Puja Balachander & Katherine Trendinnick are both University of Oxford Alumni (Puja, MBA, St Catherine’s College & Katherine, MSc in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, St Antony’s College) .
In March 2020 they launched Devie.
Devie is a social enterprise with a mission to close the school readiness gap that starts in the early years. This is done through Devie, an AI-powered coach who supports parents to encourage their children’s development in the early years through personalised coaching and research-based activities. Devie supports every parent to help their children grow, one automated chat at a time.
The Devie beta app was released in the second week of March. The team has received grant and equity funding through the Skoll Venture Awards, Catch22, and Bethnal Green Ventures. They are still in an early stage, using this funding and beta product to explore and find product-market fit.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Puja: I had been looking to take the entrepreneurial plunge for a while, but hadn’t found the product and mission I was passionate about, and that matched the skill sets I could offer. When we started the user research into Devie, it became clear this was something I could dedicate myself to.
Katherine: I have a background in early childhood development research. When I met Puja and she told me about her idea of getting a parenting support app out to as many families as possible to try to close the school readiness gap, I knew I wanted to join on this mission and am so lucky that she welcomed me onboard!
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Katherine: An entrepreneur is someone who has an idea of how they can contribute to solving a problem and who channels their time, energy and other resources into solving it.
Puja: Someone who sees a pain point that’s taken for granted or seen as inevitable, and acts to change it.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Puja: When during our initial prototypes, parents would reach out after each round was wrapped up, asking when they could try the next version.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Katherine: enthusiasm, adaptability and humility
I believe a successful entrepreneur is someone who is incredibly enthusiastic about their idea, is able to adapt in the face of challenges that arise and someone who stays humble enough to keep learning and growing.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Katherine: I love how varied my day-to-day tasks are! I’m not one for routine, so getting the opportunity to task-shift frequently is something I really enjoy.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Too many to choose just one!
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Puja: Balance moving fast and not asking for permission, with preparing for the worst case scenario.
How have you funded your ideas?
We are very grateful to have received funding from Bethnal Green Ventures, Catch22 and the Skoll Centre.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
In addition to the grants from Bethnal Green Ventures, Catch22 and the Skoll Centre, Devie was also listed by Business Because as the most impactful innovation among 2020 MBA start-ups to look out for.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them? (Anything Oxfordshire especially!) *
Katherine: I would encourage them to check out Enterprising Oxford, the Skoll Centre and the Oxford Foundry for access to a host of interesting resources, events and programmes.
Any last words of advice?
Puja: When in doubt, learn from what users do.