Professor Spotlight: Bala Mulloth

UVA Batten professor Bala Mulloth

Batten Professor Bala Mulloth thrives in different cultures. “I was born and raised in Mumbai, studied in New York City, then worked in Budapest, Hungary, and for the past four years, I have lived in Charlottesville,” said the professor of Social Entrepreneurship.

For Mulloth, change is good. Change can be the catalyst for new ideas and insights, which is invaluable, especially for anyone working in a dynamic field, such as social entrepreneurship.

But Mulloth, who originally studied engineering, had never considered a career in social entrepreneurship—mainly because during the time of his studies, the field of social entrepreneurship didn’t exist. It wasn’t until the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash that this new business model become more mainstream.

“Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new field,” said Mulloth. “While I was pursuing my Ph.D. in technology management at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, I had the unique opportunity in 2009 to get involved in the creation of a business incubator. It was a public-private partnership between the New York City Economic Development Corporation and NYU. This experience took me inside the ecosystem of entrepreneurs seeking to change the world.”

For Mulloth, social entrepreneurship is not just about creating a successful, profitable business, but also about inciting change and addressing pressing societal problems. This is what attracted him to the Batten School, where he’s been an assistant professor of public policy with Social Entrepreneurship @UVA, a Batten initiative, since 2015.

“I was happy to see that a school of leadership and public policy had a center for social entrepreneurship and students could minor in it,” said Mulloth. “I am glad SE@UVA is housed at Batten. I think that’s really important for social entrepreneurship to be connected to a school of public policy since it’s about changing the system not just making a profit.”

Mulloth’s forays in the realm of social entrepreneurship have not all been academic, which has worked to his advantage, informing his work as a professor while allowing him to connect with his students.

“The students are really interested in my work outside of the classroom and are eager to learn about projects like Hava, which launched last fall,” said Mulloth.

The diversity of the students who take his courses has impressed and inspired Mulloth.

“I love that what I teach also appeals to students from different academic disciplines, such as Engineering, Commerce, and Architecture.”

For Mulloth, this is a unique strength of social entrepreneurship—its ability to bring together people from different disciplines all united by their desire to make a positive impact or change.

Currently, Mulloth teaches five courses, all of which he curated. He launched Hava together with his partner, Engineering professor Gaurav Giri, last fall. As of January 2019, Mulloth is involved as a visiting research fellow at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Army Research Laboratory. He and his co-authors are working on a book, “Defense Technological Innovation: Issues and Challenges in an Era of Converging Technologies” slated to be released in September. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for this new father, who believes in engaging with his local community—even if that community is still relatively new to him.

“I like to work with the local community and get to know people, even if I am still an outsider,” said Mulloth. “I involve several local and regional social entrepreneurs in my ‘Developing a New Social Venture’ course and just joined the board of the Charlottesville Ballet. Last year, I mentored an Afghani refugee boy at Computers 4 Kids (C4K).”

He recently completed a case study on Dorothy Batten’s iThrive Games. The socially-minded initiative uses technology to help teens develop the mindsets and skills to live healthy lives. The case study will also be taught in Mulloth’s social entrepreneurship courses this spring and beyond.

“Donor-funded businesses are trying to transition to a more sustainable model and that’s where my research might be able to provide ideas and suggestions for ways forward,” said Mulloth.