11 Questions with MS in Entrepreneurship Student Pratha Mandwal

We asked current Foster students to tell us why they chose Foster, what they like to do for fun, and to share advice with potential applicants. Meet Master of Science in Entrepreneurship student Pratha.

1) Where are you from?

Born in Lucknow, India, I was raised in Nagpur, Raipur, Bhilai, Kolkata due to my father’s transferable job. So, the food and culture in my family are a fusion of different parts of my country. However, I associate myself most closely with Bangalore, because that’s where I did my engineering, worked for several years, and met with great people whom I call my friends.

2) What did you do before entering this program?

I graduated in 2014, with an engineering degree in Computer Science. At that time, I wanted to pursue research in the field of high-performance computing. In order to build my profile, I joined Mercedes Benz Research and Development Centre, India. A year later, I joined the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), as a project assistant to pursue research.

After my tenure at IISc ended, I prepared for a product-based company and ended up landing a job in Amazon. For the last 4+ years, I was working with cross-functional teams at Amazon to plan, build, launch and manage software products for different Amazon Businesses like Amazon Alexa, Appstore, and Amazon Retail.

3) Did you have any entrepreneurship experience before entering this program?

No. There is no concept of starting one’s own business in my family. Everyone had a job. So, like everyone I knew, I decided to get a job too. While building products at Amazon, I realized the impact software products can make.

I am passionate about healthcare and wellness. I was introduced to fitness / nutrition by my colleagues five years back, and I rigorously pursued it ever since. Soon, I wanted to build products that align with my interests in the healthcare industry.

I looked back in retrospect on several events in my life. One of the most significant ones was the time when my younger sister passed away after suffering from Cancer in 2014. She became my inspiration, and my observations of several middle-class families in India trying to obtain high quality treatment became my trigger points.

4) Tell us why you are excited to be a part of the fifth cohort for the MS ENTRE degree program?

When I first mentioned my friends about my plan to pursue a degree program in MS Entrepreneurship, they mentioned, ‘You don’t need to learn how to start a business, it’s ingrained.’ But, a few weeks into the course, I knew I was in for a joy ride.

I read about several startups and how they built their business model. What kind of trade-off they had to make to stay competitive in the market. Interacted with the numerous guest speakers from investors, to serial entrepreneurs, early-stage startups who are preparing for fundraising, to deep tech entrepreneurs who bootstrapped their business. The amount of exposure the course has provided me in terms of learning has been eye opening.

My cohort is super diverse, and super compassionate. Everyone is trying to boost each other’s ideas. We brainstorm based on our past experience, provide suggestions, and try to learn as much as we can. The advantage of being a part of the fifth cohort is that you learn from the previous cohorts. Previous students from the program guide us with various mechanisms on how to optimize the resources provided by the UW. They even introduce us to competitions to watch out for, how to plan our year, etc.

5) What advantages do you see to opening a business now?

The healthcare marketplace is complex with several players influencing it. Providers, payers and patients, governments have different needs and aspirations. It’s difficult to establish a profitable business model that does not undermine the affordability, accessibility, and quality of the treatment to the patient. It gets even more difficult to navigate when the country is crumbling under the pressure of Covid. Given the challenges, I would say it’s always the right time to start your business in this field to help the community as much as we can.

I have several theories about when is the right time to invest in your own business. Some indicate when the opportunity cost is low, some indicate when you have enough experience and maturity to navigate the industry. But the most useful one, and that I personally believe in, is ‘When you start losing your sleep thinking about a problem.’

6) What connections are you hoping to make while in the program?

It’s best to surround yourself with people who can constantly improve your intellect, and help you become a better person. I am super grateful to be connected with my classmates and my teachers who are so inspiring, and are always trying to find ways to make me successful.

My business is a social venture in the healthcare industry. So foremost, I am looking to talk to people who have been involved in the healthcare space either as founders, executives, researchers, or social workers. Secondly, I am also hoping to interact with social venture capitalists, philanthropists, angel investors, lawyers who can help me raise funds when the timing is right. Finally, I am looking to expand my team, hire great engineers, designers, and students with a business background.

7) Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

The next five years are going to be crucial in terms of learning, failing and finally making it! I envision myself as a successful entrepreneur who has built a great business impacting the lives of millions of patients and their families, through cutting edge technology products. I am likely to be a leader who also is capable of helping others develop and grow their business.

We need more women engineers to transform the world into a better one. Advocating for women empowerment in tech and entrepreneurship is on my radar as my next item. In the next five years, you will most likely find me working in this area.

8) What skills and/or knowledge are you looking to develop?

My career goal right now is to build a product in the healthcare industry that impacts the lives of cancer patients and their caregivers. To be able to do the same, I recognize that I need to invest in myself. I am from a software engineering background and lack the skills required to opportunity recognition, marketing ideas, reaching the first customer, and scaling it further. Along with this, I also need to develop industry knowledge. That’s why I believe an entrepreneurship degree at Foster would be a direct fit for my needs at the moment.

9) What do you like to do for fun?

I love to explore new subjects. I learned a little bit about nutrition, working out, astrology, share market, and trading. I am currently learning about philosophy and practical aspects of Yoga. If you have trouble sleeping, try “Yog Nidra”!

Cooking always relaxes me after a hectic day at work. I also like to read about famous personalities, their challenges, and how they designed their life. I am not a great singer, but singing my favorite songs while my spouse plays the ukulele always makes me happy.

10) What’s been your favorite part of the program so far?

My cohort is a bunch of fun-loving, talented, creative people. We are always looking for ways to make an impact. Everyone is from different backgrounds, had different life lessons and hence the class discussions are very enriching.

While building your business, you need to wear multiple hats. Luckily for us, we have experts in several fields as part of the cohort. So, we get expert opinions on different matters quite easily. Course syllabus, the schedule is really very systematic and well structured. I really look forward to every class reading, assignment, and lecture.

11) What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about applying to the MS ENTRE degree program?

Every course that you do should have a strategic value in the design of your life. Think carefully, how taking up any program will augment your existing skills and enhance your personality. If you’re applying to this program, review the curriculum carefully and evaluate how you would benefit from taking up the course. In the application, really be honest about your interests and shortcomings. Ensure that building your own products or business is something that really interests you.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program

This post is part of a series where we ask current students to answer 11 questions about their experience at Foster. Explore the 11 questions tag for more interviews.