Hear how GT alumna, Khanna Bell, took her startup from idea to reality.
Feb 19, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
In her third year as a mechanical engineering student, Khanna Bell had to take some time off from school to raise her twin sons. She began to co-op with engineering companies primarily to earn a steady source of income to provide for her children and pay for daycare services. But it was during this co-op experience that she came to the indisputable realization that there was a significant lack of women in the engineering field.
A few years later, she returned to school to complete her undergraduate degree and went on to earn her PMASE (Professional Master’s in Applied Systems Engineering) at the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech, where she continued to consistently see signs of the prominent gender gap. The prevalence of the situation gave her the initiative and drive to make a change in the industry, and the idea for Pretty Tech was born.
CREATE-X, a Georgia Tech initiative aimed towards instilling confidence in students and empowering them to launch real startups, is what brought Bell into the entrepreneurial landscape. She and N.D. Eze (chief development officer of Pretty Tech) have come together to cultivate the largest talent pipeline for girls in tech. The mission behind their company is to not only educate and inspire young girls to work towards successful careers within engineering, technology and entrepreneurship, but also to seek change by teaching boys to see girls as intellectual equals and mentors in the STEM field from a young age.
Pretty Tech partners with local schools and businesses to allow children to receive training based on their specific career aspirations and then gives them the opportunities to interact in real-world business environments. The start-up conducts workshops focused on taking a reverse engineering approach that allows students to “break tech” and learn what makes up commonplace devices, such as smartphones.
Additionally, the program offers a Cooperate Education (Co-Op) Program, placing high school students in tech hubs across the city to work part-time for 10 to 15 hours per week. Students develop a strong work ethic from a young age and mold real-world connections and relationships they can utilize well beyond their schooling years.
Pretty Tech students range from 11 to 18 years old (6th-12th grade) with high STEM aptitude and interests that would allow them to be successful within the engineering field. At this point, the company has interfaced with more than 1,000 metro-Atlanta area students and enrolled, trained, and employed more than 15 students across eight Atlanta high schools.
Through CREATE-X, the startup gained funding, legal assistance and intensive coaching, allowing them to move from the project management aspect of the company to the mindset of entrepreneurship.
“CREATE-X enabled us to take our idea from an early stage all the way to proof of concept,” said Bell. “It was the most valuable program I have ever been a part of.”
“I have never been in any situation where a group of mentors or advisors were so forthcoming with resources and wanting to see our business genuinely grow,” added Eze about CREATE-X.
When asked what advice she would give to other students of underrepresented minorities that want to start a business, Bell said, “Just get started. All you have to do is ask the right questions, and if you don’t know what questions to ask, find someone who’s done it before because being an entrepreneur is the most rewarding experience.”
Pretty Tech is now steadily growing and hopes to reach more than 500 schools and 40,000 students across the nation within the next five years. The founders believe that giving a voice and power to women and minorities from a young age will implant the confidence needed to make essential changes for the future.