After two economic downturns, a major shift in corporate focus, and the spinoff of a successful second company, GDI Infotech will celebrate 25 years of growth in Ann Arbor this year.
Founder Bhushan Kulkarni grew up in India and moved to the United States to study engineering. After an internship at Ford Motor Co., Kulkarni moved to Ann Arbor and started two other companies before launching GDI Infotech (originally Global Dynamics Inc.) as an engineering consulting firm in 1993.
The company was thriving and adding employees, but the internet started changing the way companies managed data and promoted collaborative workflow, so GDI Infotech's emphasis shifted to software and information technology.
"But we never really left our engineering core, and now things have come full circle, and we're working on things like mobility and autonomous vehicles," Kulkarni says. "In the future, I think a lot of growth for GDI will come from skills associated with both IT software and engineering and advances happening around us in intelligent mobility."
While focusing on creating workflow automation and collaborative platforms at GDI, Kulkarni saw an opportunity to spin off a separate company, InfoReady, in 2010. Kulkarni says InfoReady grew out of observing several GDI customers' struggles with information overload. They needed to find information, act on it, and track actions to get results.
Kulkarni created a matchmaking algorithm platform at GDI and started applying it to different problems for a variety of clients, first helping universities match with appropriate grants.
"It just so happened that we had the University of Michigan in our backyard looking for ways to fast-track their grant cycle, attracting more grant revenue, and getting through the process of deciding what grants to apply to rapidly," Kulkarni says. "I thought if this 800-pound gorilla in Michigan has this need, how is the whole sector doing?"
InfoReady's second project was InfoReady Thrive, a platform that helps match college students with internships, fellowships, study-abroad programs, and other extracurricular learning opportunities.
Kulkarni's current focus is on running InfoReady, and he has left day-to-day operations of GDI Infotech to his "two lieutenants," his wife and business partner Swatee Kulkarni and technology solutions expert Madhuri Deshpande.
Kulkarni says he has learned many lessons through the ups and downs his companies have experienced.
"First there was the dot-com bubble bursting – that was just crazy," he says. "I think we were better prepared for our latest economic downturn, but it still hit us to some extent. But other than those two major downturns, we've been steadily growing 15 to 20 percent every year on average."
Kulkarni attributes his companies' successes to the "ecosystem of people" around him, saying he likes to surround himself with smart people who know more than he does.
"Living in this community is a great opportunity to connect with many folks that are passionate about the community, from Ann Arbor SPARK to the Ann Arbor Chamber," he says. "I meet a lot of great people who become my role models, and I've learned quite a bit from them."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Bhushan Kulkarni.
This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.