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  • Writer's pictureHimica Khurana

Mission driven startups

Mission driven startups are the best places to connect your skills with the problems you are passionate about to solve. The brain power and hard work utilized for creating good in the world, makes you feel more satisfied about getting up and going to work every day. As a young woman engineer who has dedicated the initial part of my career to the pursuit of mission-driven startups, I would like to share my experience.

While studying at graduate school, I wanted to find a job to optimize my learning and finally kick off my career. I was looking for a position where I would feel fulfilled, make an impact, and my skills would be used for doing something good, while also seeing myself experiment and grow. I landed an internship at an early stage healthcare medical device startup. It was there where I realized that it is possible to have such a work environment that initially seemed too-good to be true. I was so happy to have had such a unique job experience, where I was fortunate to be a part of a team building a product for an idea implemented based on a vision to help the world around you. I got to lay my hands on the product from scratch, that felt like an achievement. People consider different factors and priorities for the early stages of their careers. My primary focus was to learn and explore different types of technologies. I joined the startup full-time after my graduation. It felt great to be looking forward to a job with a mission after graduation. It felt special to know that I would be going back to work with the passionate team and work on a wonderful mission of helping people with chronic illnesses.

Himica on her graduation day from her Masters program at USC

Working at an early stage startup gave me opportunities to build from the ground up, build prototypes and scale. It did come with tremendous responsibilities which are not easy to accomplish and achieve in large scale environments. I had the opportunity to work on various projects, learn things on my own and explore directions for my career to grow. I became an integral part of the team very quickly. I was able to impact the product and eventually the mission we were all working on. Every day came with a unique challenge, I started enjoying figuring things out both individually and with the very talented team. Working in a startup environment helped me realize the importance of working together. This was an important learning to add to my work ethic in the early stage of my career.

As a part of my growth, I also explored my leadership skills, ability to mentor and lead projects. It was a safe environment to experiment my role and learn to step up as an architect and a senior engineer. This helped me grow confidence, be independently responsible for critical projects and deliver. Being a traditional developer with lots of passion for technology, I never imagined myself as a leader. Under the guidance of the right mentors, I was able to explore and work on my skills. I will always be grateful for such personal action oriented guidance I could receive within a few years of experience in industry.

Himica hard at work

After my holistic experience at my previous startup, when I was ready for something new, I focused my job hunt on mission driven startups again. I was very inspired by the mission for which the team at Buzz Solutions was working on, I knew this was the right place for me to utilize my startup experience and grow more. Working here at Buzz helps me grow in all different ways as a person and as an engineer. At Buzz Solutions, our mission is to save power grid infrastructure by providing AI-assistance for power line and grid inspection, thereby preventing outages, hazards, and wildfires. Living in California and watching the serious impact on vegetation, environment and livelihoods because of wildfires is devastating. Working on a mission where me along with my team can help prevent and alleviate the disastrous impact of wildfires is very satisfying.

While resources are not abundant at a startup, I am learning to become resourceful and mindful of physical resources, financial resources as well as people’s bandwidth. There is usually a team of one for each domain when the magic starts. I have learned to make trade offs based on different priorities while optimizing the best for the product. One of the common misconceptions and generalizations about startup culture is that it is considered to be 24x7 work, with no regard to the team's happy experience at work, but I have not found it to be true. On the contrary, I have felt much happier in a startup than I would have imagined. The team culture is a collective effort from all individuals and founders’ vision in a startup. The team works together to build a dynamic to work together to uplift each other.

Further, being a person who does not particularly enjoy public speaking, working at a startup helped me work on my self improvement. I learned how to raise flags, even though it can feel intimidating to interrupt high stakes projects and meetings. The responsibility does come with the pressure, but also rewards where I have learned to thrive and improve in fast changing environments. The skill of saving costs and being mindful of all resources is a great tool in my arsenal, always handy even outside work.

Himica giving a presentation as a mentor

In a small setting like a startup, I was exposed to cross-functional teams where I got to experience how different parts of businesses work. As a software engineer along with working with research scientists, I additionally have gotten exposure to product management, quality assurance, sales and marketing, hardware, manufacturing, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, power grid infrastructure and various different parts of the industry. This has helped me understand the big picture and contribute much better to building a product and optimize self-growth. In a small team with different experiences and backgrounds, I get to meet interesting people who inspire me both professionally and personally. I have gotten to learn and choose my role models in different domains and experience things at ground level. In an early stage startup, you can build a great foundation for company culture and a powerful team. A happy team working together is a winning team. Here at Buzz, I enjoy building our scalable platform to help clients save power infrastructure but I also enjoy celebrating little wins and big achievements with my team.

Working as a women engineer in STEM at a startup is not very popular, which is an issue I am passionate about solving. From experience, I can say mission driven startups are different, they are run by founders who have a vision to improve the world from things that are pulling it down. The teams are mission driven, more inclusive and value driven. A balanced workforce with a no-asshole-tolerance culture helps build a thriving environment for making the work environment inclusive and healthy. I have felt very inclusive, involved and celebrated to be part of startups to work together in building great products and environments for everybody to feel welcomed.

As I met more people in the startup industry, I realized about the large gender gap in startups, resulting in a less diverse culture at most startups. My mentor, who is a woman startup entrepreneur, helped me find resources to work on myself to own my growth as a leader, as well as make efforts to bridge the gap. I joined a non-profit called MAGIC, (More Active Girls in Computing) four years ago, at that time I was the only woman engineer in a healthcare startup and was looking for ways to find more fellow women engineers to join the STEM world in startups. At MAGIC, it has been the most rewarding experience to mentor young minds to encourage their dreams and interests in STEM. I have learnt so much from the wonderful community of talented women and my mentees every session while doing technical hands-on projects with them.

Himica with one of her mentees as a part of the MAGIC program

It has been an inspiring experience to see ideas come to scale while working at startups. Every time our product makes a win, it feels very proud. Every small little task worked on actually materializes to help the company in some way. The sense of ownership and attachment to the product feels like home even if you are at work. It has helped me believe in dreaming and understanding what it takes to build a company from scratch, knowing it is not easy but it can be done. This helps me dream and aspire to build a startup of my own ,as well as carry my experiences to every job I go to in future. What makes startups more enjoyable is their culture and the team. Working with driven people has given me the opportunity to make my community of people whom I will cherish working with all my life. I am grateful for the fruitful experiences I enjoy while working at startups.

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