Startup Ashoka: An interview with the winners

The Centre for Entrepreneurship at Ashoka University organised Startup Ashoka on the 10th and 11th of November this year. This annual event is a 30 hour non-stop roller-coaster ride where aspiring entrepreneurs are given a platform to work on their big ideas and develop them into viable business plans. Out of 120 participants, the team “Wear-ability” consisting of Rhea Pandey, Dikshita, Nivedita Joon, Archit Mehrotra, Anirudh Gupta and Kunal Garg stood victorious with their idea “Disability friendly clothing which is both comfortable and fashionable.” In order to learn more about their experience at this event and possibly extract some advice for budding entrepreneurs out there, I decided to interview a part of this team (Rhea Pandey, Nivedita Joon and Dikshita).

Q. What drove you towards taking part in this event?

Rhea: I am currently taking an entrepreneurship course and I thought that it would be great to finally apply all the information that I am learning in my classes to real-world situations.

Nivedita: I have never done anything entrepreneurship-related in my life. I thought this would be a good way to introduce myself to that sphere.

Dikshita: I have always been interested in entrepreneurship and am also taking an entrepreneurship course this semester. I thought it would be great to apply theory to real life.


Q. How did you guys come up with the idea of “disability-friendly clothing”? Why was the idea important to you?

Rhea: I have struggled with disability in my life, so I have first-hand experience as to how difficult it can be to wear clothes. This prompted me to come up with this idea and work hard on it, so as to enable a more independent, efficient life for the disabled. Also, I have been very keen on social work (especially with animals) in the past, and through this I have learned to become more compassionate and sensitive. This made me try and apply a non-commercial, purely beneficial aspect to my pitch at Startup Ashoka.

Dikshita: I have a brother who has a disability. Through my experiences with him, I have come to realise that disabled people face a lot of problems in various spheres of their life. Even though we may not be able to solve every problem, the least we could do is try to give them some independence and help them attain efficiency in this one part of their life, and that’s exactly what we tried to do.

Nivedita: I really adore the people that this team consisted of, and was excited to work on whatever venture they chose to work on. I also noticed while we were conducting our internet research, that there is a huge scarcity of clothing friendly for the disabled in India. Even abroad, they are very expensive and available in small quantities. There is an imminent need to solve this problem, and that is what we tried to tackle through our pitch.

Q. Take me through the process of you working on your idea, developing a solution et al. Were there any obstacles that you faced?

Rhea: So, we had about 24 hours to develop our idea during the competition. Through these 24 hours, we had to continuously keep modifying our original idea because different obstacles kept popping up. For example, we started out with the idea of making customised disabled-friendly clothing, perhaps for multiple different types of physical illnesses and mental illnesses. But we slowly had to change the idea to encompass only physically handicapped people because we could work better on a narrower stakeholder base.

Nivedita: We had a couple of people in our team who have had experience in the business world before. They helped immensely in developing the economic aspect of our business model. We had to work a lot on learning more about the customer base, existing markets, competition, manufacturing costs, facilities required etc. Their passion about economics and the idea at hand really helped us efficiently work on our model.

Dikshita: We faced quite a few problems during the competition such as not receiving the prototype clothing on time from our tailor, realising some small errors in the designs. However, we persevered and concentrated more on our learning experience from the competition rather than just focussing on the winning aspect.


Q. How did you feel when you won? What all did you win?

Rhea: It was surreal! We won 10,000 Rupees and a discount to Startup Safari. However, what I cherish the most is all the experience that we got and the mentoring that we received from experts over the course of the competition.

Nivedita: Being selected out of the 61 pitches and to the final top 16 itself was great. The exposure to the kind of people we met and the network that we formed was amazing.

Dikshita: The mentors that we met gave us their cards and appreciated our model a lot. They are interested in working with us in the future so that we can further develop our idea and implement it over the next few years.

Q. What is your advice to any budding entrepreneurs out there? Maybe some advice you wish you had gotten?

Rhea: You need to step out of your comfort zone! I never thought I had any business acumen, but now I have learned so much from this experience and am definitely looking forward to working on many such ventures in the future.

Dikshita: We learnt how to be flexible with respect to our ideas. One should learn to be open to criticism and learn how to face the constant stream of obstacles thrown along the path. This makes you learn to not be so rigid in the model that you may have started out with.

Nivedita: Be passionate about whatever it is you want to do and do not let anyone tell you that you cannot succeed. I mean, who says Liberal Arts students cannot be entrepreneurs! If you recognise a simple need in society, you should go ahead and try to solve it.


Q. Anything else to conclude?

All: Look out for us as a team!


Edited by Priyanka Shankar

Photography by Rhea Pandey