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Shakti co-founders holding their giant check at SNVC 2018

Since I helped launch the John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) 10 years ago, the SNVC has jump-started more than 100 social ventures that have gone on to raise more than $35 million. But the numbers only tell part of the story.

The competition—and the accompanying New Social Ventures course that I teach at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business—strives to educate the next generation of social entrepreneurs. What innovative nonprofit or for-profit business models will students develop with an eye on creating social impact? How will that startup experience impact their future careers? As the SNVC celebrates 10 years of social impact, I wanted to check in with some of my former students to see what they learned from the SNVC, whether or not their venture is still operating today.

Read on for my chat with Mariana Botero, MBA ’19, MPP ’19, cofounder of Shakti, which earned second place in the 2018 SNVC Finals for its idea to help empower women in India to enforce their rights and access legal and public health resources.

RG: How did you get involved in the Social New Venture Challenge? What was your team’s startup idea?

Mariana: What started as an app idea is now an automated call-in platform, a WhatsApp bot, and a Facebook Messenger bot. Through these means, Shakti helps Indian women of all literacy levels to understand their rights and legal options, and to connect with existing service providers (such as pro-bono lawyers, counselors, and shelters, among others) when they face rights violations.

Meghana Chandra, MPP ’18, my cofounder and fellow Harris student at the time, had a goal to make legal information accessible for Indian women with low levels of literacy. Her initial idea was selected and showcased at the Clinton Global Initiative University in Boston 2017, and the SNVC seemed like the right next step to develop a business plan, design a prototype, and explore funding opportunities. Meghana invited me to join the team to provide strategy and operations support to complement her experience in law, research, and public policy. 

What did you learn from your SNVC experience, and how have you used that in your career? 

The first step to conceptualizing and launching any idea is to talk to your potential customers and beneficiaries and cater your product or service design to their needs as they perceive them—not to your own understanding of their needs. Since SNVC, we have connected not only with beneficiaries about our platform, but also with lawyers, nonprofit leaders, mental health service providers, and others to explore how each stakeholder fits into our operational and partnership model. It has helped us come up with wholesome strategies to our platform design, marketing approach, and operational model.

Would you encourage students to compete in the SNVC, and why?

I would encourage students to compete in SNVC because it is a risk-free way to gain startup experience. The upsides include (1) receiving the help and attention of excellent coaches, (2) gaining access to a wide network of businesspersons, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and impact investors, (3) gaining presentation skills in a low-stakes environment, (4) meeting like-minded, entrepreneurial students, and, of course, (5) advancing your idea while continuing your studies. As for the downsides, there are none, except maybe foregoing another course, but the SNVC also provides some theoretical perspectives during class to compliment practical learning.

Any advice for students applying to/participating in the SNVC this year?

All ideas have potential. Shakti competed with 16 social enterprises and was one of the first nonprofit ideas to make it to the SNVC finals and win an award. If you’re hesitant to apply because you think your idea only fulfills some of the challenge requirements, put your doubts aside, and give yourself the opportunity to try. It is possible that your idea will be completely transformed during this journey, and that is the beauty of student incubators—they are risk-free environments to test your assumptions.

How do you continue to create social impact? What are your short- and long-term goals?

My cofounder and I continue to work on Shakti on a part-time basis. We live in the United States and our impact is in India. We do this because we believe that every small contribution counts toward women’s advancement in society. In the short term, we are working to build a volunteer program to fill much needed capacity at Shakti (learn more here). In the long term, we are working toward our mission of making legal information and public health resources accessible to all women, regardless of their literacy levels.

If you’re interested in staying updated on our work, I invite you to register for our quarterly newsletter here. If you’d like to connect or if you have any additional questions, please feel free to email me either at

This is the first in a series of stories celebrating the 10th anniversary of the SNVC, which is run by Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Click here to join the celebration.


Robert H. Gertner is the Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance at Booth and the John Edwardson Faculty Director of the Rustandy Center. He’s been on the Booth faculty since 1986 and helped launch the SNVC 10 years ago with a gift from John Edwardson, ’72. 

Mariana Botero, MBA ’19, MPP ’19, graduated in 2019 from Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program and with an MPP from the Harris School of Public Policy. While at the university, she was a co-chair of the Net Impact student group and cofounded Shakti, which earned second place in the 2018 SNVC Finals. The venture earned a total of $25,000 in cash prizes, including a special $10,000 Tata Centre for Development Social Impact Award for India, Instituted by Tata Trusts. She is currently an associate director of advisory services for Arabella Advisors in Washington, D.C.