Family, entrepreneurial spirit drive opportunity for IU Northwest MBA student
Ruhani Sharma, an Indiana University Northwest MBA student, was raised understanding the importance of family, education and hard work.
Growing up in Jalandhar, in the Punjab state in northern India, she experienced firsthand the rewards of being a business owner. Her father was a businessman, while her mother, a teacher, instilled in her the importance of education. This combination sparked an inner entrepreneur that would fully emerge years later in another part of the world.
And so, in December 2023, while still a full-time graduate student, graduate assistant and an active member of IU Northwest student organizations, Sharma opened a business of her own, a tandoori fusion cafe and grill combining Indian and American flavors, in Griffith. She named the restaurant, fittingly, Tandoori.
“The idea behind Tandoori was the realization of a personal goal,” Sharma said. “It’s my baby, and combines everything I love about the cute, out-of-the-ordinary places I’ve been to around the world that are fun and offer unique food and flavor options.”
Many of her dishes are inspired by her travels to Northern India, a region becoming known among foodies as an emerging, hip food scene. When creating her menu and determining how to plate menu items, she referenced the many pictures and memories of restaurants and dishes she enjoyed from her travels.
Sharma’s family emigrated to the United States in 2011, settling in Schererville, Indiana, to be close to family.
Five years later, after completing high school and her first year of college at California State University, East Bay, she decided to return to Northwest Indiana. Her father opened a new business, and Sharma took a year off from her studies to begin a marketing internship in India. After completing her internship, she returned to Indiana and enrolled at Purdue University Northwest, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing and business analytics.
“Right when I finished my undergraduate work, I knew I wanted to continue my education; I knew I wanted a master’s degree — it was a personal goal. Even now, I'm looking at Ph.D. and research options,” she said with a hint of coyness, acknowledging she has yet to complete her MBA.
She decided to enroll in IU Northwest’s MBA program after considering many options.
“Family is important. Number one thing,” she said. “After doing all my research, IU Northwest was a better fit overall because it’s associated with the IU community, which has a strong business reputation, it’s affordable and I was able to stay close to home.”
When she got to IU Northwest, she quickly assembled a “squad” for help and support. She says her graduate adviser, Symphony Raudry, immediately sprang into action and was invaluable in helping her quickly adjust to life as a graduate student.
“I genuinely wouldn’t be where I am without Symphony,” she said. “She’s been my backbone and was the one who answered all my questions about the program before I applied, then helped me through the application process. Not only did she support me in all this, but she also became a friend.”
Sharma immediately immersed herself in her studies and became active in campus groups and held campus jobs as a teaching assistant and as a graduate assistant.
“Watching students like Ruhani grow, develop and contribute is my favorite part of my job and provides the most meaning,” Raudry said. “Campus resources like the ones she’s active in are vital to the development and success of our students, which aids in the development and success of our communities."
Helping others, helping herself
According to Cynthia Roberts, Dean of the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics, she saw in Sharma a student with an abundance of positive energy and a “can-do” approach to whatever she’s involved with — the perfect recipe for personal, professional and academic success.
“Ruhani is one of the hardest-working people I know,” she said. “Besides taking on a full class load, she has been serving as a graduate assistant for the School of Business and Economics, supporting a university partnership with the City of Gary.”
Roberts is referring to the Start UP Business Success Program. It’s a four-week program available to budding entrepreneurs from Gary that teaches the fundamentals of starting or growing a business — from creating marketing and business plans to defining a target audience and everything in between. In the end, some participants may also receive funding for their small businesses from the city, made possible by the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Sharma’s role in the program allowed her to assist with classroom activities, coach individual participants and review homework and business plans.
Jana Szostek, one of the organizers and instructors for the Start UP Business Success Program, concurs with Roberts.
“Ruhani is such a genuine person with a great attitude,” she said. “She’s passionate about helping others and working hard to ensure her own success.”
Szostek says she got to know Sharma personally and learned about her varied experiences and multi-cultural core — Indian and American — which she feels helps her understand the world around her.
“She’s also been around businesspeople her whole life and benefited from those experiences because she put in the effort to learn from them. I think that’s her key to success — she takes advantage of life experiences,” Szostek said.
Lifelong experiences lead to lifelong lessons
It was perhaps her lifelong exposure to businesspeople, combined with ambition and grit, that was the genesis of Sharma’s own business.
Her MBA studies were also instrumental in getting her business off the ground. She had just finished a marketing class focusing on research, brand positioning and creating marketing plans that helped her tackle these tasks for herself, including sharpening her team and leadership skills. In addition, her work reviewing business plans for the Start UP Business Success Program helped her refine her own.
“She demonstrated an incredible ability to empathize with people and encourage their participation in team activities,” Sharma’s Managing in a Team-Based Organization professor, Charles Hobson, said. “She engages in a very positive way with everyone.”
Now that the business has been open for a few months, she’s busy adjusting her marketing strategy, trying different approaches from online to onsite events, and figuring out the right marketing mix that will bring her the biggest return.
“There are nights I only get a couple of hours of sleep, but I feel blessed to be a business owner,” Sharma said.