As a former teacher, I’m always thrilled to reconnect with a student who has moved on to new experiences. Pranavi Karnati was a student in my INCubatoredu class at Loudoun Academies in 2018. At the time, Pranavi embraced the skills necessary to succeed and create a successful startup with her team. It also awakened something inside her to feel empowered to make a difference. I was curious to know how that experience impacted her journey, now that she's in college. So in a full-circle moment, I interviewed her, and no surprise, she's sure to inspire anyone driven to make an impact.
Back To Her Roots
In her high school entrepreneurship class, INCubatoredu, Pranavi and her team created Grow Greenly LLC, a company that aims to reduce plastic waste and water pollution through the creation of self-fertilizing, biodegradable plant pots.
She recalls how the idea sprang forth while she and her classmates were riding the bus together, “There was this horrible landfill on the way.” At that point, she said, “it was just a thought that sparked a conversation.” But with the idea planted, they sought answers about how, why, and what fuels these landfills. They made note of their personal use of plastic, and with two of them avid gardeners, plastic gardening pots became their 'problem to solve.'
The project idea continued to evolve as they made connections with subject matter experts (SMEs), mentors, and local businesses. Networking led to brainstorming, product donations, and intangible support. Pranavi said, “This idea of creating a business was something that was so well accepted by the community—so many people were excited to support it, and help us through the journey in any way that they could.”
Demystifying Social Change
A social entrepreneur is a person who explores business opportunities that have a positive impact on their community, society, or the world. Pranavi said, “ I think social entrepreneurship is about being better." The pressing social issues that we face can range from a wide variety of things. It’s so much more than just creating a product that is environmentally friendly, it can be a movement.”
As exhilarating as the mission is, that’s a tall order, and maybe overwhelming. Being an agent of change, according to Pranavi, boils down to personal interest in the cause. “So much of what you want to do is based on what you're interested in, and as long as you continue to follow that interest and passion, it'll lead you somewhere where you'll realize it can be a whole new world.”
Sowing Seeds of Change
Pranavi is studying Finance and Marketing with a minor in Urban Studies at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She continues to seek out ways to innovate for change. With her ever-growing passion for social entrepreneurship, Pranavi serves as a Co-Chair for the Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement, a community of innovators, consultants, and entrepreneurs dedicated to social impact. Pranavi’s role with PennSEM provides her with the unique opportunity to consult for nonprofits, social enterprises, and budding social ventures. She manages various projects also, giving her added insight into her future dreams and goals, "I'm interested in helping brands align more with the growing trend of social entrepreneurship and become more socially conscious.”
Advice For Social Entrepreneurs
Career choices continue to evolve with the advancement of tech, global connectedness, and the rapidly evolving 'future of work.' And young people like Pranavi are driving this social responsibility movement. Given her experience, Pranavi offered some tips to keep in mind in the pursuit of a social entrepreneurship venture:
"Don’t assume the space you're interested in is at capacity or oversaturated. Never shy away from an idea simply because there’s something similar on the market. Follow your interests, share the idea with stakeholders, and be ready to pivot and pivot again while staying laser-focused on the problem you are looking to solve. There are so many different avenues to explore when you get to a more granular level.”
"Watch and follow trends. Keeping tabs on trends within a space of interest can provide insight into potential business ventures. 'What is happening with other companies in the space? What are they focusing on?' Find the niche within an area and capitalize on it. That’s an entrepreneurial perspective."
Cultivating Entrepreneurial Skills
Although her college offers courses on social entrepreneurship and even a concentration on social impact, Pranavi credits her INCubatoredu experience as the reason she feels ready to tackle any obstacle (much to my delight!). Here's what she learned:
1. Be bold and try new things
New experiences can make anyone’s stomach turn, but in Pranavi's experience, putting yourself out there only helps develop those muscles for the future. “The whole process of creating our startup, Grow Greenly, and working with community members taught me not to be afraid to just throw yourself into something. Coming into college, I was definitely overwhelmed at the beginning. But I just tried to embrace that mentality, put myself out there and explore my interests.”
2. Practice makes prepared
In addition to the fearlessness Pranavi exhibits, INCubatoredu helped her develop practical skills that matter. Speaking to professionals, presenting to groups, and even shaking hands are all part of making a good first impression. And what makes those skills less scary? Practice, practice, practice.
3. Keep talking
“I'm finding that with practice, it's easy to talk about things that I'm interested in with people who are experts in that field—probing on things that I'm curious about, and what they're working on.” Networking, another crucial business skill, doesn’t have to be a high-stakes game. Networking is really just connecting. If you meet with professionals in a field you’re excited about and remain open and come prepared, there’s no way to fail at networking. (Here are some networking tips.)
4. Teamwork, dreamwork
"The teamwork required in the INCubatoredu program is unlike any other high school project or assignment", Pranavi said. Identifying goals, delegating workload, welcoming feedback, and perfecting communication are all aspects of teamwork that are practiced in pursuit of developing a startup, and can result in deeper connections and friendships.
Social entrepreneurship and innovation all start with looking for ways to be 'better', and good ideas—ideas that can be found anywhere...even on a bus one afternoon.