Shervin Pishevar was just six years old when the bombs from the Iran-Iraq War started to fall in 1980. His father, a high-ranking television executive, felt the family was in danger during the Iranian Revolution and so they left for the U.S. where he ended up driving taxis to make ends meet.
But in America, the Pishevars persevered, and then they prospered.
Now Shervin Pishevar, who was one of the very first investors behind Uber and who recently started Sherpa Foundry, has been stepping up charitable contributions by joining the boards of non-profits like the Bay Lights-backers Illuminate the Arts and Build, which teachers entrepreneurship to high school students across the country.
He’s also trying to reach out to Iranian or Iranian-American teens and young people who could have been like him. He established a $100,000 prize named after Cyrus The Great, who once ruled over a vast empire that included what is now Iran today. Pishevar is trying to recognize other Iranian-American entrepreneurs and innovators with a prize that’s vested over three years and can be put to whatever use the recipient likes.
His first winner is Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi, who started the company with MIT classmate Drew Houston back in 2007.
Quoting Cyrus at a gala in Burlingame this weekend where the prize was awarded, Pishevar said, “Success always calls for greater generosity — though most people, lost in the darkness of their own egos, treat it as an occasion for greater greed. Collecting boot [is] not an end itself, but only a means for building [an] empire. Riches would be of little use to us now — except as a means of winning new friends.”
Coincidentally, Dropbox got some of its very first support from Pejman Nozad, the Palo Alto-based rug dealer who turned out to be one of the Valley’s most unlikely and successful angel investors.
When Ferdowsi and Houston first moved across the country to the Bay Area, they took a Zipcar down to Palo Alto to meet Nozad. They ended up at a rug store, and were completely baffled. They thought they had ended up at the wrong place.
But they approached the receptionist, who showed them a sleek backroom behind the Persian rug store. Nozad came out, offering to intro them to some of the Valley’s top firms like Sequoia Capital.
Clearly, Ferdowsi, who sits at the helm of a company now privately worth more than $10 billion, doesn’t need another award or a cash prize.
But Pishevar said picking Ferdowsi was about setting the bar high. He wants other Iranian founders to aspire to build companies like Dropbox and he hopes that Ferdowsi’s stature will help out future recipients, who may be less well-known.