CEO and cofounder of California-based mergers and acquisitions company, MergerTech, the story of Nitin Khanna’s journey from a small village in India to a $440 million acquisition is worth repeating. His journey is archetypal of what we have come to think of as the “modern entrepreneur” – a ride of challenges, successes, and thorough determination which, in Khanna’s case, has also been marked by a refreshing commitment to the well-being of those his businesses interact with and employ.
Origins, Education, and Early Days
Understanding what shapes the character and mindset of an entrepreneur is an area of increasing popular interest. With recent studies suggesting that “family background” may be significant in the molding of entrepreneurial spirit, it may be no surprise that Khanna wasn’t the first in his family to express the “new venture gene.” Because his father was a colonel in the Indian army, the young Khanna spent much of his time with other relations, exploring the scenes of various family businesses. From cement plants to motorcycle parts factories, Khanna developed a precious understanding of the inner workings of business and production.
This practical education was matched with a superb schooling record – one which also led to a life away from home. At age eight, Nitin Khanna went off to attend The Lawrence School, based in Sanawar, India, which is one of the most prestigious schools in Asia. From there, Khanna traveled further still, leaving India altogether for the United States; the 17-year-old Khanna was accepted into the industrial engineering program at Purdue University.
After completing his master’s in the same field, Khanna decided against pursuing a doctorate in robotics so that he could enter the workforce. His first stint was a two-year management trainee program with International Paper – a position that led him to spend two further years as manager of a cardboard box plant. Having spent several years in the U.S. getting his bearings within a variety of settings, positions, and industries, Khanna had come to learn one important thing: the way to make money in this country isn’t by working for someone else, but by building your own business.
It was around this time that Khanna’s younger brother, Karan Khanna, had his eyes set on the U.S. to complete his MBA. Nitin Khanna had a better idea. In 1999, a new initiative was introduced to the American market; Saber Corp. entered the scene, with the two brothers at the helm. Despite this move being just months prior to the famous dot-com crash of 2000, Saber’s story is not one of unaccounted optimism or naiveté. Far from rushing into the hype of a promising tech industry, Nitin Khanna and his brother built their company steadily for a full decade – setting the groundwork for what would later become the acquisition to inspire a new venture.
After controversy during the Gore vs. Bush election of 2000, the U.S. needed to modernize its voting processes. With the 2002 “Help America Vote Act,” Saber saw its opening. After winning an important contract with Oregon, 21 states quickly followed the trend and hopped on the Khanna-company train – quickly making Saber Corp. a major provider of software solutions to the U.S. government. This relationship expanded even further as Saber’s software grew to encompass solutions for the DMV and child welfare systems. In 2018, the brothers sold the company for $440 million.
Khanna’s immense success story with Saber Corp. had an interesting side effect. While staying in Portland for a year beyond the major acquisition deal and growing Saber still further to 1,500 employees and $300M in revenue, Khanna became increasingly interested in the entrepreneurial scene of Oregon. Over a period of just two years, Khanna invested in 40+ companies and grew a robust reputation in the community. Most curious, however, was the advice that these young companies and startups sought from the Indian-born entrepreneur; they wanted to know, above all else, how he had maneuvered such a successful acquisition for Saber Corp.
Khanna had known that something larger was always on the horizon. These repeat interactions with tech founders seeking advice on how to manage a clean exit led him to enter the niche area of mergers and acquisitions that he now occupies. In 2009, MergerTech was born. Serving as CEO and cofounder, Khanna fills multiple roles with the international company – from working as strategic and negotiation advisor to taking the lead on client development and company growth.
However, there’s still one more impressive chapter in the Khanna story to date. While maintaining his role as CEO of MergerTech, Khanna created yet another opportunity to bolster his remarkable story of timing, competent management, and innovation. Part of the entrepreneur’s talent lies in recognizing which opportunities to pay attention to and which to ignore. By 2012, Khanna had his radar set on legal cannabis and began investing in the space. In February 2015, Cura Cannabis Solutions was formed, and it wasn’t long before the board had invited Khanna to come on board as CEO. Although he no longer acts as CEO, in that role, Khanna grew CuraCan into one of the largest cannabis companies in the world in just two years. Cura Cannabis was recently bought by Curaleaf in the country’s largest legal marijuana acquisition deal to date.
The Man Behind the Story
Khanna’s story has the necessary dynamism, struggle, and successes necessary to qualify in the annals of great entrepreneurship. However, not all successful trajectories are performed with the same fuel. While serving at CuraCan, Khanna was consistently praised for his efforts to promote the impact of women in the workplace. He also raised minimum wage in an attempt to set a new standard for the budding cannabis industry and fostered an environment committed to innovation, career growth, and personal development.
This lesser-told side of the story is significant. With the modern entrepreneurial culture often fetishizing hustle, grit, and competitiveness, it is vitalizing to see a success story equally founded on values that empower others. Celebrating the successes of others has been at the core of Khanna’s success, and he is the first to admit that it would not have been possible without the efforts of those around him.
Khanna’s story may be one worth repeating, but his example of how to move through the world as an entrepreneur and human being is one worth emulating.