Priya Lakhani is an entrepreneur who has founded a food business, a social enterprise, and now leads a company developing the latest AI and big data technology to understand how the brain learns.
Priya’s talk today at Xerocon London 2019 reminded us all to pursue our purpose in life and make the world a better place. Let’s take a closer look at her story and how she thrived in the business world.
The young Rodney and Del Boy
You could say Priya was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. She started selling chocolate bars to friends at school before reselling Costco stock bought from an auction house in Rochdale with her brother. Their start-up venture even earned them the nicknames Rodney and Del Boy! And she didn’t stop there – soon enough, Priya asked her mum to buy shares on the stock exchange.
New perspectives after travelling
Priya shared that, from a young age, her family would go on holiday to Nairobi, where her mum’s family was from. When she was six years old, she was playing football on the side of the road with local children, in her best dress while her parents were waiting for corn on the cob from a street food vendor (a Nairobi speciality). It was then that she realised just how lucky she was. It was the first time she noticed that not all children had the same privileges she was used to and vowed to her parents that she wanted to change the world.
Spotting a gap in the market
With her mission to change the world firmly in mind, Priya decided she wanted to become a lawyer – and she did, for a while. But the long hours at the law firm were a lot to manage, particularly as she was newly married. While struggling to find the time to cook she noticed how hard it was to find quality fresh Indian sauces that could be prepared quickly but that would still cut it with the in-laws.
This inspired her to do some market research and, sure enough, she found that there was a big gap for fresh ethnic sauces. And with that, Masala Masala was born. But Priya hadn’t forgotten about wanting to change the world. A percentage of the profits from Masala Masala went to funding initiatives such as building schools and offering vaccines in India.
Selling the idea to buyers wasn’t easy, and Priya faced plenty of rejection. Instead of letting it deter her, she headed over to Waitrose and refused to leave until the buyer came to meet her. And her persistence paid off.
Changing the world
As Masala Masala continued to grow, Priya was invited to be an advisor on Vince Cable’s enterprise board and visited some of the best and worst-performing schools across the UK. That’s where she saw first-hand how ineffective learning management systems were. There wasn’t any digital transformation happening in education.
This got her thinking about building a system that figures out how a student’s brain works, rather than relentlessly pursuing the one size fits all teaching model. Backed by the government, she set out to create a tool that identifies how the brain learns.
Once again, she came up against a lot of naysayers among investors. But, with the backing of Telefonica and the Cabinet Office, Priya launched CENTURY, a learning platform that learns how your brain works in nine minutes by analysing data. This tech has enabled personalised learning experiences in a hundred schools across the UK and other countries, including Syrian refugees and children in Africa.
Priya successfully launched and grew two ethically conscious businesses by thriving in the face of adversity and learning how to fail fast. She achieved her childhood dream of changing the world. If that doesn’t inspire you to make innovation a crucial part of your business and keep pushing against the odds, we don’t know what will.
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