All her life Shashi Gharti has always dreamed of running her own company to give back to the community. Entrepreneurship is in her blood as she grew up watching her father run his own dairy business and take part in social causes. Nothing will get in the way of this badass woman who is determined to make her vision a reality, whether it is the lack of startup capital when she first started out or facing discrimination as a female business owner in a conservative Nepal.

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When you think of the tech scene in Asia, Nepal is not the first country that comes to your mind. However, the nation has slowly come out from the shadows of the devastating earthquake in 2015 to take its rightful place in the tech world, with plenty of opportunities in both the local and international markets. Despite the progress, there are few female entrepreneurs in Nepal and women still continue to face gender discrimination from the society.

But all this never stopped Shashi who preserved on to start her software development company Robust IT Concepts that researches and develops innovative solutions to solve existing social issues in Nepal such as poverty, quality education, women empowerment and unemployment. And the challenges for female startup owners can be overwhelming. Women find it challenging to balance both family and career.  It is difficult for women entrepreneurs to get funding and loans. Families are not willing to invest in any businesses run by women as they doubt the abilities of women. All this discourages women entrepreneurs in every single step of the way.

That’s exactly what Shashi Gharti faced during the initial stage of her career. But she is so desperate to start her business that she decided to plunge into it anyway with no savings or startup capital and quitting a well-paying job as an engineer. All she had were belief and a desire to create a better world  As her business started to grow, she slowly won over her family and now has their support.

Like many of the locals, Shashi is a nature lover who likes to head to the mountains and lakes to take a break from a hectic startup life. We catch up with the pioneering woman in tech from Nepal to ask her about social entrepreneurship, the craziest thing she has ever done and what first-time visitors can do to experience an authentic experience in Nepal.

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TT: HI SHASHI, TELL US ABOUT YOUR STARTUP. WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
We are a small software development company with 10-15 team members from Nepal started in 2015 with a vision to develop cost-effective planning & monitoring, data analytics, and visualization software applications. We are currently targeting local organizations, government organisations, and INGOs in Nepal.

We are also into social entrepreneurship by continuously researching and developing innovative solutions to solve existing social issues here in Nepal such as poverty, quality education, women empowerment and unemployment. We believe that with social entrepreneurship we can make some positive impact in the society.

To make application cost-effective we are continuously learning and testing new technologies to innovate new ideas.  Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are the core of our existing applications.

TT: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO BECOME AN ENTRERPRENUR?
Since childhood, I  grew up seeing my dad running his own dairy business and involving in social services. That had a big impact in my life. I always wanted to start my own company and give back to the society as much as I can. Starting my own company was a symbol of independence and freedom for me, as I could shape my career as I wanted.

After I  completed my Bachelor degree in 2004, I decided to take a job as a software developer in my hometown. Then I worked for around 8 years ending up as a Technical Team Lead and Software Architect. Besides software development, I have also contributed in the education sector. I was involved in part-time teaching in colleges and universities.

Starting from 2010, I started working in off hours and weekends as a freelancer. In 2015, I completely left my job and started working full-time for my own company.

TT: YOU STARTED OUT AS AN ENGINEER. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND 
Since childhood, we had access to a computer but it was only a device to play games to us. I started programming only after I joined bachelor degree. After that, I was completely absorbed in programming. I was so passionate that I used to stay whole night doing programming. Programming was more fun to me rather than parties or gatherings. I am of quiet and introvert nature.

I completed my Bachelor degree in 2004 and started my job as a software developer in  2005 in a multi-national company. I worked there till 2010 and joined another company as a Team Lead and work there for 4.5 years. Besides programming, I give lectures in universities and colleges. I love to teach and share what I have learned. In 2015, I  left my job and started working full-time for my company and that was the best decision I have ever made.

TT: WHAT IS TECH SCENE IN NEPAL LIKE? HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL GROW IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
Many IT companies here are into outsourcing business as the labour cost is comparatively low due to the low cost of living. Besides outsourcing, there are lots of opportunities here in the government sector and local organizations. IT has not been fully utilized to its potential in government organizations. In recent years, Government organizations are initiating various e-government applications to automate public services, so this is an opportunity for IT companies.

There are few successful startups with new and young entrepreneurs targeting the global market. With low operating costs and cheap resources it is a low-risk startup and if successful, we can compete with the global market with reasonable pricing. In recent years, many young entrepreneurs are coming up with new ideas, and with proper guiding and mentoring Nepal can make the impact on a global scale. I see opportunities everywhere whether it is outsourcing, local development or tech startup targeting global clients.

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TT: WHAT VISION DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR STARTUP?
The vision for my startup was “Social Entrepreneurship” to use IT to solve social issues such as poverty alleviation, quality education, unemployment, and women empowerment.

At the same time, we are also into the commercial profit-oriented business by providing cost-effective planning, data analytics and visualization tool to SME(Small and Medium Enterprises). We are planning to market it globally.

TT: HOW IS IT LIKE BRING A FEMALE STARTUP OWNER IN NEPAL? DO YOU FACE ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES BEING A WOMEN?
For me, being startup owner represents a strong character and independence in the society where people still doubt the capability of women.  In Nepal, previously there was widespread gender discrimination. In the rural area, this kind of discrimination still exists.

There are few female entrepreneurs in Nepal and it is very difficult for women to balance both family and career due to the conservative thinking. Not only the society but it starts from the family itself. It is difficult for women entrepreneurs to get funds and loans due to social structure. Families are also not willing to invest and this discourages women entrepreneurs at every step.

Yes, I had faced the problem during the initial stage of my career. But later on, I got full support from my family.

TT: ANY BADASS WOMEN WHOM YOU ADMIRE?
I admire Helen Keller and I get strong motivation from her life and the challenges she overcame. Even though she was deaf and visually impaired, that did not hold her back to learn the language to communicate and excel in her writing career. She has proven that with persistence and hard work nothing is impossible. Whenever  I feel down, I read her quotes and that gives me immense strength to continue

TT: WHAT IS THE CRAZIEST THING THAT YOU HAVE EVER DONE?
Craziest thing that I did till now was starting my own business with zero savings and zero external funding and no job. That was the scariest moment for me with no source of income and uncertain future. Back then, I was desperately passionate to start my own business.

TT: IF YOU CAN VISIT ANY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?
I love to travel and meet new people and learn new ideas. Even though I haven’t had the chance to travel many places but I plan to travel soon in coming years. There are many countries I would like to go like. To name first few it is Japan, Vietnam, China, Singapore, European countries and the list goes on.

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TT: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR HOMETOWN POKHARA?
I am kind of spiritual and introvert person so I mostly visit temple “Bindhyabasini”  in Pokhara. I love to go to mountains and see the scenery and some quiet time with myself away from noise and crowd. I  like to go to “Lakeside” for the sidewalk in the evening.

TT: HOW CAN FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO NEPAL EXPERIENCE AN AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE IN YOUR COUNTRY?
I would recommend staying at homestay which is a traditional way of accommodation visiting remote areas of Nepal and living with local people and it is a good chance to get familiar with the nepalese culture. But homestay doesn’t have all the facilities like the hotels do. It is a different travel experience and if you like to learn the culture then this would be the best fit. There are many local homes registered as a homestay in TripAdvisor.

You can also learn some amazing local skills here teaming up with local people and making your trip to Nepal more memorable. There is a local startup “Backstreet Academy” that links foreigners with locals.

TT: DO YOU LIKE TREKKING? WHERE HAVE YOU TREKKED?
I like trekking but haven’t trekked yet. We are planning trekking this year to Dhampus(1-day trek).

TT: WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 18-YEAR OLD SELF
Things that I would tell to my 18-year-old self is:
Read as much as you can.
Time is too valuable to be wasted so use it wisely.
Travel and meet new people and learn from them.
Don’t be afraid, love yourself and face the world. Don’t seek approval from others.
Keep trying and don’t  be afraid of failing.
Befriend with wise people and surround yourself with like-minded people.
Don’t try to change yourself for others.  Don’t pretend to be what you are not.