$2.5M gift launches Shah Family Global Innovation Lab at Purdue Engineering

Purdue’s Shah Family Global Innovation Lab will be a place of learning, exploration and problem solving with international impact. Formerly the Global Engineering’s Innovation for International Development (I2D) Lab, the new program is launched by a $2.5M gift from Manahar (Manu) Shah, who received a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue in 1968. Shah and his family’s impactful commitment was announced on Nov. 2 at the signing ceremony.

Shah is CEO of MS International (MSI), a company that pioneered the importation and sale of natural stone in the 1970s and is now the global leader in natural stone and manufactured hard-surfacing products.

“Purdue hugely uplifted my confidence level and opened up possibilities ahead in America, where innovation is encouraged at every level and the sky is the limit for everyone,” Shah said, explaining why he decided to make this financial commitment. “Now that my family has reached a major milestone — one of the biggest for an immigrant — it is time to give back to all who made my journey with curious turns and twists, bumps and hiccups — never boring and always fun.”

Shah founded the company as a side project with his wife, Rika, while he worked as an engineer for International Harvester. The basement stone brokerage became a full-time venture in 1981, when the couple landed the contract for the black granite used in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It has since grown to a $1 billion-plus company.

Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering and Manahar (Manu) Shah (right)

“We bring product from 34 countries and sell it in the USA and Canada,” Manu Shah said, explaining that the largest demand is for residential use as flooring, countertops and landscaping.

MSI is based in Los Angeles and is run by the Shahs and their sons, Raj and Rup, who serve as co-presidents. It has more than 1,800 employees, more than 25 distribution centers across the United States and Canada, including one just finalized in Indianapolis, and has provided in excess of 130,000 jobs around the world. The global employment statistic is an important one for the Shahs, who believe in making a difference, creating jobs and building partnerships.

“Many Purdue Engineering faculty and students have a passion for putting engineering innovations to work for poor and vulnerable populations around the world,” said Arvind Raman, senior associate dean of the faculty and Robert V. Adams Professor in Mechanical Engineering who started I2D Lab.   

But this is difficult to accomplish, Raman said, and begs many questions rooted in society, human behavior, technology, financing, education, and sustainability.

Shah and his family’s impactful commitment was announced on Nov. 2 at the signing ceremony.

“These are the incredibly enriching complex questions that await teams that will work through the Shah Family Global Innovation Lab. It will connect interested Purdue teams with NGOs (non-government organizations) and partners around the world to work on the most important bottleneck challenges to sustainable development.”

Raman lauded the generosity of the Shah family, saying that the impact of the gift will be seen for years to come.

“This lab will provide great opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students to carry out field research across the world on real, tough, and incredibly important innovation challenges for people at the bottom of the pyramid.”

Having grown up in rural India, Manu Shah believes that the robust development of rural areas could keep people from having to move to overcrowded cities to make a living. Shah is pleased that Purdue’s I2D Lab is focused on this challenge, and with the endowment of the new Shah Family Global Innovation Lab, has ensured the focus will continue and grow.

“We bring two-thirds of our products from Third World countries, and we see the struggle of our suppliers to make what Americans like – how it is shipped, how it is packaged, timely deliveries made, and with a quality acceptable to American standards,” Manu Shah said, adding that there are significant problems in meeting these expectations. “As we looked at the 130,000 jobs we support worldwide, we realized we also have some connectivity through Purdue University to make phenomenal changes in those countries.”

Dean Mung Chiang, Manu Shah, Rika Shah, Senior Associate Dean Arvind Raman, and Assistant Dean George Chiu

Shah attributes his successful career as an entrepreneur to his Purdue training and education.

“I learned as an engineer to be focused, detail oriented, the importance of planning, and a passion for the pursuit of results. To become an entrepreneur, you just start taking calculated risks and never take no for an answer — find a solution!” Shah said.

The Shah Lab will benefit from Purdue’s global strength, influence and reach. For example, the University’s Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education (GEARE) program is the most comprehensive engineering study and work abroad program, said George Chiu, assistant dean for Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships and professor of Mechanical Engineering.

“The Lab will help connect Purdue faculty and students with communities around the world to address pressing challenges with innovation and the appropriate use of technology that will result in responsible and sustainable solutions to improve the quality of life for the community as well as upward mobility,” Chiu said.

Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, said the signing of this partnership marks a key milestone in the growth of global engineering at Purdue, within the same semester as the winning of US Agency for International Development’s 5-year award.

“International development is important to both the Shah family and many Purdue engineers. We are very grateful for the visionary gift from Manu and Rika that establishes the Shah Family Global Innovation Lab.”