Bhavini is the CEO and co-founder of BeamData, a civic tech venture that improves the data capacity of sBeamDataocial enterprises and local governments by designing tech tools to help ask better questions and challenge misinformation with context-driven data collection. Her role with BeamData is guided by the firm belief that data technology is a powerful tool that can advance social justice and equality.

After taking an undergraduate degree in International Area Studies, Sociology and Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Bhavini completed an MPhil in International Relations at the University of Oxford (Green Templeton College) in 2019. She co-founded BeamData whilst at Oxford in 2018.  

What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Growing up in Pittsburgh, I noticed that it was difficult to get into contact with your state legislators. I spent two months knocking on doors when running for local office and found that there was no consistent line of communication between citizens and representatives outside of campaigning season.  

It’s often very challenging to reach underrepresented populations, and younger people tend to engage with politics using technology, but there was no platform at the state level to harness data to connect citizens with the state government. That’s where BeamData comes in.  

We’ve recently launched our first product, a civic action app called BeTheChange. It’s designed to combine civic education with participatory democracy. Pennsylvanians can use the app to find out who their state legislators are, and state legislators can use the app as a direct line of communication with their constituents.  

We gather real-time data about how people feel about their lived environment and their experiences. That information is so valuable to non-profits looking to do community work – it gives them a sense of what’s going on at the grassroots level and what policies they might implement. It’s also invaluable to local officials, the anonymised information we provide could help them build better policy.  

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is identifying social challenges and integrating innovation with community roots to address our challenges. We don’t always need to do that in the form of a non-profit, businesses can be built around community-driven solutions without being charity.  

We need to normalise business solving real-world problems and using profit to further community-minded initiatives. The future of true community building doesn’t have to always be non-profit. That way we can reach our true potential with investment, scaling, technology and innovation.  

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
BeamData became a viable idea after a series of conversations with local government and non-profit leaders. They collectively conveyed a significant resource and knowledge gap in accessing the power of data driven decision-making. We responded with a low-cost and easy-to-use tool that helps collect, analyse and visualise data; however, we take it one step further by ensuring the data collected is culturally and linguistically relevant to the communities served. 

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Empathy is a key skill you need to be a successful entrepreneur. Empathy builds emotional investment and a sense of purpose which fuels determination and the potential to take risk.  

You have to be willing to pivot and learn. Entrepreneurship is a constant learning journey and you need to have a willingness to learn how to hire somebody, or how to build a website, or how to guide a team. Don’t assume that you know everything – you won’t get anywhere like that.  

Also, you can’t waffle. Don’t get hung up on small details, instead focus on the bigger picture and be decisive in the moment.  

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love the freedom of problem-solving and creative thinking because it’s a process that cultivates self-growth. You might hate it at the time, but that feeling you get at the end of each incremental hurdle makes it all worth it. I love risk taking and innovation, nothing is a given along the journey. You have to fail and pick yourself up. It’s the process that gets your there that matters.   

What individual, company, or organization inspires you most? Why?
In our technology driven world, I’m still searching for a company that is consciously ethical in the way that it designs and deploys its tools. There are many problems in the current landscape of tech entrepreneurship and many solutions have been ignored in pursuit of the bottom line. I’m hopeful that we can do better as a society.  

If you had 5 minutes with the above company, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would want to discuss what it takes to build a culture of entrepreneurship that is not solely dedicated to obtaining a bottom line. How can we create an entrepreneurial culture that prioritises human-centric problem-solving? 

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures, or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Patience has been a key learning lesson for my personal growth as an entrepreneur. It’s important to take a step back and allow time to take its course because it would be naive to assume all situations and decisions can be controlled. 

It’s also important to seek mentorship. Having people to give you advice and walk you through is always beneficial – they’ve experienced it in reality. You need to know when to tap into your network, without relying on it too much. Sit in that agony for a bit before you reach out.  

Make sure to check back in with your community. It reminds you why you’re building a company, and you can always extract some inspiration to keep you going.  

How have you funded your ideas?
Our initial funding came through consulting projects and data visualisation work, which brought in revenue and served as market research for our app. We then pitched our idea to several local competitions and received grant funding, which was great because it allowed us to experiment – there were no strings attached.  

Recently we’ve been considering our funding model. Non-profit status would encourage people to sign on, which is crucial for our goal of participatory democracy. As a social enterprise, we might offer subscription models to state legislators, who would pay to stay connected with their district.  

We may partner with the local library system. Libraries have always been a hub of civic engagement, and they could host our services and gain access to our information through their websites in return for a subscription fee. That way they can best support the community.  

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
At university I was involved in Enterprising Oxford, who gave me a first chance to pitch my ideas and to gain exposure for my business. The Saïd Business School also provided lectures in business development and pitch preparation, such as their Business Development Series, which were helpful.  

There are several helpful and motivational books out there. One is ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, and another is ‘The Hard Things About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz.  

But the biggest resource is just going out and getting started.  

Have you faced any challenges being a female entrepreneur? Do you have any advice for minority entrepreneurs looking to start up?
One of the biggest challenges is access to funding. It’s so easy to be written off for the obvious reasons, we’ve faced these challenges for a very long time.  

If you have an idea, don’t second guess yourself. Just run with it. Dig yourself in to the industry, even if that means cold emailing on LinkedIn. Explore, start having conversations. There’s a world of people with similar experiences who want to help, you just need to find them.

Do you have any advice for other women who want to be entrepreneurs? 
I’d say if you have an idea of a potential company, don’t second guess yourself. Sit down and create a plan and think about who you would connect with and who you could call. We can be our own worst enemies sometimes and this is the way a lot of good ideas die. Just explore your ideas and have conversations because there’s a world of people willing to help. Read some start up books and mentally prepare yourself for the pattern of failing and picking yourself up.  

What resources would you recommend for other women?
At university I was involved in Enterprising Oxford, who gave me a first chance to pitch my ideas and to gain exposure for my business. The Saïd Business School also provided lectures in business development and pitch preparation, such as their Business Development Series, which were helpful.  

The best resource is just going out and doing it. But I also think reading start up books is really useful. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should know the basics, and then you can learn as you go along. There are several helpful and motivational books out there. One is ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, and another is ‘The Hard Things About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz.  

Any last words of advice?
It’s sometimes difficult to be taken seriously as a civic tech companyYou’re not seen as being a scalable business model. We’re only in the initial phases of realising that profit isn’t the sole marker of a good business.  

The true test of entrepreneurship is riding out the difficult times. Keep pursuing it and keep innovating, even if that means your idea has to reinvent itself. Developing that grit and mental fortitude is so important.  

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