Sriya Tallapragada was a middle schooler passionate about coding and STEM when the global Pandemic shut down her school. She decided to make use of her time in quarantine by starting a 501(c)3 non-profit, no small feat for a teenager, not to mention during lockdown. The fruit of all her hard work is Girls Who STEAM, a student-run organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Tallapragada oversees the global conferences, workshops and mentorships as well as the network of other teenagers from around the world who are teaching and learning from each other about STEM. Today the New Providence, New Jersey entrepreneur believes that the future of entrepreneurship should be, “A perfect combination of activism and hard work that will eventually force difficult conversations and change the world.”
Tallapragada’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down my middle school, I found myself stuck at home with nothing but my computer as company. Luckily, as a 14-year old STEM aficionado and introvert, this was all I needed. I found the large amounts of time on my hands as the perfect opportunity to work towards my goal of working to close the gender gap in STEM. This was a topic that I had personally struggled with throughout my own life, and I wanted to make a difference to other girls. At the time, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur . . . After all, I barely knew what that even meant. I coded our website GirlsWhoSTEAM, started our first programs, and crossed my fingers that this would reach a few people. In return, I received an overwhelming response.
How do you define success?
Somehow, it was through teaching and leading the participants of our pitch competition that I was finally able to find my place as an entrepreneur. Instead of being based on funding or recognition, I began measuring my success by how many people I have helped with the resources I have. I had the bravery to put something I was passionate about out into the world. This is the future of entrepreneurship . . . a perfect combination of activism and hard work that will eventually force difficult conversations and change the world.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Recently, I had the opportunity to fulfill a long time dream of mine: to host a conference, GirlsWithGoals2021, which had 23+ speakers, 500+ attendees, and 80+ submissions for the corresponding pitch competition. Listening to these global stories, I realized that the power of helping others is very rewarding. My experiences have created a unique perspective on the definition of entrepreneurship, which I would like to share with my audience to inspire more change to be done. The idea behind it is relatively simple: teens would submit their plans for a startup addressing issues that they were passionate about. Then all the submission have the opportunity to be graded by a cohort of judges, who will then award the top three with prizes and recognition. All participants will leave with custom feedback and an idea for a potential business plan. Submissions ranged from the idea of starting a bilingual children’s book business to creating a community that provided resources for mothers. Working with these budding entrepreneurs as a teen founder, I have established a unique view on GenZ and the future of entrepreneurship.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
As a teenager starting a global non-profit, my biggest goal going in was to start local programs. When COVID-19 hit, I was suddenly faced with the realization that we would have to move our events virtual. Learning to develop our programs to fit this requirement was a huge challenge for me.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
We have all heard of large businesses that make billions of dollars a year. However, instead of praising a company for how much money they make, society should instead look at their impact. How many people have they benefited? How many lives have they changed? An entrepreneur should be aligned for good, because only then will society be able to reach new heights.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I find inspiration through looking at women role models and entrepreneurs who use their platform to advocate for good. One day, I want to be able to start social movements and create that kind of impact.
Who is your most important role model?
Emma Watson is definitely my biggest role model. She is not afraid to unapologetically be herself and advocate for important causes, and she does that all by maintaining grace and composure. She is an inspiration for all young girls and women.