Avantika Khanna is not your average 17-year-old. Currently a 12th grader at The Shri Ram School, Aravali, in Gurgaon, Avantika is a social-entrepreneur working to promote India’s history and culture on the world tourism map using technology.
It was during a trip with her family to the UK a few years ago that Avantika found her mission. While at the Fort of Edinburgh, Avantika couldn’t help but appreciate how well-preserved the monument is. She was even more amazed by the large number of visitors – probably more than those at Red Fort in New Delhi, despite the latter being double in size.
After due research, she found that very few historical monuments in India have audio-guided tours, which are more popular in the West. This restricted tourists from understanding the intricacies of the country’s vast history and culture. Very few tourists in India volunteer to hire tourist guides; the availability of government-authorised tourist guides was also restricted to certain monuments. Tourists visiting lesser-known monuments were left with the pamphlets or headstones, with very few taking the effort to read upon the history of the place before or after the visit.
The teenager did not wait for the authorities concerned to solve this problem. Taking matters into her hands, she made the best of technology for finding a solution. In 2016, when she was still a 9th grader, Avantika started working on ‘India Story’ to chronicle the story of India through its monuments. The India Story app was launched on both IoS and Android platforms in 2019.
With detailed and curated audio guides that let one experience the magic of monuments in India, this student-run app aims to promote tourism in the country. Currently, the app provides audio-guides across monuments in six cities – Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Bangalore, and Lucknow.
Young Entrepreneur With Big Plans
Avantika’s parents, both marketing experts, would play games with her that involved brainstorming solutions for everyday problems. She has said that this practice helped her to look at the problem of neglect with Indian historical monuments and create the app. She explored tools such as GPS and audio-navigation to create a prototype for the app, and created a user interface and the minimum viable product.
Today, Avantika has a team of 30 history lovers and students who work as writers, marketing experts, photographers, and programmers, helping her to expand the app. India Story has also partnered with organisers of cultural walks and certified tour guides who can be contacted through its website. Having developed the business model and designed the app’s user interface herself, Avantika is now involved in helping teams from various cities create content.
However, the road to creating the app wasn’t easy. Information about monuments was not easily accessible and she had to browse archives and research papers to get quality information. Being a young entrepreneur was also a challenge; there were naysayers, investors did not take her seriously, she lacked a mentor and strategic guidance. However, not only did she succeed in creating the app, but also even raised seed funding from the Indian Angel Network.
Avantika is now working on incorporating religious tourism incorporated into the app. She hopes to expand the app to include more cities and states, and thereby help the world experience India’s rich and diverse history. She envisions it as a one-stop shop for heritage content, expand the platform for heritage walks, available in international and regional languages, and easily navigable by the differently abled.
Avantika’s achievements do not end here. In 2018, she launched Asymmetry, a not-for-profit e-commerce venture, aiming to economically empower the artisans of the Santhaal tribe of West Bengal. Since rural artisans often lack the tools to spin their products into viable businesses, leaving their talents grossly undervalued, Avantika’s effort has forged international market linkages for these artisans, thereby transforming their economic fortunes. She claims to have developed the concept and strategy, including liaising with artisans, managing inventory, designing marketing campaigns, and handling sales. By providing access to global consumers, she claims to have facilitated more than 400 sales transactions and a 20 percent revenue increase, while supporting artisans to create online product portfolios and video chronicles.
“The more we respect - even celebrate - diversity, the more unified we become as a team. More importantly, I learned the importance of self-reflection in leadership; it took introspection to identify my shortcomings and willpower to overcome them,” she says.