As founder and CEO of Octo, a technology and consulting firm focused on using emerging technologies to solve the federal government’s most challenging problems, Mehul Sanghani ’98 is no stranger to opportunity, sacrifice, and even regret. He’ll impart these messages and others to graduates of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering as the Distinguished Alumni Speaker for the spring 2022 commencement ceremonies on May 14.

Sanghani, who earned bachelor’s degrees from Virginia Tech in industrial systems engineering and psychology, will be honored at this year’s ceremonies as the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. The award celebrates graduates who have distinguished themselves in their careers; have applied their engineering education toward global and community engagement; and/or have made a significant impact on the university through service, philanthropy, or meaningful interaction with students and faculty.

“Our graduates will surely be inspired by Mehul’s business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “As an industrial and systems engineering alumnus, his drive led him to take a leap of faith and launch a company at the age of 30. The success of Octo, through Mehul’s dedication, has provided him with the opportunity to impact many others through philanthropy and volunteer service — including as a member of Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors.”

Sanghani grew up in Blacksburg after his family immigrated to the United States from India in 1979 when he was only 3 years old. As owners of the Red Carpet Inn on South Main Street, his parents instilled in him a fierce work ethic and appreciation for opportunity.

The Red Carpet Inn in Blacksburg, Virginia
Mehul Sanghani's parents owned and operated the Red Carpet Inn in Blacksburg, Virginia, throughout his childhood. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

“Receiving this prestigious award and being invited to be this year’s commencement speaker is without question one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Sanghani. “Virginia Tech and Blacksburg are a special place for me.  Blacksburg is my hometown. It’s where I was fortunate to have grown up, spent my formative years, and it’s where my parents owned a small motel whose ups and downs were tied closely to the university down the road.”

Sanghani’s father, who had graduated with a civil engineering degree in India, encouraged his son to follow a similar path into the discipline. Sanghani admittedly struggled with the engineering curriculum at Virginia Tech and even considered quitting or changing his major several times.

“Without a doubt, my greatest inspiration for pursuing a degree in engineering was my late father,” said Sanghani. “He immigrated to this country with little to no money and just the hope of a better future for my family and me. My conversations with him steeled the resolve I needed at that time to persist and complete my degree.”

Sanghani also cites the incredible influence of the late Paul Torgersen as someone who had a meaningful impact on his time as a student. Torgersen, a former dean of the College of Engineering, was president of the university during Sanghani’s time at Virginia Tech but continued to teach even while serving in that role. “He taught a class called the Theory of Organization to industrial engineering students that focused on the theory of cooperative behavior in formal organizations, including the structure and elements of formal organizations or in laymen's terms, what really made great organizations click. I’ve relied on those concepts time and time again as a CEO and entrepreneur.”

After graduating in 1998, Sanghani took a job with a startup in Silicon Valley. He relocated to Northern Virginia several years later and soon founded Octo with encouragement from his current employer and a former client.

Since then, Octo has seen tremendous growth under Sanghani’s leadership, receiving recognition from Inc. Magazine and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, among others, for being one of the fastest-growing businesses in the commonwealth and the nation. Octo has also received nods from the Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, and Virginia Business Magazine as a top employer and workplace.

The Market supporters, including Tyrod Taylor as well as Mehul and Hema Sanghani, cut a ceremonial ribbon to celebrate the program's opening
Mehul and Hema Sanghani (third and fourth from right) celebrate the ceremonial opening of The Market of Virginia Tech alongside other program supporters, including current NFL quarterback Tyrod Tailer, on April 16. Photo by Chiravi Patel for Virginia Tech.

Mehul and his wife, Hema Sanghani, also a Virginia Tech graduate, recently made a historic $10 million gift to their alma mater; $1.5 million of the gift was allocated to establish The Market of Virginia Tech, a first-of-its-kind, on-campus food pantry. Since opening its doors in fall 2020, The Market, which provided more than 14,000 meals in the 2020-21 academic year alone, has become a key part of the university’s efforts to address food insecurity among students in Blacksburg. The program recently celebrated its ceremonial opening with the Sanghanis and current NFL quarterback Tyrod Taylor, another of The Market’s philanthropic supporters, in attendance.

The Sanghanis’ gift also endowed the groundbreaking Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, which will be headquartered in the first academic building at the university’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia. The center brings together computer scientists, engineers, and statisticians to meet the research and workforce needs of an emerging data-driven society.

“As the Innovation Campus launches, the Sanghanis’ gift will enable us to be more ambitious in our research and education objectives,” said Naren Ramakrishnan upon the center’s endowment. Ramakrishnan, who serves as director of the Sanghani Center and the Thomas L. Phillips Professor of Engineering in the Department of Computer Science, specifically lauded the gift’s focus on supporting growth of the center’s programs.

“These funds will be used to create endowments to support the recruitment of top-notch academic and research faculty, launch new educational programs, pursue high-risk seed projects, and recruit promising Ph.D. students,” he said.

Recently, the university announced a new partnership with Amazon to advance research and innovation in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Amazon - Virginia Tech Initiative for Efficient and Robust Machine Learning, which will be led by the Sanghani Center, will include machine learning-focused research projects, doctoral student fellowships, community outreach, and an establishment of a shared advisory board.

In addition to his generous philanthropic support, Sanghani also serves in a volunteer role on several prominent university boards, including as a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and the Pamplin College of Business Advisory Board. He’s also a board member for the Northern Virginia Technology Council. 

The Sanghanis live in McLean, Virginia, with their two children.

The College of Engineering commencement ceremonies, held at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on May 14 in Lane Stadium, will also feature remarks from Dean Julia Ross as well as the college’s Outstanding Senior, aerospace engineering student Terelle Cadd.

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