MSx Student

Parul Gupta

MS ’24
Parul Gupta, MSx ’24
Parul Gupta, MSx ’24
There is no silver bullet on climate and sustainability … It’s like pushing a thousand boulders up a hill at the same time.
June 24, 2024

MSx student Parul Gupta came to GSB to focus on climate and sustainability. But her “third act” came after two previous and distinct careers — the first working in computing and wireless communication, and then a second act as a successful edtech entrepreneur.

“It was only when I stepped away to take a sabbatical after my operating role at Springboard that I really dove deep into that space and understood the magnitude and urgency of the climate problem,” says Gupta, who co-founded an online learning platform that prepares students for the tech industry’s most in-demand careers. “Nothing is more important to work on at this time.”

She’s most interested in attacking climate and sustainability from a policy and finance perspective, noting, “Over $100 trillion will be needed for the energy transition over the next 25 years, so one needs to understand how capital moves and finance works to make a dent in this.”

You spent the first decade of your career working on technology R&D in algorithms for wireless communication systems, cloud computing, and big data analytics. Then you pivoted into edtech with Springboard. Why?

I call myself an accidental entrepreneur. My founder’s story was similar to many others where you solve a problem for yourself and realize it’s also an opportunity to help others in the world. I was working at IBM Research in 2012, and was going to start a new project on machine learning and AI. It was still early and there weren’t many resources to learn about it. Coincidentally, it was the year of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) — a momentous time in the world when education was opening up — and Coursera and Udacity were started by renowned AI professors from Stanford. I experienced it firsthand and remember thinking: This is how education should be — the best education should be available to people anywhere in the world. I found my “aha” moment and wanted to make it my life’s work. I didn’t know much about education formally besides my own experience, but I jumped right in and figured it out along the way.

Did anything specific compel you to leave Springboard and return for an MSx degree?

I wasn’t looking for a traditional school experience, or even the things that bring people back to Stanford, which is typically entrepreneurship and Silicon Valley. I already had exposure to that. My big motivation was coming off this entrepreneurial run at Springboard and thinking about what problems are meaningful to me and where I wanted to contribute in the next few decades. Climate and sustainability was top of mind. As cliche as it is, it’s going to be the most challenging yet defining problem of our generation.

But why Stanford?

“Over $100 trillion will be needed for the energy transition over the next 25 years, so one needs to understand how capital moves and finance works.”

As I was thinking about these questions, the Doerr School of Sustainability launched in 2022. Because I was local, I was able to spend a lot of time on campus informally listening to the vision and the leadership and the many initiatives. I liked that energy and the ecosystem that was forming on the Stanford campus to be a force for change for this problem. That’s what attracted me to Stanford, and the MSx Program just happened to be right for me at this stage of my career as an entrepreneur. I take a business and leadership lens to problems, and the program is designed for experienced leaders. It also gives you the flexibility to spend time in any of the seven schools at Stanford.

Was it hard to step away from an organization you were so instrumental in founding?

Yes, it was. It’s like your baby, right? You found it and give birth and watch it grow into a toddler. However, fortunately, the company had matured enough — we were successful by many commercial measures — and had a strong leadership team so that I had the luxury to step away and leave it in good hands. I could take on other challenges.

When did you first become interested in climate and sustainability issues?

Due to my upbringing in a resource-starved country, I’ve always had an eco-conscious lifestyle. Treading lightly and being conscious of how much we consume has been a way of life that my grandparents and parents followed, and how they brought us up. It was more of a personal lifestyle choice, not a professional interest. I had been following the news passively all through my time building Springboard, and watching documentaries, so I knew it was a growing problem.

You arrived at GSB intending to work on climate and sustainability issues. Did that goal evolve after you arrived?

It has sharpened. I’ve been learning more about the nature of the problem and the nature of the solutions, and which solutions are scalable and will make a bigger dent. Climate is a problem that impacts every part of our daily life — the energy we consume, the foods we eat, how we travel, the natural ecosystems around us, even heavy industry and manufacturing. Within that entire economy is a whole portfolio of solutions. Some of them will have a small impact, and some will have a large impact.

What would you consider a large-impact solution?

The nature of the problem is that there is no silver bullet. As one of our professors likes to say, it’s like pushing a thousand boulders up a hill at the same time. That’s where policy and finance have a big role to play. Ecosystems have a big role to play, and that has been my big realization in the last year and a half. I want to work in ecosystems roles rather than working on one specific problem and solution.

What was the most challenging part of your pivot into climate and sustainability so far?

At the highest level, career pivots become harder the later you are in your career. People look at you in a particular way. Earlier in your career the weight of that baggage is smaller. That’s why people come to the GSB, to shed that baggage and do something else. But when you’re 20 years into your career, the weight of your past is significant. And if I think about my “brand,” it’s an education entrepreneur. And because Springboard is so well known and has done so well, that’s firmly anchored in peoples’ minds and that really prevents them from seeing me as something else. At the most abstract level, that’s been the biggest barrier. I’m willing to learn and slow down and do things not at the CEO/founder level, but people are not always open to making that room in a new industry when mid-career people start over.

You’ve said that tackling the climate crisis will need a “complex transformation in every industry, while balancing nuanced considerations across science and technology, policy, finance, and social justice.” What have you found at GSB that has helped you better manage that complexity?

I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to spend time in different schools at Stanford. I have spent time in the Doerr school, in the law school, and also have had a chance to meet really diverse people who look at the problems from different angles. It has deepened my understanding of the nuances and complexity. They’ve been good role models as people who balance that in an optimistic and determined way.

Have any classes at GSB proved particularly helpful?

There’ve been many, and it’s almost like I’m putting together pieces to complete a puzzle. The instructors were inspiring to me because of their work and passion, especially a course in the law school called Climate: Politics, Finance, and Infrastructure taught by two passionate women, Kate Gordon and Alicia Seiger. They helped me deepen my understanding of the policy and finance landscape. And the course Extreme Energy Efficiency in the Doerr school, taught by Amory Lovins, the founder of Rocky Mountain Institute, was also very influential for me.

Photos by Elena Zhukova

Parul Gupta, MSx ’24
Parul Gupta
MS ’24
Jaipur, India
MS, Electrical Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles
Professional Experience
Co-Founder and President, Springboard
Board Member, Subject to Climate
Venture Partner, Ahead VC & Emerge Education
Current Profile