By Karima Ladhani
Beginning With Just An Idea
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma….” I reference this quote time and time again because it is an apt description of my journey so far.
Five years ago, I had just gotten a job in finance at a prominent bank in Toronto. I was finishing up my Bachelors of Mathematics and Bachelors of Business Administration. It was everything I had been working towards for a long time and all of a sudden I realized I hated it. I followed a nagging suspicion and emailed every single professor doing health-related research at the University of Waterloo where I studied. One replied. That email led to a research position in tobacco control and introduced me to the world of global health. It changed the trajectory of my life.
I call this period of my life the time where I let myself free fall. I loved tobacco control and wanted to explore more of the world of global health. I volunteered at a mental health hotline. I conducted focus groups for youth on substance abuse. I tried to immerse myself in different opportunities with no idea where they would lead. Along the way I learned about public health as an academic path and my freefalling paid off in the way of an admission to Harvard University. I think that by letting myself free fall during this period of time, I ended up in a life that I had never imagined for myself.
Since transitioning to global health, I have always felt that the math and business skills from my past life would make me well suited for social entrepreneurship. When I read the BBC article, “Why do Finnish babies sleep in boxes?” my thoughts immediately went to the immense benefits that could be accrued from adapting this concept to a developing country context. I started Barakat Bundle because it is absolutely unacceptable that mothers and children die from preventable causes we have already solved in the developed world.
Through Professor Gordon Bloom’s “Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab for US & Global Health” at the Harvard Innovation Lab, I was lucky enough to meet a team of equally committed partners on the Barakat Bundle journey. This was more than a class – it was a safe community of peers and guidance. We had the opportunity to grow Barakat Bundle beyond an idea.
Journeying Towards Growth
As we checked in for our pitch to apply to the MassChallenge accelerator, the person taking my name tried to gently comfort me by saying, “Don’t be nervous – you’ve done this a million times!” No. Three. I had pitched exactly three times before and never alone. But we went through the motions of reviewing the judges, making sure there were no conflicts of interest, doing some last minute slide reviews, and eventually sitting and waiting for our turn. When we finally did pitch, it was a speedy 10 minutes of presentation and questions followed by an unreal adrenaline rush. The best feeling.
In the startup world everyone throws around pitching like it’s a second language. You’re always pitching. At competitions, at tradeshows, at dinners, even at family gatherings. It’s a never-ending cycle of selling your idea and while in some ways it gets easier over time in other ways it gets harder. I no longer get jitters about speaking in front of people or worry every time I lose my train of thought and have to insert a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ My stomach only has half as many knots as it used to and I can manage to eat more than before. But at the same time, I am so much more invested now. I have a team that has worked so hard and I want to do them proud. We have put in time, money, effort, and sleepless nights to get to where we are. And along the way, we have gotten used to hearing more ‘yeses’ and more ‘nos.’ We now know that the ‘yeses’ do not mean we can stop and the ‘nos’ do not mean we should stop.
Connecting the Dots
A few weeks ago, we pitched at the Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business Competition. We were up against an incredible sea of female innovators. We came away as first place winners and I remember being nervous and excited. But the adrenaline that was pumping through me continues to course through my veins and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The lines between the dots are starting to connect and I am looking forward to the story that’s unfolding.