Startup Profile: POWAN Initiative
Like many high school seniors who graduated amid the pandemic in spring of 2020, Blackstone LaunchPad Fellow Ankita Ahluwalia found herself in a predicament last summer: what do you do when pretty much all jobs, internships, and social activities have come to a screeching halt?
Not wanting to let a summer go to waste, Ahluwalia decided to use her time for good, offering free virtual tutoring services for students from her community. Little did she know she was about to uncover a tremendous unmet need and soon find herself running a fast-growing student-run tutoring organization, POWAN Initiative.
While Ahluwalia’s summer tutoring program began with just a handful of students, word spread quickly throughout her community. As the number of students requesting Ahluwalia’s help grew, she realized the need for tutors was larger than she originally thought. For many students and their families, paying for a tutor was not financially feasible. When they learned about Ahluwalia offering her services free of charge, they jumped at the opportunity.
Wanting to help these students but unable to keep up with the demand, she began searching for more tutors and quickly assembled a team. By the time she began freshman classes at University of California, Riverside in fall of 2020, Ahluwalia had organized her collective of tutors into an official non-profit organization: POWAN Initiative.
POWAN stands for the Power Of Words And Numbers and differs from other tutoring services in that it offers tutoring, mentoring, college application assistance, and webinars at absolutely no charge. Ahluwalia and her team began to spread the word about POWAN through collaboration and partnerships with high school teachers and universities across California and launched a grassroots campaign to find students in need of help and candidates for tutors.
POWAN tutors are personally vetted by Ahluwalia and her team to ensure they believe in the organization’s mission and are not simply looking for an experience to include on their resume. Tutors can create their own hours, with a minimum of just one hour per week. This allows both students and tutors a flexible way to arrange a meeting time, especially since many of the tutors are in college themselves. Today POWAN has around 70 tutors.
Assembling an entire organization virtually is no small feat. Ahluwalia says there were a lot of learning experiences early on that helped mold the non-profit into what it is today. She credits the University of California, Riverside Blackstone LaunchPad with teaching her everything she needed to know about entrepreneurship. “If I had scrolled past the LaunchPad Instagram post, I would not have grown POWAN to what it is today.”
The UCR LaunchPad Campus Director, Mai Temraz, said, “Ankita is very passionate about creating an impact in our community. Since her first engagement with LaunchPad at UCR, she participated in our Social Innovation path, completed the customer discovery program, and won 3rd place in our annual pitching competition all during her first year as a Computer Science student! This is just the beginning of her journey as a social entrepreneur.”
To further the company’s growth, Ahluwalia joined the Summer 2021 Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship, powered by Future Founders. Throughout this eight-week paid summer opportunity, she’s had access to hands-on learning as well as other mentorship and peer networking opportunities to build and grow the POWAN Initiative. LaunchPad is centered around helping students from all backgrounds and starting points succeed in their current venture or career of their choosing, which mirrors the mission Ahluwalia has developed for her own organization.
With most school districts around the country anticipating a return to in-person learning this fall, Ahluwalia plans to offer both virtual and in-person tutoring opportunities in communities across the country. She wants students to be able to seek help as soon as they feel like they are struggling with a concept. The earlier the better, so they do not end up falling behind. Even stellar students need help sometimes, and she Ahluwalia is working hard to erase the stigma that can be associated with tutoring. While education has looked uncertain for quite some time, parents can rest easy knowing founders like Ankita Ahluwalia and her organization POWAN Initiative are working tirelessly to create better opportunities and a more certain future for students everywhere.