November/December 2012
Young Innovators

Innovation, education, and experience prepare leaders for automation industry future

By Prabhu Soundarrajan

In this rapidly changing world, it is very important to "think different" in order to stay ahead of global competition. I would like to share my life experiences with automation professionals who aspire to grow and make a difference in this world.

I have worked hard since my early years. I grew up in India in a humble, middle-class family and was motivated by science and math. I fell in love with chemistry during my undergraduate years and chose a material science (polymers) major so that I might pursue a career in the U.S. All my friends said that I was making a mistake because I did not choose to become a computer programmer. I did not care; I stayed with my conviction and dream to create a difference in this world.

I ended up at the University of Akron, a premier graduate program in polymer science and engineering, with a scholarship in early 2000. The University of Akron had just started a new nanotechnology initiative that attracted myattention. I took a huge step to be the first research graduate student under a foreign professor to take up the new area of research. The gamble paid off-I graduated with flying colors and even won a university-level business plan competition for nanotechnology-enabled sensors.

As I began looking around in the industry, there were very few organizations where I could use my innovative edge in the commercial world to create value. I did not get discouraged, and instead found a small nanotechnology firm in Austin, Texas, that gave me an opportunity to commercialize nano sensor technologies. After four years and several million dollars' worth of government contracts, the risk was totally worth it for my career.

I moved to California to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions (again, this was a risk and change from the presumed status quo of engineering researchers). I took up a position with a company that just had licensed a sensor technology from a U.S. government lab. I combined my education and innovative edge to develop and commercialize the technology in collaboration with global conglomerates. It was during this time that I realized that I needed formal business training. I spent my personal funds to pursue business education in some of the top universities for that field. Once again, my gamble paid off, as I was promoted to a vice president role in recognition of my commitment for the company to succeed.

More recently, I have been fortunate to work with global leaders and innovators around the world and run businesses that are $100M and more. The reason I am here is because I was not afraid to experiment and take risks in my career.

It is very important for young innovators to keep learning. It is not about how much one knows, but it is about how much one can learn from others on a daily basis. Keep innovating, keep dreaming and working hard. The success is on its way.

ISA is a great technical and professional development resource to help achieve your dream, network, and find your next job and grow with us.


Prabhu Soundarrajan is the director of ISA's chemical and petroleum division. He is also the global director at RAE systems, a leading innovator of wireless safety sensors for industrial markets, and has held executive positions as vice president of sales and business development, global business unit manager, and has served on the board of directors of international organizations. Prabhu has authored several papers and patents and also has won the best paper award at ISA. He is a young innovator and is willing to mentor aspiring young ISA members.