If normal startup pitches make you nervous, imagine pitching your startup to the US President.
That’s what happened on August 4, when President Barack Obama hosted the first-ever White House Demo Day focused on inclusive entrepreneurship. The event welcomed startup founders from diverse walks of life and from across the country to showcase innovations which have had a major impact on people’s lives. Over 30 startup founders were invited to present their work.
Among them was Indian American Privahini Bradoo from San Francisco. Privahini Bradoo is the founder BlueOak, an electronics recycling startup that harvests the valuable precious metals out of old smart phones and TVs.
The White House statement said, “Every day, US consumers throw away enough cell phones to blanket 50 football fields. To Privahini Bradoo, people might as well throw away their jewellery: a ton of phones contains as much gold as 70 tons of gold ore. BlueOak is building low-cost and environmentally friendly refineries to recycle critical metals from e-waste. Their flagship refinery is located in Osceola, Arkansas.”
BlueOak (formerly BioMine) was founded in 2010 in Mountain View, California by Bryce Goodman and Privahini Bradoo. The company aims to leverage technology to tackle the exponential proliferation of electronic waste. Its refinery at Arkansas is set to processes 15 million lbs of scrap per year.
E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. In the US alone, consumers dispose of some 3.2 million tons of e-waste annually; more than 80% ends up in the trash. Globally, it is estimated that only 13% of e-waste undergoes some form of recycling; an overwhelming proportion of e-waste is dumped in the developing world. The dumping of e-waste represents not only an environmental disaster, but also the loss of millions of tons of valuable resources.
Privahini, who calls herself a “world citizen”, was born in India, raised in Oman and New Zealand, and educated in Boston. She holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Auckland and obtained an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2008.
She has been a faculty advisor at Singularity University, and was previously a management consultant at Boston Consulting Group. She was also the founding CEO of Spark, a not-for-profit initiative focused on promoting entrepreneurship in New Zealand, which has successfully helped start over 70 companies in the last ten years. Before launching BlueOak, she was vice president of business development for LanzaTech, a startup that turns toxic waste gasses from factories into high-value fuel.
In an interview to website Refinery 29.com on April 27, 2015, Privahini said that she is not a “female startup founder.” She’s a founder. And, she’s intelligent, capable, and (perhaps most importantly) deeply passionate about and dedicated to her company. “It’s not that we’re women or not, or colored or not. It’s remembering that we have the ability to be whoever we want to be,”
About the most important takeaway from business school, she said, “I remember our professor of leadership said that being a true leader is having a fully rational understanding of all the obstacles that lie ahead of you, and a completely irrational belief in your ability to overcome them. That stuck with me. It’s not just a foolhardy, Yeah, I can get whatever I want. It’s: Yes, it’s hard, but if you’re fierce and fearless, your confidence in your ability will overtake the hurdles life throws at you.”
When asked about the most challenging thing about running a startup, she said, “To be honest, people often think of joining startups as a career choice, but it’s much more than that. It’s a lifestyle choice as much as a career choice. Over the last few years, I was subletting. I was in seven different apartments over four years. There was always a possibility I may have to move again. A lot of people don’t realize how much uncertainty a startup entails. But, that’s what I find the most interesting part: navigating the uncertainty.”
What is her advice to women hoping to get into tech and startups? “I never believed I could or couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I remember something my mom always told me: ‘You are the best at whatever you do.’… And then, just fighting for it. Focus on being the best that you possibly can be. All the people I’ve worked with, they’re looking for people who are the best at what they do. If you as a woman or a man can prove to them that you are the best at what you do, they respect you for that, and they’ll empower you to succeed.”
Privahini’s story is an inspiration to entrepreneurs, particularly women, from all over the world.