What happens when four bright, young entrepreneurs cross paths? There’s great bonhomie and zany moments galore. At a high tea organised by HELLO! in Mumbai, the ladies share their zeal for life, punctuated by tales of overcoming challenges.
Behind the glamour lies grit. Behind the joy lies passion. These four young women, who’ve come together for a special shoot and high tea for HELLO!, have all strived hard to build their businesses from the ground up, with their mind on making an impact in the world in their own inspiring, individual ways.
Shraddha Bhansali is the founder of plant-based protein firm, EVO; Alekha Advani heads new-age wellness company Way Well; Salonee Kothari is the Founder-Principal Designer of interior design firm Studio SKO; and Ayesha Mehta a baker at Flour Power and the co-founder of fragrance firm, Scentido.
As they pose and preen for the camera, the stylish women share what keeps them driven and the long-term goals they strive to achieve.
HELLO!: Tell us a little about your ventures.
Shraddha Bhansali: “I own and run EVO, an alternative protein company that makes delicious and nutritious plant-based eggs. We leverage the crop biodiversity in India to create affordable and accessible protein sources for the world. We successfully launched the world’s first plant-based boiled eggs (which are heat stable!) and will be launching our plant-based liquid egg very soon! We currently sell in India and will enter the US market by mid-2023.”
Alekha Advani: “As the founder of Way Well, my goal is to make health and well-being a priority in people’s lives through our unique wellness solutions. My company is dedicated to educating individuals, brands, corporations and communities about the vast array of wellness options there is, while guiding them to find the perfect fit for their needs. At Way Well, we believe in a holistic approach to wellness, encompassing both physical health and mental and spiritual well-being.”
Salonee Kothari: “Studio SKO, which was set up in 2017, is a multi-disciplinary interior design firm. We work on residential, commercial and hospitality projects, designing for and working with clients and vendors pan-India.”
Ayesha Mehta: “My passion for baking started at an early age, as I travelled around the world. During our family trips to Europe, I got to experience the varied confectioners in the countries we visited. The attention to detail and flavours in each item was remarkable, and I knew then that I wanted to be a pastry chef. Our brand, Scentido, is my dad’s pet project that started in 2018. My love for fragrances was passed down to me from my father, who taught me the intricacy of scents through the years. This project will always be my baby.”
H!: What are the challenges of being a young, female entrepreneur in India?
SB: “Prior to EVO, I ran my own vegan and vegetarian restaurant, Candy & Green. It was during this period that I faced the biggest challenges of being young and female. I’ve always struggled with red tape, which is slowly getting better. But over the years, I leaned more on my strengths as a female entrepreneur and ‘outsourced’ my weaknesses to trusted teammates and advisors.”
AA: “The difficulty I face in this space is putting forward and guiding health and wellness solutions to the people who require it the most. It can be challenging for others to accept these ideas because of my age. It can also be hard to find the right collaborators and partners to trust to expand and grow my business. These obstacles can sometimes pose challenges in achieving my goals, but I remain determined to overcome them and succeed in my mission.”
SK: “As a female entrepreneur in a very heavily male-driven industry, it can be challenging. There’s a sexist approach that begins with something as basic as emails. Most vendors send emails that start with “Dear sir,” which can be annoying.”
AM: “The biggest challenge I face is being relevant in a market that’s constantly changing. Scaling the business has been something we are working on. We started as a home bakery but have now moved to a cloud kitchen.”
H!: Numerous startups were harshly affected by the onset of Covid. How did you manage to stay afloat and successful in these times?
SB: “EVO is a Covid baby! Our first round of fundraising was done remotely over Zoom during the pandemic. Adversity breeds innovation, and that was the case for us, as well. In fact, a majority of our investors and advisors are based in the US, so having the ability to work remotely and with agility is something I emphasise. Covid-19, which many feel is animal borne, has helped us strengthen our conviction in the mission of removing animals from the food chain.”
AA: “The lockdown presented a unique opportunity for me to identify a gap in the health and wellness market. It allowed me to rapidly pursue my business. With widespread isolation, there was a growing need for emotional and mental support, which led to an increased emphasis on mental hygiene. This realisation was the driving force behind the creation of Way Well.”
SK: “The lockdown was not easy. All my sites were shut, and there was little to zero work. While everyone around me was swamped with work and Zoom calls, I had nothing to do! But the only thing that kept me going was a positive mindset and believing in myself and my work. I knew I had to push through once everything opened up.”
AM: “Flour Power was a result of the pandemic. Having spent a lot of time at home, I got a chance to practise my skills and conceptualise the business.”
H!: How do you define success?
SB: “The ability to drive change. For me, success is deeply rooted in my ability to have a positive impact and hopefully leave the planet in a better spot for our future generations. I also really value peace of mind and believe that those who live grateful lives have the best sleep!”
AA: “Success holds a deep meaning for me, as it encompasses a sense of peace of mind and happiness in all aspects of my life. I also feel successful when I’m recognised for my work, or hear positive feedback from those who enjoy our content and the experiences we put together.”
SK: “I believe that success is extremely generic, and there’s always a difference in perception. Be happy with your work and with what you do. That’s when you know you have reached some form of success.”
AM: “Happy customers and growing my startup one loaf of bread at a time.”
H!: What’s your personal style like?
SB: “I love to dress up, a trait I inherited from both my grandmothers. My everyday style is elegant and chic. I love telling stories, so the jewellery pieces I wear every day hold sentimental value as they are daily reminders of many beautiful moments of my life.”
AA: “My personal style is a combination of boho-chic and comfortable athleisure, characterised by a fresh and easy-going aesthetic. I gravitate towards simple colours that are not too bold and prefer clothing that’s both stylish and functional. I love upcycling my mom’s clothes from the 80s that fit perfectly. I also have a couple of my grandmother’s faux fur from the 50s, which I kept intact and use during winter weddings.”
SK: “Clean and minimalistic. I absolutely hate designs that are extremely OTT and shiny.”
AM: “My personal style is comfy and chic.”
H!: Who are your favourite Indian and international designers?
SB: “I love the silhouettes and cuts of Nikhil Thampi and Shivan & Narresh. Internationally, I love Cult Gaia, BCBG, Zimmermann and Michael Costello.”
AA: “My favourite Indian designers include Ura Maku, The Summer House, The Episode, B Label and Love Shafali. And when it comes to international designers, I’m a fan of Zimmermann, Alice + Olivia, Reformation and Alo Yoga.”
AM: “My favourite Indian designers are Papa Don’t Preach by Shubhika, Payal Singhal and Yam India. Internationally, I like Sandro Paris and Kith.”
H!: What drives you to keep going every day?
SB: “I’m passionate about changing the world one egg at a time. The possibility of changing the way the world eats for the better really excites me!”
AA: “I’m driven by the desire to uncover new ideas, ways to improve existing processes, and the satisfaction that comes from creating something innovative and new.”
AM: “Having a great support system at work and at home, along with the feedback I receive from my customers, always pushes me to keep moving forward.”
Interview: Nayare Ali; Photos: Ashima Mehra; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Decor: New Raj Decorators; Location & Food Courtesy: Gallops, Mumbai
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s February 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!