Life may have lost its predictability, but there is a lot of excitement - Shalini Gupta, spouse of entrepreneur Ashish Bhatia

In our new four-part series, we focus on the spouses of entrepreneurs and their contribution to the building of startups. Here, we feature Shalini Gupta, wife of Ashish Bhatia, Co-Founder, LabsAdvisor and Itmenaan Lodges.

It’s always the venture and the entrepreneur who are in focus when we talk of a startup. The contribution of the spouse and children must also be highlighted and celebrated. Here we shine the spotlight on Shalini Gupta, wife of Ashish Bhatia, Co-Founder, LabsAdvisor and Itmenaan Lodges, and her role in her husband’s entrepreneurial venture.

I meet Shalini Gupta, wife of Ashish Bhatia (Co-Founder – Itmenaan Lodges (2011) and LabsAdvisor (2015)) at her office in IIT-Delhi. An Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD), she has a PhD from North Carolina State University, USA, and a BTech from IIT-BHU, Varanasi, both in Chemical Engineering. 

Shalini Gupta

Shalini heads the Nanoengineered Materials and Biosensing lab at IITD that develops novel biosystems for affordable healthcare. She has published over 30 research papers in international journals, and has four technology patents to her credit. She also heads a small startup, NandoDx Healthcare, which is a spin-out of her Lab. 

The genesis of the idea and when did it all begin?

I ask Shalini about the genesis of the Itmenann and how Ashish started up.

"The year was 2009, we had just returned from the UK. There was an excellent job. However, the growth trajectory and lifestyle didn't impress Ashish much to the point of pursuing it for the lifetime. We had travelled a lot while in the UK, and Ashish's interest in travel made him explore sites and properties in Uttarakhand. That's how Itmenaan came into existence. A brief LoA (leave of absence) helped him put his thoughts together, and having a partner was what was needed to kick off the startup journey in 2011. To me, the whole idea of having houses in the Himalayas was so exotic and beautiful. And then when I saw him happy, there was nothing like that,” she says.

"Itmenaan was a capital intensive business, and not many people could do as Ashish did it with a lot of hard effort and personal touch. I remember he used to travel for five days for his consulting assignment, and then over the weekend to Uttarakhand. So it was a few hours window on Friday and a few hours on Sunday, that we used to catch up."

The second venture, LabsAdvisor, was envisioned as a result of multiple reasons, including the experience when the family underwent a severe health crisis. This brought Ashish face-to-face with issues facing the healthcare sector in India. Till that time, the hospitality venture, Itmenaan Lodges, had already been set up. Also, LabsAdvisor had a low barrier to entry, and soon, Ashish found a partner who shared his vision. That's how the second venture was floated in 2015 with full-time engagement.

Shalini Gupta with her family.

Not one but two startups

The nature of the two businesses is entirely different - one being capital intensive and the other service-oriented. So how have the trajectories of two startups been?

"Itmenaan Lodges is running successfully and profitably as three boutique resorts in North India – at Kumaon Hills, Bhimtal, and Amritsar. LabsAdvisor is today one of the largest medical test platforms In India with more than 200 labs under its ambit covering several hundreds of medical tests. The venture has also seen multiple rounds of angel investing and team expansion as well as getting more and more labs under the umbrella across cities. So it has been challenging as well as promising enough to keep Ashish always on toes. The freedom that being in charge of your work gives you is immense as is the satisfaction. And that's what brings happiness to an entrepreneur in this journey."

Pillar of support

The big question is about how has this been a career impacting decision for her?

We talk more about Shalini's work at IIT Delhi and her Lab. She demonstrates one of the testing kits developed by her team. The equipment, which helps give investigative results about various blood parameters instantly, is being tested using blood samples from Medanta. I also get to know that her team has also developed a vaccine for cancer diagnosis and that she is engaging with hospitals to test the blood sample. Shalini is spearheading a lot of research and publications as part of her Lab along with teaching. A venture in itself.

Which brings us to that all-important question – has her work ever seen an impact due to the spouse taking the plunge in multiple ventures?

"No. (she laughs). Certainly, we both run our venture in a startup mode. The only difference is that of a safety net. In my work, it is my vision in terms what all research, publications as well as teaching hours I undertake. But I can manage my schedules, and to an extent, he also can. As compared to being in any high profile job, he also has the flexibility to help me to take care of the house and our little one, Mira,” she says.

As a default partner in crime, how much is she involved in the discussions about the couple's startup babies?

"I do help with ideas solicited and unsolicited based on the stories that he brings to the home, but I don't know how much are they implemented. Also, Ashish is inherently a thinker and always has some out of the box exceptional ideas. But I do give him gyaan, which he listens to patiently, but I don't go beyond that as to question. I believe that beyond a point there is always a fear of judging". 

As for the family’s reaction, Shalini says they were terrified.

"They used to ask me, not Ashish, about leaving a definite career and venturing into an unknown realm. But we always had the conviction to answer all their questions. And once it started, especially the first one, the change of happiness that they could see for themselves – there was a clear transformation when starting the second one. So there was no resistance but an apprehension of the fear of the unknown."

With two startups how has life changed?

"Life has changed because it has lost its predictability, but then there is a lot of excitement. The money part was good earlier. Hotel points and bonus points, which were ample with consulting assignments. But the good thing with entrepreneurship is that sense of creating something from scratch and that joy of working hard to take it to newer heights." (Shalini pauses) And also a call from your spouse to check in about the day..."

And the conversation is interrupted with the buzzing of the phone. It is Ashish.

We burst into laughter.

Finally, Shalini believes the learnings on the journey have been immense. 

"Most of us complain about issues but won't do anything to change it, but Ashish has shown me numerous times and ways on how to make such changes. And the second important thing is to persist with honesty and compassion while being in business also."

"Simplicity and humility help in not just taking a plunge but also persisting. Also, I think having one partner in a steady job makes the decision easier. It also helps to tide over the many storms related to funding, as the expansion plans emerge and growth happens. 

(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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