Sathish bala, brand builder behind desifest, launches edtech startup schoolio to help parents teach their kids at home

Sathish Bala is a distinguished business leader in advertising and emerging technology. Motivated by innovation and creativity, he currently applies his insights and curiosity to enable entrepreneurial ideas, champion heartfelt causes, and mentor young professionals. Best known for creating high-performance agency BlueBand Digital and Canada’s largest South Asian music festival; DESIFEST as Co-Founder and CEO, Sathish has been a trusted strategic advisor to some of the world’s most admired brands. For 20 years, he collaborated, connected, and inspired brilliant talent to create award-winning and brand-building platforms for clients. He pioneered the development and launch of 3 digital companies, totalling $50M+ in sales with 150+ staff across 5+ countries.  He now works at the forefront of the Bala Group, a consulting and investment group focused on supporting early-stage startup founders. Sathish serves as a digital wayfinder, charting possibilities for promising companies and entrepreneurs. Sathish also supports Canada’s brightest student entrepreneurs through his work as an Advisor with various incubators and accelerators.

You seem like you have the same challenge as me because you have different projects you’re working on. If somebody asked you what you do, how would you respond?

Good question. While i have multiple projects/startups on the go, I tend to have ONE umbrella company that is the lead project. I am currently the founder of Bala Group Inc – a consultancy focused on helping early-stage tech startups get to market with clarity, product and sales. One of our companies is Schoolio – an education startup helping innovate the home education market. 

I’m sure the story starts when you were even younger (as it does with a lot of entrepreneurs), but I think it was the experience you went through BlueBand Digital and getting acquired that really kicked off everything else you worked on . Tell us more about that experience.  

I started my first while finishing computer science at Ryerson during my 4th year. I didn’t want to join the co-op program as I felt it would teach me anything for the future. I learned so much on my own that it became addictive. I am in the ultimate ‘self-help’ game and with each startup – good or bad, success or failure, I won with personal growth. So, when my 3rd company BlueBand Digital launched in 2007, I finally blended my creative side with my techie side into a perfect business model. When I sold the agency in 2017, I was no longer learning or growing. I was lucky enough to recognize that and get out before I got stuck in a routine. During the last year of BlueBand, I was really enjoying mentoring and helping other founders with their startups. Finding a place to share your experience, your scars and your skills as you get older is as important – and is my new addiction. How many other people in our community can I help achieve success?   What is the impact of having representation for the next generation to see?  These are the things I am exploring now. We need more leaders from the Tamil community to share and give-away their blueprint, network and, when possible, funding to help build the next batch of entrepreneurs. 

In addition to marketing & technology, I know music is a HUGE passion of yours and a big reason why you started DESIFEST. You’ve been running it now for 15 years, which is remarkable in age when I feel like working on projects for a long-time is almost frowned upon. What makes you continue to run this passion project of yours?  

The impact of DESIFEST on community development, empowering young people, and breaking down stereotypes fuels me! When we started 15 years ago, the world was much different – communities self-isolated. We divided ourselves by language, religion and country of origin. Being born in Tamil Nadu, moving to Singapore from the age of 3 to 14 and then arriving in Canada – Scarborough (1989), I need to figure out what culture meant to me. How to live in an east-west lifestyle? How to get along with strict parents who had their vision of MY future. So, yes, we are a music festival, but that was a way to bring the communities together – to have a deeper, more important conversation. 

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