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This Indian-American CEO’s Success Has Come From a Wide Range of Industries and Teaches Us the Power of Giving Back

Meet Nitin Khanna, the son of an Army officer and a homemaker mother, who at 17-years-old, arrived in the United States penniless.

Forced to create his own success to survive, Khanna took a master’s degree in engineering at Purdue University.

“Some of my earliest memories, as a 5 or 6 year-old, are of being awakened at 4 a.m. by my uncles, bundled up, put in a car, and then we would drive all over the Indian state of Punjab to collect the money owed to my family from brick kilns, to whom we sold coal and lumber.” 

Nitin Khanna to Grit Daily

Post the completion of his graduation, he started working for International Paper and Oracle. It wasn’t until after moving on from both companies that he launched his first company, Saber Software with his brother, Karan. The company began offering its services to modernize election equipment and manage elections in over 25 states in the US.

In recent months, Khanna’s name has begun to spread across industries, making news for his entrepreneurial spirit. Having just caught the attention of Forbes India, Khanna’s recognition stems from achieving his success on his own by anticipating growth potential across many different industries, recently taking on cannabis.

Always a visionary, Khanna was one of the first entrepreneurs to spot the massive potential, along with the massive risk, in the cannabis industry, according to CBS News.

But how did he transition from his company at Saber Software, which began as a custom software development company to cannabis?

Following the election, the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which mandated that each state modernize election equipment and adopt a computerized Statewide Voter Registration System. Saber was awarded the first state contract in Oregon and eventually expanded nationwide. Saber’s software is still used by over 25 states to manage elections. Khanna focused on growing the company aggressively and received private equity money from a fund created by Accel and KKR in 2007. Later that year, Khanna sold Saber for $473 million.

Taking $473 Million and Turning to Cannabis

Following the sale of Saber, Khanna took a two-year sabbatical and concentrated on making early stage investments in Portland-based companies. Khanna and his brother founded MergerTech, an investment bank focused primarily on mobile software businesses.

In 2014, MergerTech dominated the league tables nationwide for the most deals completed in the mobile space.

It was around this time that Khanna also managed to spot a huge potential of growth in the cannabis industry, introducing his first cannabis company, Cura to the world in 2015. Soon thereafter, Cura acquired another company, Select. With Select as its brand, Cura went on to become the largest cannabis company in the world by revenue from 2016-2018.

$950 Million Later…

The cannabis industry was shocked. Industry leaders had anticipated that the market would be cornered by large Canadian companies that were early to the space. In a massive all-stock deal, Khanna sold Cura to Curaleaf for $950 million.

What’s Next?

Khanna’s present venture is Sentia Wellness, a 21st century wellness company rooted in CBD. A unicorn from its outset, Sentia was valued at $1.45 billion, with Khanna raising $90 million based on that valuation. Sentia, with its brand Social CBD, is now one of largest CBD companies in the world today and is on track to become the largest CBD company in the space.

So what lessons does Khanna have for others who may have grown up in the world he left behind?

Learning the value of cash, negotiations and collections at an early age is everything, which included understanding growth management over the years.

But most importantly, the art of giving back and paying it forward. His philanthropic work throughout his home state of Oregon doesn’t go unnoticed. Khanna is a part of several charity initiatives, currently supporting Feeding Kids in My Backyard to help provide those less fortunate students with a sufficient supply of food during weekdays and weekends.

And with COVID-19 still at large keeping kids at home, what a perfect opportunity to really give back.

Over the last several years, his team has been providing 25% of the budget for the charity. Through this charity, kids who get free lunch at school also manage to have meals at other times in the day.

With the world enduring this global pandemic, Khanna continues to look for ways to give back and provide those less fortunate with a means to succeed.