Based in Bangalore, India, Mahua Mukherjee is the Co-Founder of The Star in Me, a professional platform for women and organizations focused on building business effectiveness with diversity. She is also a 2018 alumna of the MIT Sloan Advanced Management Program.
Prior to all the above, Mahua was a director in consulting at Cognizant, a multinational corporation that provides IT services, including digital, technology, consulting, and operations services. During her tenure at Cognizant, Mahua completed her MBA at the Indian School of Business.
“At that time, I would have loved to complete my business degree out of the country,” says Mahua, “but I would have had to uproot my family, and it wasn’t an option at the time.” Fortunately, she had the opportunity to work for clients and travel throughout Asia, the U.K., and the U.S. as part of her role at Cognizant, and Mahua placed a high value on the diversity of perspectives she encountered.
In 2017, Mahua took a transfer from Cognizant, and Boston became her home base. “It was at that particular juncture that I decided it was time to do something on my own, after 18 years of corporate experience. I had transition on my mind, and I wanted the best possible segue for this new journey. My husband Saurabh was completing his one-year MIT Sloan Fellows MBA, and I got to see how absolutely dynamic it was—a cohort of 109 people from 40 countries. I was inspired by the ecosystem. However, a return to India for us was imminent. The Advanced Management Program at MIT Sloan was my way to benefit from the broad perspectives of a cohort of global, senior executives and a concise curriculum in a condensed amount of time. I couldn’t think of a better program for me than that.”
The transition that Mahua was considering required a leap from the coziness of a well-paying, director-level position to the many uncertainties of entrepreneurship. “It’s not a particularly easy decision. You need meaningful conversations to get there.” When Mahua enrolled in AMP, she availed herself everything MIT had to offer. “I knew about the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and how deeply entrepreneurship is celebrated at MIT. I wanted validation of my idea for a start-up and advice on how to make it more concrete. So, while I was at MIT, I leveraged this extraordinary network. This experience was instrumental to the first phase of my venture.”
The Star In Me is born
The lack of gender diversity in the workplace, particularly in STEM careers, had always bothered Mahua. “I attended a very premiere science and technology college in India – Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Kharagpur), and such a small percentage of students were women. I saw even smaller numbers of women in my workplace. When I became senior enough, I would attend offsites where my cofounder Uma and I were the only women among 70-80 men. I had often wondered, ‘how can we build a better pipeline?’ So I had been brewing on this idea for several years.”
Mahua dug into the data from the World Economic Forum and elsewhere. “In India, women account for approximately 28% of the workforce. Women in leadership is of course a challenge, but the trunk is also a challenge. And this issue is similar throughout places like Asia and Latin America. We wanted to build a platform for women to connect, learn, grow. A LinkedIn for women.” And, so, she did.
The Star in Me, launched in March of 2019 and currently available in India, is a platform-based solution where women can create personal brands, network, and look for coaches and leadership training. It is intended to be an all-encompassing talent solution.
“Organizations are realizing that diversity fuels innovation, spurs revenue, and optimizes the bottom line, so we are building a pipeline for the talent pool. Companies can post jobs and also use this platform affordably for internal networking and groups or to host their training modules. Essentially we’re working toward becoming an exclusive marketplace.” Currently there are 625 women actively interacting on the platform. Mahua plans to launch in several other countries in the near future.
Mahua is grateful for the time she was able to spend at MIT during this journey. “The intimate cohort size of MIT Sloan AMP allowed me to make lifelong friendships and provided unique access to MIT faculty. The program was like an MBA in a month, covering a wide range of topics and including invaluable coaching sessions. It was the perfect intervention for me during my transition from corporate life to entrepreneurship.”