Having lived across different towns and cities, Abhilasha Purwar, the founder of Blue Sky Analytics, developed a bone of empathy early on. Changing six schools across five regions, she has lived across different settings while growing up, experiencing the life across different socio-economic categories.
After she graduated from IIT (BHU) Varanasi with a master degree in Applied Chemistry in 2012, Abhilasha began her stint with Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) on a consulting project, on IoT devices-based air pollution monitoring for the Union Ministry of Environment.
“I remember I had two job offers that were paying me a lot of money. Imagine you’re a 22-year old kid, and you are being offered 18 lakh a year. But I didn’t take either of these jobs and went for J-PAL. I wanted to do something that related to problems beyond just myself. Overall, that experience was a turning point in my life,” she adds.
While working with J-PAL, she was out on the field most of the time. That’s when she came across a river in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, that had turned orange, and the dire state of environment impacted her. In 2013, she started pursuing a master degree in Environmental Management from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, determined to put efforts into environmental action.
Her startup, Blue Sky Analytics, leverages the power of artificial intelligence and satellites to provide high resolution, real-time environmental data. Their geospatial data refinery transforms raw data into usable environmental insights, enabling you to take informed and speedy action in response to climate change. Blue Sky app, BreeZo, aims to be ‘the Bloomberg of environmental data’. The app maps the country in squares of 1km to monitor pollution levels.
Gaining experience from different quarters
Now 29, Abhilasha feels that having worked with 11 organisations has helped her gain immense exposure. “I advise young people to explore not what you want to do, but what you don’t want to do. When you work with different kinds of managers, in different organisational structures, like a research setting, a finance setting, a startup trying to do different jobs, you learn how people are trying to solve different problems. And that’s also how you devise a way to solve problems in your own way,” she says.
According to her, Blue Sky happened with the thought that ‘enough is enough.’ “Pollution is growing every year, and someone has to do something about it. I remember saying to myself that I’ve gone to IIT, I went to Yale on a full scholarship, I used to get $1000 a month to study at Yale. So many people have invested their time and effort in me. I felt that I would fail my professors if I went for a high-paying job. Thus, Blue Sky is a combination of this frustration and a sense of responsibility,” she says.
When Abhilasha moved back to Delhi in July 2018 from the US, and her brother Kshitij from Bangalore, they decided to work towards setting a startup. The initial months were hard and they faced innumerable rejections from potential investors, especially since most people were not convinced about the magnitude of air pollution.
Investing $10,000 from her savings, Abhilasha started up with her brother. “We are doing ground level work so that we can cut carbon emissions fundamentally. This thinking won us prizes like MIT Solve and Copernicus Masters Social Entrepreneurship Challenge,” she says.
Blue Sky Analytics later raised angel funding from Shobhit Shukla, co-founder of location-based data analytics company Near, Chrys Capital founder Ashish Dhawan, Dalberg partner Gaurav Gupta, and Sequoia India’s Mohit Bhatnagar.
A role model for women entrepreneurs
Like most women who startup, Abhilasha has also seen her gender playing a role in entrepreneurship. “When you are a female founder and you’re only meeting men, you start to normalise behaviour which you shouldn’t otherwise, “ she adds. Besides, women get unnecessary mentorship all the time, she feels.
Currently, there are only a few female entrepreneurs, and when it comes to angel investing, there are hardly any women. “When I started Blue Sky Analytics, for a year I was meeting men every day. Investors, employees - all had been men. Finding other women became a specific task. The representation is poor, way poorer than we think it is.” She advises women to build a safety net and work towards growing a network.
However, Abhilasha enjoys working with her brother, who she says is very sensitive about gender issues, as their household has been very feminist. Abhilasha also feels Indian women are particularly more apologetic and do not take risks. “Women often go for safe jobs, I feel they need to be more self-driven and take risks. I’ve seen that people who took more risks have done better, “she says.
Working towards mental and physical strength
Abhilasha loves rock climbing and is also a certified yoga practitioner. In the last few years, she has worked towards building her mental and physical strength, and that has helped her tackle challenges in her entrepreneurial journey.
“When I was 23 years old, I started doing a lot of physical exercise and I have become pretty strong over the years. There’s a fear that kicks in when you are doing something for the very first time, you are scared. As a startup, too, you are scared and self-conscious. It’s about doing the little things, one step at a time and overcoming that fear,” she feels.
(Edited by Athira Nair)
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