technology for a U.S. newspaper. She didn’t even think she would go to college. And she certainly didn’t see herself as a role model for young girls or a person who could mobilize thousands to support community causes ranging from getting girls into tech careers to helping Afghan immigrants gain access to technology that would enable them to adjust to life in a new country.
Thanawala’s parents, who owned a small grocery store, encouraged her education, despite the fact that she did not graduate from elementary school. In their family tradition, women did not study beyond high school and did not work outside the home, so there was little thought to Thanawala having a future as a business leader.
As a teen, though, friends encouraged her to attend the University of Mumbai. Her parents supported that goal as best they could but paying the $120 entry fee required an installment plan. Thanawala persevered and earned a bachelor’s degree in Bio-medical Engineering from the University of Mumbai and later earned a Master of Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
When Thanawala and her husband, Amit, emigrated to the U.S., her visa didn’t initially allow her to work in their new home. Her early years in Indiana focused on her family, which grew to include two sons. In 2002, with her husband Amit, she launched Trident, an IT consulting firm that provides Systems Applications and Products (SAP) consulting services and has built innovative and first-of-its kind global compliance solutions for e-invoicing. A fully bootstrapped enterprise, Trident has scaled up over its two decades and now serves clients in multiple countries and employs 50 people worldwide.
In building her businesses, she said failure was her biggest teacher, and the road was often rocky. In lean times, she brought her skills to bear for other tech companies, but never stopped nurturing Trident. She learned that she wasn’t an expert in everything and needed help. But she kept going, juggling different roles as necessary along the way, blazing a trail for others.
See All Award Winners from the 2023 Mira Awards Gala.
TechPoint, the nonprofit, industry-led growth initiative for Indiana’s digital innovation economy, honored the state’s top successes and innovations during the 24th annual Mira Awards gala with presenting sponsors UKG, Salesforce and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
A total of 18 award winners and honorees were chosen from the 141 outstanding people, companies and products that were selected as nominees for their achievements during the 2022 calendar year.
Fifty-two independent, volunteer judges spent more than 850 total hours evaluating applications, interviewing nominees, and selecting this year’s winners. Judges included an impressive roster of company founders, CEOs and presidents, CTOs, CIOs, engineers and other industry professionals.
TechPoint’s Mira Awards are named after the first of the brilliant variable stars to be discovered—the Mira Star. It is also the Latin root meaning “worthy of admiration, wonderful, marvelous.” The awards represent the best of tech in Indiana each year.