Profile of a WINner: Savitha Sridharan
I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of The Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab’s participant, Savitha Sridharan, MBA Candidate Class of 2014, to discuss her business, Aurora. An engineer by training and an ultra-marathon runner, Savitha is dedicated to creating awareness and solutions to help communities in her native country of India as well as rural communities around the world. Savitha has recently been selected to be a part of the Clinton Global Initiative University and present her Commitment to Action at the CGI U Exchange forum. In addition to being a WIN participant, Savitha is also the Director of Speaker Outreach for both the Babson Entrepreneurship Forum and the Babson Energy and Environmental Conference.Tell me about your business idea.
My business, Aurora (meaning sunrise in French), is a for-profit social enterprise that provides access to renewable energy to communities (rural and urban slums) in developing countries. We provide solar-powered solutions to communities that are not able to get connected to the national power grid, empowering them with training and financial support through a micro-finance model.
Typically, these rural communities use old fashioned firewood and kerosene lamps, which often results in fires that burn down their homes. What they spend in six months on firewood and kerosene can be used to invest in a low cost solar-powered product, which will last them up to 10 years. The electricity is powered with innovative solar energy that provides a holistic solution for a whole family. The panels are in the shape of a box, with LED lights and have sockets for cell-phone charging. It takes two to eight hours to charge and can power a home for up to eight hours.
Currently, our prototype is ready. We are making connections within the communities to launch our pilot programs in India and learn more about the customer needs. We are working on community engagement training materials customized to practices in the local community. The people in these communities want to see a change, but they don’t have the support to help them. The whole model is based on partnerships; we don’t want to just supply the power to these communities, we want to educate them and help to give them the voices to make a change.
When was your light bulb moment?
My passion for making renewable energy accessible to rural communities in developing countries was sparked when I was working with a model organic farm in South India, where crops are grown without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. During my several visits to this farm, I noticed that some of the neighboring communities needed access to basic quality-of-life amenities like reliable electricity and water in their everyday lives. Women in these communities are very passionate about being an active part of this social change. During my visit to the farm in summer of 2011, I started to dream about creating that social change.
What drew you to the WIN Lab?
I was drawn to the WIN Lab by the opportunity to work with other female Babson students (undergrad and graduate), like-minded people and to move the idea of launching Aurora from an academic effort to inception.
What’s your greatest thing that you’ve gotten out of WIN; how has it helped you the most?
WIN has helped me to believe in my dream and commit to act on it. Sharon Kan, Susan Duffy, Heatherjean MacNeil and Pranjal Hegde have always been a great source of encouragement and support/backing in turning my dream into a reality. The three-hour sessions at WIN Lab every Friday have been very thoughtfully designed to help budding entrepreneurs take their initial business ideas to a launch stage. It’s amazing to know that WIN Lab has my back and is willing to readily help me when challenges arise, as well as to celebrate with me when I have successes.
What do you think the future of women entrepreneurship looks like?
As the Director of Speaker Outreach for Babson Entrepreneurship Forum 2013 and as part of WIN Lab, I have had the opportunity to meet and interact with women entrepreneurs from various industries. It is really inspiring to see that women entrepreneurship is not a myth anymore! It is becoming a viable career option to advance the ideas of several knowledgeable women, who have decided to step away from a sense of lack of recognition or rewards associated with being employed by someone else.
Who’s your “shero”?
My mother-in-law. She has been an amazing role model and a truly fearless leader, both at home and professionally. She retired as the first women regional bank manager of a national bank. She was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in 2009. However, this did not deter her from following her passions as an accomplished writer (Tamil literature), Indian classical music singer and instrumentalist (Veena), a skilled Montessori teacher, and an avid traveler including traveling to the Himalayas, living her life to the fullest in the midst of the numerous (50) chemotherapy sessions and being a epitome of positivity and hope to everyone around her!
What has you jumping out of bed in the morning?
Making Aurora a reality! I love to find solutions to difficult problems. I love the fact that each day is different with Aurora and I am able to learn something new every day. I am really excited to get my product out into every home that is waiting to be lighted up.
Advice for other aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Women are smart and need to get out of their shells and just do it. My advice is to think BIG! Live your dream and don’t stop until you make it happen. I built up so many barriers in my mind and the reality was that they were all just in my mind.
About the WIN Lab:
Created by Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the WIN Lab provides entrepreneurs with the road map, expertise, inspiration, and community needed to successfully launch ventures. The WIN Lab team is in the business of launching companies. To do this, they choose candidates who are ready to pursue their entrepreneurial destinies.