Divya Pinnaka, a third-year student from the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), is business-minded and well-versed in design thinking. She has been involved in entrepreneurship since high school and has continued to follow her passion at Georgia Tech through Grand Challenges, Create-X, and the Female Founders program. In this first-person essay, Pinnaka details her entrepreneurial experiences, how she landed an internship at Amazon, and her advice for other students interested in starting their own company.
Hi, my name is Divya, and I am a third-year industrial engineering student!
From an early age, I have always asked myself “how” and “why” – whether it's a new app or product in the grocery store, I would wonder how it came to fruition. I would read stories about successful tech founders and keep up to date with exciting innovations through TechCrunch, an online newspaper that focuses on high tech and startup companies. One day, I hoped to create something of my own.
Every summer in high school, I participated in entrepreneurship programs, and I knew that I wanted to continue this in college. In my first year, I joined the Grand Challenges Living Learning Community, a one-year course designed to teach students design thinking and problem-solving. Through Grand Challenges, I learned about design thinking methodology and how to work in a dynamic and diverse team. Our team brainstormed solutions preventing the sharing of “fake news” and improving media literacy. We subsequently developed an algorithm to flag bots and disinformation on social platforms. During Grand Challenges, I was chosen to represent the program in Washington, D.C. and to meet with senators to learn more about public policy issues. At the end of the year, our team presented our project solution at the Fox Theater to the greater Atlanta community.
In my second year, I wanted to become involved with Create-X at Georgia Tech. When I was a senior in high school, I was very frustrated with being unable to tour colleges in person; existing virtual tours didn’t do justice. I was determined to find a solution for students in a similar position, so I joined the Create-X Idea to Prototype (I2P) program. I was paired with a mentor and began customer discovery for my virtual tour startup idea, Unitour. I later interviewed with and was accepted into the Create-X Startup Launch Summer Accelerator Program.
Through Create-X, I was able to connect with an incredible network of startup teams and mentors whom I met with weekly for guidance. I conducted more than 150 customer discovery interviews to understand the target customer and the problem that I was trying to solve. My minimum viable product was a YouTube video tour of Georgia Tech, which reached over 17,000+ views. At Create-X Demo Day, I presented Unitour and received positive feedback from students as well as professionals in the educational space.
Now in my third year, I have been able to leverage my background in industrial engineering, as well as my entrepreneurial mindset, to interview for several internships. During one interview, my recruiter asked, “When was the last time you worked to find a solution to a problem?” I shared my story of participating in Create-X, my frustration with existing virtual tours, and how I worked to implement my idea. The recruiter loved my story — I received an offer as an Operations Manager intern with Amazon this summer.
I continue to be involved with entrepreneurship on campus as an executive member of Startup Exchange, the largest student-led entrepreneurial community at Georgia Tech. As part of the fellowship team, I manage a group of mentors for incoming startup teams.
This semester, I was accepted into the Female Founders program, a four-week virtual cohort experience created by Georgia Tech’s VentureLab that teaches participants about lean startup methodology and customer discovery. My team worked on a new startup in the sustainability space born out of our frustration with the amount of food waste created in restaurants. We conducted customer discovery by walking around Midtown and interviewing managers at different local restaurants and fast-food chains to learn more about food waste.
The Female Founders Program connected me with an incredible like-minded group of entrepreneurs. Female representation in the entrepreneurial community is low, with women-led startups receiving only 2.3% of venture capital funding. As an Indian American woman, I have sometimes wondered where I belong, and if I belong in the industry. During the program, mentors guided us through our startups while having open conversations about tackling imposter syndrome and how to be fearless in the workplace.
The most challenging – but fun – part of entrepreneurship is that there are no right or wrong answers. Nobody can tell you “what” to think, so you should focus on “how” to think. That is what Create-X taught me. It was a paradigm shift — I now view problems as opportunities for innovation. Whether working for an organization as an “intrapreneur” or scaling an idea from scratch, having the right mindset is what truly matters.
From studying abroad in France to working on new startups in Atlanta, my journey at Georgia Tech has been incredible. I always feel supported, and I trust that I have a community to rely on every step of the way. After I graduate, I will continue to implement what I’ve learned at Georgia Tech, as I view entrepreneurship as a mindset that can be adopted and applied in many facets of my life. I hope to one day inspire young girls to have the confidence to take a leap and go after progress, not perfection.
To anyone who plans on starting their own company: do it! Starting is the first step, and there is no linear path. Interview as many people as you can, take advantage of mentors who know more than you, and hone in on your problem statement. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — Georgia Tech has a ton of resources to guide you along the way.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering