Disha from India, economics student and founder of Assero
14 November 2014
Disha Bansal, from India, is an economics student at the University of Kent – and juggling her studies with part-time work, volunteering and making her own business idea a reality!
Earlier this year Disha was selected to represent her university in a global competition for young entrepreneurs, gaining worldwide recognition for her fledgling business venture. Scroll down to see her presentation and find out more…
Was your future career an important part of your decision to come and study in the UK?
'Yes it was, but the biggest factor for me was the course that I would be studying, which was environmental economics. Employability came second, because my main goal for coming to the UK was to become financially independent. I thought, "If employability options are good in the UK, that is a good way to get started in life."'
Are you planning to work in the UK after you graduate?
'I would like to stay here for a bit. But the main motivation for me has always been to impact the lives of the people around me, and if I develop the knowledge I have gained in the UK to try to help people in developing countries, it will be more effective. That is why I would like to start off in the UK and then go back to India.'
How did your studies prepare you for what you’re doing today as a young entrepreneur?
'My degree helped me explore a lot of possibilities. I came to the UK hoping to study environmental economics and over time I switched to microfinance, so it’s helped me explore different sectors of the industry. It’s also given me a very good understanding of how the systems work, so that all the knowledge I have built I’ve been able to implement in other situations.'
Disha travelled to Virginia Tech in the USA for the KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge. Here, she receives her certificate from one of the judges (©Disha Bansal)
What made you decide to focus on microfinance (where companies lend money to low-income individuals, or people who don’t have access to typical banking services)?
'The more I looked at environment, the more I realised that although it is my passion, there are other industries where I can make a bigger difference. Reading a newspaper article last year, I realised I could make a big difference with microfinance, coming from India and having a platform there to do my own thing… I thought it might be worth exploring. The more I looked into it, the more attractive it seemed to me.'
Did you volunteer or intern while you were a student?
'I volunteered quite a lot in my first and second year. Many of the opportunities came from the Kent Enterprise Hub (which helps university staff, students and graduates to launch their own businesses), and the societies that I was a part of.
'I was the treasurer of the conservation society in my second year, and they have a lot of volunteering opportunities on campus. Because it was nature-related, it was very relevant to me.'
Disha and friends gleaning (harvesting and giving to charity) cabbages and cauliflowers from a farm in Broadstairs, Kent (©Disha Bansal)
'When you come to university, the first thing you should do is sign up to societies. I joined a belly dancing society and Brazilian capoeira, all because I’ll probably not be able to do these things later on in life!'
How did you make the most of university while getting work experience and building up your CV?
'I had quite a difficult time balancing my work and my studies in my second year. I took a part-time job in a sandwich shop and I had my academics and I had Assero, which I was doing on the side. I would say that you need to prioritise – for example, this year I’m not doing my part-time job anymore. You need to focus on getting good grades because at the end of the day, that is what you are here for.
'I would also say that when I came to the UK it was a little lonely in the beginning, simply because I was away from home. But going to societies and meeting new people really helped – everybody is out there to make friends, and it creates a whole student community.'
Disha, centre, celebrating a friend's birthday in Canterbury, Kent, before Christmas break (©Disha Bansal)
Your company, Assero, aims to eliminate the risk of fraud in microfinance lending. How did you get the idea?
'I got the idea in 2013. The more I looked into microfinance at the time, the more I focussed on the poor population in India, simply because it is a large population. Then I realised there was a lot of money being lost – from when the World Bank gives out money to the point where it reaches the people. So I thought about how to intervene and create a system where the money is directly reaching poor people, and that is when I decided that a biometric solution might be the most effective.'
When did you have that ‘light bulb’ moment?
'About a year ago, the first time I visited the Kent Enterprise Hub. I went in and I said that I had this idea that I would like to work on, except I had no idea how to take it forward.
'They assigned me a business advisor, and he helped me think about what I wanted to do. Then I made a business plan and a business model, and all of those things. The university has been extremely helpful.'
Watch Disha present her business idea at the VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge:
What are your ambitions for the future?
'I have spoken to a lot of people and I have gotten a mixed reviews about what I should do! A part of me wants to just take the leap and work on Assero right now. But at the same time, I want to be financially independent and it will be a while before that happens, simply because I don’t have any experience in starting a business. I’m currently deciding whether to work elsewhere for a few years to get more experience, or whether to just work on the startup.
'All my meetings for Assero happen when I go back to India because that is my primary market, but I’m also looking at job opportunities in the UK. When I’m back in India I have a few meetings lined up with professors and things like that – hopefully by December I’ll have a better idea of where I’m going with it.'
What final words of advice do you have for international graduates who want to develop a business idea back at home?
'At first I didn’t know if it was a good idea or not. But I just trusted my instinct, and decided I should go for it if I was feeling this idea so strongly. I went to the Enterprise Hub and they helped me figure out what I wanted to do, so it’s worth using resources like this at your own institution.
'For every decision I made with Assero I trusted my instinct, because Assero reflects who I am and what I want to do more than anything I’ve ever done. You have to go with that and stop worrying about, "What if I make a mistake?" and "What if it doesn’t work out?"
'The cool part is taking risks you would never have taken before, so it’s good fun!'