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Fellow to Founder: Coming a Full Circle

Mahesh Jakhotia was part of the first batch of the Young India Fellowship. An engineer turned entrepreneur, Mahesh is the second alumnus to join the Ashoka Founder community

An engineer turned entrepreneur, Mahesh now runs his own agritech company called, Bijak. We spoke to him about his journey from being a Fellow to a founder.

Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you came to Ashoka? And what are you doing now?

I had completed my undergraduate degree in engineering from BITS Pilani and Ashoka happened straight after that. I joined the first batch of YIF – the Young India Fellowship, alongside a lot of my batchmates who were then planning their further studies abroad and instead started to join the Fellowship. That’s how I found out about Ashoka.

After completing the Fellowship in 2011-2012, I started my career with a VC fund which was also started by Ashoka founders. From there, I ventured into investment banking, and then worked with multiple start-ups, before launching my entrepreneurial journey with the agritech company, Bijak.

What made you join a Liberal Arts programme after a four-year STEM-focused undergraduate degree? How did you decide YIF was the right decision for you?

To be honest, joining the Fellowship was a bit of a leap of faith for me. Since it was a new programme, I did not have any reference point for how successful it would be. The programme did have support from a lot of enterprising people, including the founders of Naukri.com and MakeMyTrip, the Dean of ISB (Indian School of Business) and 50+ other founders.

The initial sessions that were conducted introducing the multidisciplinary, liberal arts approach also really inspired me. Such formats were not found even in the best B-schools or engineering colleges. So I think, all of this, with a lot of my other batchmates, who left big opportunities to join the Fellowship—sealed the deal.

What were your biggest learnings and takeaways at the YIF that you think have played a key role in your success today?

I think three very pivotal aspects cemented my way of thought at the University. Being righteous, acquiring knowledge and building empathy. These three pillars can help you navigate the most difficult situations in any business terrain. Both YIF and Ashoka help provide skill sets for these aspects that can’t be portrayed through numbers or analytic processes. These were my most important learnings, especially building empathy as that has helped me understand people, persuade them and push them to perform at their best potential.

What made you come back to Ashoka as a founder?

I think when I look back and imagine two parallel universes, one in which Ashoka exists and one in which it does not, I believe the trajectory of my life is much better because of the University. My contribution is just a small way for me to help others achieve the same benefits that have helped me in my journey. It is also the sheer joy of giving back and seeing someone else flourish.

What is a message you would like to give to founders and other alumni?

Ashoka as an institution is a legacy that has played an important part in my life. I think as an alumnus, if you too feel that the University has played a crucial role for you, it would be amazing if you could come back and be part of it in a closer way. Whether this is through your time, your resources, or just being there for the institution. I would especially pass on this message to my batchmates, as we were the pioneers of the Young India Fellowship, and it would be great to see more alumni join as founders or contribute in other ways.

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