This woman entrepreneur wants to help preserve your life’s best memories using technology

Born with physical disabilities, Surashree Rahane fought many odds. As Founder and CEO of Yearbook Canvas, she aims to help people preserve memories using technology.
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Surashree Rahane’s story is one of success against many odds. Born with physical disorders including club foot, polymelia (extra limbs), and limb length discrepancy, every step she took in her life was a challenge.

Born and raised in Bhagur (Nashik) in Maharashtra, she underwent multiple surgeries during her childhood. The first one happened when she was just 15 days old.

At the age of eight, her doctors tried Ilizarov, a Russian technique, which involves a type of external fixation to lengthen or reshape limb bones. She was also told she would have to miss at least a year, or more of school.

“I faced excruciating pain during the initial three months. I tried walking slowly and I felt I should try going back to school with the help of a walker. After consulting with the school authorities, my classroom was shifted to an accessible location, and with the help of a walker, I started attending school,” she recalls.

Surashree says this is when she discovered that if she put her mind to it, she could “do anything”

Not a victim

When she was in class 10, Surashree’s father suffered from a paralysis attack, and was recovering slowly. He was determined not to “feel like a victim”.

“He taught me not to feel like a victim too, and that your inner power and positive mindset can change a lot of things. I started studying hard, came first in my school, in my town, and in Nashik district as well, in the physically challenged category,” she says.

For her classes 11 and 12, Surashree had to leave home at 5:30 am every day and travel by bus to reach her college. She received an outstanding student award and a scholarship to study Social Sciences in Japan. However, she says, “the herd mentality” took over and she opted for Computer Science Engineering at the College of Engineering, Pune (COEP). Four years at the institution changed her life forever.

“I was exposed to a lot of extra-curricular activities – I decided to be part of Mindspark, the technical fest, and Zest, a sports fest, in the first year itself. We had to travel in local trains and that instilled a sense of confidence, and I developed an attitude to learn,” she says.

After a couple of years, she began to feel that she was not cut out for engineering but decided to stay on. In her third year, she became a part of COEP’s Bhau Institute, a business incubation centre that had the likes of Dr APJ Abdul Kalam as a mentor.

She also received the Leader of the Year Award on graduation. Then, she joined Ideapoke, heading its University-Industry Connect Program handling promotional and strategic activities.

In 2014, she decided to write the CAT and joined the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) for her MBA.

“It was an amazing institution, where different thought processes were encouraged,” she says of her time there.

She joined PepsiCo and went on to handle end-to-end sales for its different brands. Her last stint was with HP, creating and managing end to end business for education solutions and Chromebooks for the Greater India region — India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

In between, she also started her own clothing export business and was the youngest vendor on NDTV’s Indian Roots.

Surashree with her co-founder Abhinav Madavi

Memories relived

The idea for Yearbook Canvas came from her childhood experience of having as many slam books as possible for whenever she missed school.

“Memories excite me. I have always tried to capture them as they helped me be happy when I was in and out of hospitals. While in FMS, we launched a digital yearbook and the idea took off from there,” she says.

Realising that manually compiling a yearbook can be an exhaustive process, Surashree thought of starting a tech platform to facilitate this. Teaming up with Sushil Sharma and Devesh Rakhecha, whom she met at an event, she started Yearbook Canvas in 2018.

She explains, “We are the only company in Asia to offer a mobile application exclusively for yearbooks. And within the first year itself, we onboarded some of the best institutes in the country, including FMS and some of the IITs as well. The response we received was phenomenal because it’s a great connection tool. It’s like memorabilia you could keep for a lifetime,” she says.

Last year, the startup was also approached by corporates to help them create yearbooks to keep employees engaged and motivated by writing testimonials for friends and colleagues, creating engagement. In 2019, Yearbook Canvas raised a seed round from Scale Ventures and a bridge round last year that has helped expand its team to 17 members. She also joined Yearbook Canvas full-time as Founder and CEO.

Expanding the idea, Surashree is now gearing up for alumni reconnection and management.

“When I began talking to institutes and universities, I realised that alumni are not specially engaged like in the West. We plan to offer a closed community platform with verified users who can interact with and help each other or their alma mater – from donations, scholarships, jobs, internships, mentorship sessions, and more,” she says.

A star in her own right

In between all this, before she moved to FMS for her MBA, Surashree, along with her husband Amol, was featured on NDTV’s Band Bajaa Bride, helmed by noted designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

“My in-laws did not approve of us dating because of my physical condition. We had decided on a court marriage when FMS happened. At the same time, I was invited by Sabya for a meeting. I was not sure whether we should get married at that time, but we eventually did and moved to Delhi for our studies,” she says.

Additionally, Surashree scuba dives, shoots and is a trained dancer. There’s nothing this young woman cannot do – “because there are no limits, except for those we impose on ourselves”.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta