Piyali Dasgupta 18 May 2017 . 6 min read
In a traditional Marwari household the first girl in the family to be educated went on to complete her schooling from Mayo College Girls’ School, Ajmer, B.Com Honors from Delhi’s Jesus and Mary College and an MBA, The Rochester Institute of Technology. Then in 2007 got the Gurukul Chevening Scholar from the London School of Economics till her journey today at age 41 where she is a social entrepreneur at MUrgency Inc.
MUrgencyInc (One Global Emergency Response Network)
A mobile app that connects people in need of urgent medical help to the nearest Emergency Room, ambulances, doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs or First Trained Responders.
Before MUrgency, she was the co-founder and CEO of Ziqitza Health Care Limited (ZHL), one of India’s leading emergency medical services providers, which operates ambulances under two models, cross-subsidy and public-private partnership. She is also a trustee and co-founder of Life Supporters Institute of Health Sciences (LIHS), a leading life support training institute. Keeping alive the dream of quality, accessible education for the children in her hometown in Rajasthan, she also founded the CBSE-accredited Mangal Newton School that currently has over 1000 plus students enrolled.
Over the years she has won many awards like:
2017 – ‘50 Outstanding Women in Healthcare’ at the World Health Congress
2016 – 1776 Challenge Cup Winner (MUrgency), Washington DC
2014 – CEO India Award – Start up Category
2013 – Times of India Social Impact Award
2007 – Godfrey Philips Bravery Award from Pratibha Patil, Honourable Former President of India and many more.
Sweta remembers, “The date of May 12, 2013 is etched into my memory. It was this day when my friend Shaffi’s mother in Kerala, choked in her sleep at midnight. At that moment he felt helpless as he did not know which doctor or hospital to call. He rushed her to the hospital in his own car and after 3 days in the ICU she revived back. Sitting outside the ICU, he kept asking himself that why it is there were no services like 911 in India? It was then his idea then that we start an Ambulance service in India. I really resonated with the idea because I had studied in US and I could foresee how this venture could save precious lives”
In 2004, they started with 2 Ambulances in the city of Mumbai as a pilot. Five friends got together to launch it with a seed capital of around 2 Crores and hired a team of people. They requested the London Ambulance Service to share the protocols instead of reinventing the wheel. In 2005, they launched the service “1298” in Mumbai with 10 Ambulances.
Challenges and steps taken to combat them
The most daunting challenges she witnessed through her entrepreneurial journey she says were;
Raising funds: As an entrepreneur, one of the most difficult stages is trying to raise the capital and funds to implement your idea. At ZHL, it took 5 years before they could raise substantial funding.
Building a passionate team who can execute the idea: You have to be able to sell your idea well enough for your potential co-partners or employees to be able to have the same if not equal passion for your venture.
Scaling up the idea: To run a business in a single city is of course simpler, but to run it across the country is a different ball game altogether. If you plan to expand and scale-up your enterprise to serve the mass on a wider platform, it is mandatory therefore to ensure having a robust systems and processes in place and have reliable technology to seamlessly execute the services.”
She wants to leave behind a legacy and says,
“I wish to be remembered for my contribution in the healthcare and education sectors in our country. I have learnt to share my vision with my team members. By actively discussing the project and involving every team member one fosters a healthy environment of a common goal to be attained backed by a vociferous team-spirit. Each one is each other’s cheerleader.”
In 2007, Sweta was appointed as the full time CEO for ZHL. The 10 Ambulances served more than 7 million people, delivered more than 12,000 babies on board and employed more than 10,000 people in India and currently operates 2,500 Ambulances across 18 states in India.
As a woman, today she sees the industry has definitely embraced her but initially, it was a tough experience.
Sweta has observed and shares, “In my experience, I have noticed that women do have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts in order to be taken seriously and establish their credibility. But once that is done, people respect you and honor you for the work which has been done.
During the initial days of our on-call ambulance company, we had to approach several government officials for various permissions and documents. I witnessed that, for the most part, I was received with much dismissal, given that I was a young woman. I was not taken seriously.
I remember when I met my best friend and business partner, Shaffi and he introduced me to his other co-founders, two of them were rather uncomfortable at the start. While we are now extremely amiable with each other, given it has been so many years now, it did take them almost a year to come to terms with the fact that they had a female co-founder.”
Her own biggest learning has been that in a professional and business environment, there should be immense trust between individuals. Trust, which can be constantly be validated by substantial facts and figures.
When she became part of the ASCENT Foundation, this support system of a Trust Group with 9 other members became her go-to for professional troubles and solutions. ASCENT was that safety net which supports entrepreneurs like her to receive solace during times of need.
Sweta’s tenacity and “NEVER GIVE UP “attitude drove her to continuously to get things done. Business has taught her to be patient and persistent; that everything takes time, but the key to deriving the end goal is to constantly be at it. She believes in the analogy, “Fall times seven, stand up eight.”