Women’s Entrepreneurship Day: starting young and making a difference
Entrepreneurship is often assumed to be a journey that requires a lot of forethought and resources in place, which are often things one only finds later in life.
However, many are taking the plunge much younger, with the belief that it’s never too early to try and make a difference.
On Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, meet these young and determined entrepreneurs.
Tanya Bakshi, 21
When she was 16, Tanya Bakshi started working with kids as a volunteer. It was then she realised that she wanted to make their lives better, and give them an education that went beyond books. To her, education is about holistic development, wellbeing, and finding one’s own passion and purpose.
“In a world that’s built on competition, I wanted to bring about change through which people can see positivity, believe in happiness, and learn about gratitude.”
Recalling the turning point which made her take the plunge into entrepreneurship, Tanya says,
“One of the students came up to me and said, ‘Do you think I’m mentally healthy? Do you compare me with any of the other students?’ And it just hit me - why is this seven-year-old girl, with no mental illnesses, asking whether she’s mentally healthy?”
Tanya then realised that people don’t have to associate mental health with mental illnesses. She believes people also need to focus on bringing up issues they don’t usually talk about, optimising stress, and understanding that they can do so much with their lives.
Turning these thoughts into something tangible, Tanya launched Youniverse in 2017, when she was 19 years old. Based in New Delhi, it conducts workshops in schools and colleges, talking to students about pursuing a life outside books and finding their true selves. So far, the team at Youniverse, which comprises mostly interns, has reached ten schools and colleges and impacted over a thousand students.
Youniverse will also be presenting its work at the World Happiness Summit in Miami next year.
Speaking about the kind of support she has received from those around her, Tanya says her parents have always encouraged and nurtured her drive to make a difference. And while there may have been a few people with apprehensions, Tanya decided not to pay them any heed.
“I firmly believe when people support you, you grow 10 times more. That’s why it’s very important for us to only associate with people who actually help us grow in life.”
While she runs her startup, Tanya is also in her final year of medical school. On how she manages both, she says,
“Instead of going for a break, or for movies, I volunteer and explore more. So if I miss college for work, I don’t look at it as a loss. I involve every group that I associate with, in my movement.”
Starting young may raise eyebrows, but Tanya believes that it has more advantages than venturing out later in life.
“When you’re starting young, you know the path in front of you is unknown, but you are super enthusiastic about the journey. For anybody who wants to start something new, just start young. Don’t think about doing it later when you are 25.”
Drishti Gupta and Bani Singh, 21
Bani (left), Drishti (right)
There is a lot of stigmas attached to talking about things that bother you, especially among families and certain friend circles.
Wanting to help people voice their concerns and find people who relate to their struggles, college friends Drishti Gupta and Bani Singh decided to launch their website - NowandMe - in 2018.
The co-founders describe NowandMe as a community that talks about shared experiences across categories like mental illnesses, physical ailments, and personal and social issues. They say that the people on the website most commonly talk about issues pertaining to relationships, loneliness, and work dissatisfaction.
In a previous interview with HerStory, Drishti said,
"We are trying to provide a platform where people can talk about anything that is bothering them so that they feel lighter. However, it is neither a crisis helpline nor a substitute for professional help. The purpose of this forum is to create a supportive space where everyone can interact in a kind, compassionate manner."
Launched in October 2018, NowandMe sees over 10,000 unique visits every week, has around 1,000 registered users on its website, mostly between the ages of 25 and 35, and more than 4,000 collective posts shared by users.
The duo also conducts offline events, such as panel discussions with mental health professionals and influencers.
On starting up so young, the co-founders say that it is a continuous learning process, where the destination is uncertain. They add that pursuing higher education or seeking employment was never on their radar, and they realised early on that they wanted to work hard for themselves.
While they have been met with concerns and apprehension from those around them, Drishti and Bani believe everyone is evolving, and that starting up young is not something to shy away from.
"Why not make the jump? Starting young gives the benefit to experiment, make mistakes more freely, more frequently and learn from them faster. It is a great investment in the way it changes you and your approach to life. There is more to gain than to lose when you undertake your own venture."
To other young entrepreneurs wondering whether what they are doing is a good idea in the long run, Drishti and Bani have some advice:
"Just start and stay committed, you'll figure it out on the way. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. People will try to bring you down, not believe in you or your idea, but ultimately what matters is that you believe in yourself. Stay consistent, it'll take time, probably a lot of time but you will get there."
They add the kind of learning one will encounter along the way as a young entrepreneur, is unmatched to what they would learn in school or college - getting to know who they really are, and understanding what life is really about.
Garvita Gulhati, 20
Founder, Why Waste?
Small and often overlooked things can hold answers to the big problems we face. Garvita was 15 when she got to know that 14 million litres of water are wasted every day, from the water we leave behind at restaurants.
The teenager was alarmed and decided to take matters into her own hands. She began her initiative, Why Waste? in 2015.
In an interview with HerStory earlier this year, she said, “I thought why not propose simple solutions to solve the global water crisis, and how every person can make a difference. That’s when I started off with the glass half-full idea and took it to restaurants. From there, we helped optimise water usage across industries, offices, NGOs, and other places. We are also working on getting young people from low-income groups and government schools to join the initiative.”
She recounts how people treated her when she began as a young changemaker.
“People couldn’t fathom how a 15-year-old could change the way things were always done. Restaurants didn’t want to listen to me. People around me thought studies was more important than what I was doing during the moment. A lot of people said mean, hurtful things. It was hard to hear all this and still convince myself I was doing the right thing, but I carried on.
The 20-year-old social entrepreneur has since collaborated with bluebooks and Zomato to start a new rating system for restaurants based on how eco-friendly they are. Her enterprise also works at saving water and recycling organic waste in restaurants, and optimising usage.
On how people react to her when they know she is a young entrepreneur, she says,
“It’s always a varied response. Mostly depends on who the conversation is with. But, yes, people do find it interesting and fascinating, as to where the motivation to do so many different things comes from!”
Apart from her entrepreneurial venture, she is studying engineering at PES University in Bengaluru and is certified in the fine arts, and is a trained Kathak dancer.
For young people who seek to chart the waters of entrepreneurship, she advises,
“Don’t be afraid to be or do different. Feel special because that’s who you are. Your capabilities lie beyond your capacity to believe in them.”
“I have learnt that on this journey, passion, perseverance, and patience are probably the hardest things to keep at but the only things that will get you exactly where you want. Every single entrepreneur is a changemaker. They say that change is the only constant but now I think the world is in the constant need for changemakers. So be proud of what you’re creating and building,” she adds.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)