By Michelle Cragle
While some businesses struggled to keep their doors open and many had to reduce staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, others thrived.
Because of his company's ability to flourish during a turbulent time, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce awarded the 2021 Entrepreneur of The Year award to Pratik Kothari. Kothari, an Old Dominion University alumnus, is founder and CEO of TechArk Solutions, a web design and marketing agency. The agency was also named Norfolk Small Business of the Year.
"I think the secret to our success was the diversity of our portfolio. We were fortunate to have clients from different sectors outside of tourism and hospitality, such as manufacturing, health care and finance," said Kothari, who received his Master of Science in computer science in 2006.
Originally from India, Kothari first learned about ODU from his brother Ankit, who was studying computer science.
"I completed my undergraduate degree in India but knew I wanted to pursue my master's in the United States," Kothari said. "I was drawn to ODU not only because I had family in the Norfolk area, but because I admired the research being done on digital libraries and mobile applications. Plus, the weather here is far better than Chicago or New Jersey, where I was also looking at schools."
Ajay Gupta, director of computer resources in the computer science department, remembers working with Kothari.
"We gave students a problem to solve, and Pratik came back with a solution in a couple of hours," Gupta said. "From day one, he was extremely motivated. I knew he would someday start his own business."
After graduating from ODU, Kothari worked as a chief technology officer for 10 years at a local company doing real estate tech. He started TechArk Solutions in 2012 as a side gig with his wife, Jinal. Within a couple of years, he decided to make it his full-time pursuit. In 2014, Kothari also took an entrepreneurship course at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center (SEC).
"I couldn't have done it without my wife," Kothari said. "She was the inspiration and decided to put her architecture career on hold to allow me to do what I did. These are the sacrifices that are made behind the scenes."
TechArk has grown from a two-person company to a team of more than 100 employees specializing in web design, digital marketing and software development. Rooted in Hampton Roads but with a team located around the world, the company is able to serve customers' needs 24/7.
In keeping with TechArk's philosophy of "achieving long-term improvement in the lives of the people within our communities," Kothari leapt at the chance to assist local organizations responding to the unprecedented and critical needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We wanted to help in any way we could and participated in projects that directly benefited the needs of our community. The Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust developed a Downtown Dollars program but needed an online platform where customers could come to purchase gift cards to the many different restaurants and retail shops in one place. Knowing the urgency, our team pulled together and delivered a user-friendly, secure and responsive solution in just a few weeks," Kothari said.
TechArk Solutions not only employs members of the Hampton Roads community, but also dedicates much of its work to nonprofit organizations.
"He has an amazing community spirit and is always looking to help," Gupta said. "We were on the web committee together for Taste of India, one of the largest Asian Indian Festivals in Virginia. His company TechArk designed a mobile app specifically for this event."
Nancy Grden, executive director of ODU's Strome Entrepreneurial Center and associate vice president of ODU's Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, met Kothari five years ago when TechArk opened its headquarters at 415 York Street.
"I have never seen him hesitate to help the community," she said. "It is remarkable how much he gives back to our extended ecosystem, everything from presenting at the SEC on how he started his own business to workshops and training with current students. He gives back to the local economy again and again."