The latest chapter in the story of Sameer Murarka as an entrepreneur will unfold through a memorial fund at NC State.
The story began, though, when he was around five years old.
He saw his mother, Ragini, buy a signed piece of art and put two and two together: A signature adds value. He cleaned up a few nice-looking rocks he found in the yard, signed his name to them and got to work in the neighborhood, selling his creations for 25 cents each.
Over the years, Sameer kept adding to the story. A car wash he ran with a neighbor had vehicles lining the street, and as water restrictions were put in place during the California drought, he adapted to a door-to-door business model. In the late 1990s, when he was in high school, a trip to buy a Halloween costume led to him suggesting that the owner sell the store’s collection of movie posters online — a novelty at the time.
“I reminded him it’s not easy to build a database for e-commerce,” Ragini said. “So what he did was build a website with all the posters, then set up an email address so if someone was interested in buying one, they could contact the owner.”
Harnessing the possibilities of technology for innovation was in Sameer’s DNA. As he taught himself how to do this, he knew where to turn for advice: Ragini honed her computer skills as an NC State graduate student in the 1970s, going on to develop software for the semiconductor manufacturing industry that was used worldwide by companies like Intel, AMD, Sony and Mitsubishi.
Making an observation, recognizing an opportunity, finding a solution and seeking input from an expert when needed — all traits of a born entrepreneur.
While in college and in the years after, Sameer’s interests turned to hospitality. He worked at several restaurants in the Long Beach, California, area, developing a broad base of knowledge, from wine and cigars, to culinary skills and the growing of produce. Eventually, he moved to Irving, Texas, to help open and manage a new restaurant for Sweet Tomatoes Inc.
This endowment allows me to give back to NC State and honor my son. The program here is very impressive and hands-on. Ragini Murarka
This endowment allows me to give back to NC State and honor my son. The program here is very impressive and hands-on.
“He could make food, he could fix anything, teach SafeServ certification training, talk to clients. That’s what he loved, doing a lot of different things in a day,” Ragini said.
In 2010, Sameer joined Sodexo Corporation as a quality assurance specialist in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He loved his work and dreamed of starting his own innovative business in the hospitality industry, such as a combination steakhouse and whisky distillery. Above all, he loved gathering people together, providing good food and creating the ambiance for a unique experience.
Sadly, Sameer passed away unexpectedly in 2012.
But Ragini and her husband Ishwar ensured their son’s story would continue by creating the Sameer Ishwar Murarka Memorial Foundation, which supports projects related to education, health and entrepreneurship.
Each year on Sameer’s birthday, the Murarkas gather with his friends at the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto, California, to cook and serve a meal to patients and their families.
“The first time we did that, I asked his friends what word came to their minds when they thought of Sameer,” Ragini said. “They thought about how he was always thinking ahead, always ready to fix things. And they all said entrepreneur.”
It was a natural choice, then, for Ragini and Ishwar to create the Sameer Murarka Entrepreneurship Award Endowment at NC State as the memorial foundation’s newest and biggest initiative. Education has always been one of their core values as a family, and Ishwar and Ragini have deep ties to the university. They met at NC State while Ishwar was completing his postdoc in statistics and Ragini was pursuing her master’s degree in physics, and they were married at Danforth Chapel on campus in 1972.
“We were looking to do something significant in Sameer’s memory,” Ragini said. “This endowment allows me to give back to NC State and honor my son. The entrepreneurship program here is very impressive and hands-on. It’s not just classroom training. Sameer loved learning by doing and talking to people, and NC State Entrepreneurship offers the experiences and connections needed to be successful.”
This award, which will be granted for the first time this May, is the second endowment at NC State created by the Murarkas. In 2017, Ragini decided to establish the Ragini Shah Murarka Scholarship to support students in physics, particularly those who are traditionally underrepresented in the discipline.
When reflecting on what the family would like beneficiaries of the Sameer Murarka Entrepreneurship Award to know about Sameer, Ragini shared one more of his entrepreneurial projects. “He was in fifth or sixth grade, and he had so many tools. He was interested in making things. He taught himself how to make wooden pens,” she said.
Sameer and his friend biked down to the nearby senior center and found that the residents were the ideal audience because the wooden pens were easier and more comfortable to grip. They found a client base at the center — selling products that were tailored for them.
Despite their popularity and significant profit, Sameer stopped selling the pens not long after. Ragini remembers asking her son what happened.
“He said, ‘We shouldn’t be taking that kind of money from seniors. I didn’t feel good about it.’ To me, that’s ethics. It’s good to make a profit, but it’s also how you make the profit. You have to be mindful of that, and that’s what I would like those who benefit from this fund to know.”
According to his family, Sameer just didn’t give people what they thought they needed but what they never thought possible – the kind of mentality NC State is known for. In creating this endowment, Ragini and Ishwar Murarka hope to support emerging entrepreneurs in their own quests to think beyond boundaries and do the extraordinary.
And as the award supports and influences a new generation of thinkers and doers, Sameer’s story as an entrepreneur will continue on.