Three female Ohio State students behind VishawaConnect

Four years after emigrating from India to attend The Ohio State University, Bakshin Kaur is still navigating the nuances of life here — is 70 degrees Fahrenheit warm or cold? If something is two miles away, is that far?

Kaur can figure it out; she just needs a minute.

Recognizing that these cultural hurdles aren’t unique to her own experiences, Kaur, along with Manali Nayak and Kirthana Vasanth, set out to help other international students in the United States. The trio participated in LaunchpadOSU, a startup event coordinated by the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Scholars through Ohio State's Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship.

Their idea? “VishwaConnect,” an app that helps international students navigate unfamiliar customs, policies and procedures in the U.S. Other potential features of the proposed app may include information on how to apply for work, find health care, convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and kilometers to miles, listings for local ethnic food, cultural events around campus, socialization opportunities and more.

We developed the features based on experiences and issues our friends have faced as international students,” said Nayak, a physics major.

The trio placed second at this year’s virtual LaunchpadOSU event for VishwaConnect (“Vishwa” means “world” in Hindi).

None of the students brought any entrepreneurial experience to the event, but the spark had already been lit in Vasanth, who learned more from television.

I grew up watching Shark Tank and always thought entrepreneurship could be rewarding in so many different ways,” said Vasanth, who is double-majoring in operations management and logistics management at Fisher.

LaunchpadOSU only invigorated her interest in building her own business. And now it’s one step closer to reality — the team wishes to create VishwaConnect and make it available worldwide one day.

“If I didn't attend this event, I would have never had the opportunity to meet these two amazing people and also learn more about the firsthand experiences of international students,” she said. “I learned that I should take every experience with me in the future.”  

LaunchpadOSU is a weekend-long event is open to all Ohio State students, who are divided into teams to collaborate on business ideas before presenting to a panel of judges.

The event is all about students coming together to work on startup ideas and building their professional networks,” said Jake Cohen, a program director with the Keenan Center.

By participating in Launchpad, the trio earned an opportunity to speak with the successful entrepreneurs behind FlyBy BBQ, a fast-food barbecue restaurant, founded by David Butcher (BSBA ’19).

“After we’re able to connect, we will get a more personalized experience on what starting a company is really like and all the aspects to consider,” Vasanth said. “Just knowing that I worked with a group of people that also wants to enhance the experience of international students makes me really happy, and I'm so glad that we met at Launchpad.”

Kaur, a molecular genetics major, said Launchpad was “nothing less than an adventure.”

I have always wanted to become an entrepreneur and had tons of ideas, but never knew where to begin or how to go about it,” she said. “I am a science major, so I had never discovered the entrepreneurial side of me, and so I entered Launchpad thinking I am there to just learn.”

Throughout the event, participants have numerous opportunities to network with each other as well as with mentors and judges, said Cohen.

“Every year we invite a great group of both professional and student mentors that consist of fellow entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship professors, company executives and CEOs to help our teams and give them advice on problems they have or may encounter,” he said.

The networking opportunities alone are worth participating in Launchpad, Vasanth said.

“I encourage everyone to take advantage of events like this to get out of your shell and meet people that you wouldn't have had the chance to meet,” she said.

Kaur is hopeful their efforts behind VishwaConnect will help make a positive difference for international students.

If there had been something like this app, my life would have been so much easier,” she said. “'I did not know where to go in case I got sick or which medicines are available over the counter — and for which ones I needed a prescription. For these small daily life struggles, there’s not a support system in place for international students. Our app works like that support system.”

I have always wanted to become an entrepreneur and had tons of ideas, but never knew where to begin or how to go about it.

Bakshin KaurMolecular genetics student and
LaunchpadOSU participant