Though she appreciated the solid skill set she received while working in the banking industry, Saumya ‘17
didn’t feel excited to go to work in the morning and often wondered what kind of professional path she was on.
“I didn’t connect with finance as a person,” Saumya reflects, “and it was a huge company, so my being there or not being there didn’t really make a difference.”
Growing up in the Indian state of Bihar, one of the country’s poorest, Saumya took an interest in the public service her father performed as a bureaucrat. But despite the fact that she was very engaged in volunteer work, she didn’t know how to make public service a full-time job — that is, until she went on the Jagriti Yatra.
A two-week train journey that circles India, the Jagriti Yatra introduces young Indian citizens to social and business entrepreneurs across the country in an effort to “build India through enterprise.” Suddenly Saumya realized there was a way to feel excited about going to work in the morning.
Though her first venture in social enterprise failed to maintain investor backing because the company couldn’t provide a sustainable business model, its closure is what prompted Saumya to consider business school.
“I thought business school was the best place to gain a network and education, and then come back and relaunch that idea or work on a new one,” says Saumya. “I chose Kellogg because I realized social impact can’t happen if you don’t know how to run a business. Plus, the people just had that energy of collaborating with each other.”
Saumya, along with one of her friends from her previous startup, Kaushik, had been working on a research project for a large Indian social enterprise to identify technologies at the bottom of the pyramid. Their perspective was further developed when, three months before attending Kellogg, they met Sathya and Ayush. The two ran a small agricultural company that had provided training and market support to around 8,000 smallholder farmers in India. However, they were struggling to support their farmers due to the income irregularities produced by climate change.
This problem brought the four together and pushed them to search for technologies that could help protect small farmers from climate change, and that’s when they founded Kheyti
. Through Kheyti, the team developed the Greenhouse-in-a-Box, a low-cost and modular greenhouse structure that protects farmers’ crops from wind, rain, hail, heat and pests. Today Kheyti works with partners to finance the greenhouses, provide agricultural inputs and train and support the farmers. It also connects the farmers to reputed fair-market players to sell their produce.
“If I didn’t have the network and access of Kellogg I don’t think Kheyti would have reached the stage it has today,” says Saumya. She believes a major turning point came when Clinical Professor of Marketing Mohanbir Sawhney became one of her first backers and told Saumya to spend her summers in India working on Kheyti, rather than considering traditional internships. Saumya also received a $25,000 seed grant from the Institute of Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern at Kheyti’s incubating stage, which helped the company start its pilot testing.
Kellogg also awarded Kheyti its Social Entrepreneurship Award and has connected Saumya with numerous alumni advisors, such as Andrew Youn ‘06
, who founded the One Acre Fund to provide financing and training to smallholder farmers in East Africa. Saumya credits Kellogg with developing her introspective and leadership skills through classes such as Personal Leadership Insights and Leader as Coach.
“I take time out every morning to reflect about where my life is, where the company is and where I want it to go. This helps me be proactive about the choices I make rather than going with the flow,” she says. “[Kellogg] gave me that foundation.”
This self-analytical foundation is especially useful as Saumya continues to build her client base. “The farmers are not the easiest lot of customers to work with,” she explains. “We’re getting them to use technologies they have never used or even seen before and trying to gain their trust. So we’re making sure we’re doing that the right way.”