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Anil Rathi ’97

Some people are afraid of change, but Anil Rathi knows that change spawns new ideas.

Libby Blanchette
March 03, 2014
Anil Rathi

UW Majors: Business, Marketing, Certificate in International Business, Wisconsin School of Business
Age: 38 | Los Angeles, California
Founder and CEO, Skild

Some people are afraid of change, but Anil Rathi knows that change spawns new ideas. As the creator of the Innovation Challenge, which he describes as the world's largest and most established online innovation competition, Rathi has been matching talented students with top companies since 2002.

"The brightest and most creative students from all over the world are matched with leading companies in an experience designed to address sponsors' most pressing business and social innovation challenges," he says.

Today, the Innovation Challenge is recognized globally not only as a means for businesses to get fresh ideas and talent, but also as a way for students to win cash prizes, network and gain real-world experience. Many students also benefit from the competition through securing internships and jobs.

"Competitions create a level playing field among participants and provide a vehicle for organizations to reward — and benefit from — creative thinking," Rathi says.

As founder and CEO of Skild, the online software platform he designed to administer the Innovation Challenge, Rathi has given organizations worldwide the opportunity to host their own innovation challenges. Hosts are able to easily register participants, collect entries and enable judges to evaluate and score submissions. This cloud-based platform has powered nearly 200 competitions for Fortune 500 companies, universities, government agencies, nonprofits and foundations around the globe.

"Skild is democratizing the power of online challenges to inspire creativity, capture imagination and promote social good through crowd sourcing," he says.

But connecting businesses with fresh talent and students with valuable opportunities is only a part of Rathi's vision. For more than 10 years, he has helped to foster great ideas through competitions — many of which have had a positive impact on health care, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and the environment.

Recently, he helped to facilitate a competition for the Active Schools Acceleration Project as part of ChildObesity180, an initiative at Tufts University dedicated to reversing childhood obesity. The competition drew students and teachers from schools across the nation who generated outstanding ideas on how to increase physical activity among children. The best of those ideas are now being implemented in educational institutions nationwide. In total, nine winning schools were awarded grants of $25,000 or more.

Rathi says he has always enjoyed dreaming about the future and what the future will look like. That's why his guiding philosophy is a quote by computer scientist Alan Kay: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Rathi is definitely living up to that.

In his own words

What do you miss most about campus?

People-watching at the Terrace, canoeing on Lake Mendota and playing golf at the University Ridge Golf Course.

What is your proudest UW achievement?

I was elected co-chair of the diversity committee on the student government for Associated Students of Madison. I spearheaded the organization of a 25th anniversary Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1995 at the Madison Civic Center. It was a call for peace that brought together the children and grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Cesar Chavez and Black Elk.

What advice would you offer graduating seniors?

Take advantage of every real-world opportunity to sport your creativity and market yourself as a team player and innovative problem-solver.

What are you reading now?

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Week — to stay on top of current events.

What three items would you take to a desert island?
A knife, a saw and solar-powered smartphone with GPS.

Who is your hero?

Walt Disney. I really respect his business and life philosophy. He's the Godfather of Creativity.

What do you do in your free time?

Spend time with family, play golf and cook.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Long trips off the grid and outside the U.S.

What is your favorite quote?

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
— Alan Kay

If you could trade places with any person for a week, who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain.

What would you be if you hadn't chosen your current career path?

I can't imagine not being an entrepreneur.

What's next for you?

Help catalyze creativity in all of us, especially youth.

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