Since she graduated from the MBA, Sonu has helped to start the award-winning green business Gaea Naturals, and social media firm Owned it Ltd.
In her lecture she explained to the current MBA class how she used Lancaster’s MBA to transition from her corporate career at KPMG to entrepreneur; and how Lancaster is still helping her today.
For Sonu, previously a financial advisor at KPMG, entrepreneurship was never originally on the cards. This all changed with Lancaster’s New Venture Challenge, where she helped her client raise £50,000 in investment for his business venture. The experience left her thinking "If I can help people with investments for their own business, why not start my own?"
Starting small, Sonu decided to embrace entrepreneurship alone. The idea? An on campus health and well -being centre for the busy and intense life of a MBA student. After receiving ’overwhelming’ support in surveys and conducting a studies, her venture was approved for complete funding by a Lancaster on-campus organization named Create. Create provides funding, financial advice and help writing business plans for students; they will fund you fully but will take a small equity of around 15 to 20 per cent depending on the stage of the business.
Unfortunately for Sonu, challenges occurred when she could not secure the location required for funding. Realising she had a lot of unconsidered questions such as, "How would this idea be capitalized?" and "Who will look after the business once I finish my MBA?" she decided to scrap the idea completely.
Progressing with her journey, she realised that she wanted a strong team around her, and at Lancaster she found her current business partner Manoj Krishnapillai. Manoj had started a company that grew to become a multimillion dollar enterprise as a student and was a British Chevening scholar. He encouraged Sonu to embrace new markets: "Go, learn and then you can contribute to any business".
Sonu stressed being open minded when considering business ventures, as science and technology are not her background, but are now the foundation of her company.
Sonu also credited professor and lecturers at Lancaster who, encouraged them to take their business ideas to the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition and helped them to reach the semi-finals of the competition.
Sonu’s company Gaea Naturals went on to win an Unltd Award for social entrepreneurs and the 2011 January Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award for its product, which deploys microbes to treat and clean waste water. It's more environmentally friendly and cheaper than using chemicals!
Sonu also talked of financial struggles whilst being an entrepreneur. She revealed that she returned to the corporate world for a brief two months to sustain herself and started working on her new initiative, Owned it. She then looked towards the Oxygen Accelerator programme, a programme which invests expertise and money in teams of committed people with strong and realistic business ideas. The Owned it team was selected for it, and the programme prepared them to pitch to angel investors, VC's and private equity groups: a task she would undertake the upcoming week!
Sonu closed her lecture by explaining the importance of utilizing Lancaster Alumni and resources. "There is an immense potential in alumni"; she said.
She mentioned that she had struck a business deal with one of the most successful Lancaster alumni, got help with branding, product development, finding interns and business consultation, a service Sonu is still using.