Sri Narayanan isn’t waiting until she’s a college graduate to be the change she wants to see in the world.
The Plainsboro resident, a junior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, credits everything from her family to a middle-school opportunity for hands-on robotics lessons to shaping her desire to give back to her community—both locally and on a much larger scale—through technology.
And it’s Narayanan’s pursuit of that very goal that has helped earn her a spot among three other standout New Jersey college students and female business leaders of the future.
When the fifth annual New Jersey Business and Industry Association Women Business Leaders Forum heads to Long Branch on Sept. 20, Narayanan will receive a Rising Star award in recognition of her dedication to helping others.
“NJBIA’s Rising Star Award honors students who have demonstrated a passion for their career path, academic success, and a commitment to volunteering in their communities during their undergraduate careers,” NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka says. “This year, the application process was so competitive NJBIA decided to double the number of award winners because all four of these students are such standout leaders deserving recognition.”
In addition to tackling her double majors in business analytics and information technology and marketing, Narayanan has dedicated herself to bringing technology to underserved youth, coding to curious minds, and her ideas to leadership positions in campus organizations, all in an attempt to help those around her benefit from the same opportunities she’s had.
To her, the award is less about her accomplishments and more about the possibility of joining her mentors as positive forces in others’ lives.
“Receiving this award is very impactful,” Narayanan says. “I have so many role models I look up to, and it really excites me to also give back to the community by helping others and mentoring other undergrad students on campus, so it’s really exciting to think that I could be a role model, too. There’s so much left to learn, and this is another opportunity to keep on growing in my future career.”
That career, ultimately, will have its roots in the robotics, coding and programming. She has a general passion for technology that she credits her parents, as well as her mentors, for helping instill in her: Once she graduates in 2021, Narayanan plans to take advantage of “what a big and varied industry” health care is by carving her niche in healthcare technology by establishing her own startup in the field.
“I’ve been interning in health care since I was out of high school, because it’s an area I feel very passionate about,” she explains. “It’s something I feel like I can give back to by making an impact with the work that I’m doing. Aspects like telemedicine are so interesting to me, and there are so many different concepts involved—that’s why I personally love health care, and health tech specifically.”
One recent experience helped her learn more about what to expect in her future. In June, she attended the Popsugar Play/Ground, a two-day festival held in New York City for women to help them “live your happiest, healthiest life.”
One aspect of the festival she found to be informative was seeing young brands and companies at Popsugar. “It was great to see established brands at the event, but was even more unique was seeing such young companies displaying their products,” she wrote in a blog post on hercampus.com.
“As an entrepreneur myself, I had so much respect for these new companies that were up-and-coming and was super curious to learn about the mission behind their product, where they were selling and the founder’s journey in starting the company,” she wrote.
Narayanan says her business acumen has played a significant part in her achievements. She has already founded not one but two organizations that actively and literally put technology in future tech masterminds’ hands outside the classroom.
She is the CEO and, along with her brother, co-founder of Competitions Zone, which offers interested students extracurricular experience with competitions, hackathons and conferences to help them connect with the practical application of the technology they’re learning about.
“I was always someone who was getting involved with different conferences and competitions, and I wanted to bring that opportunity to other kids as well,” Narayanan says. “Just because you’ve finished your classes doesn’t mean you’re done learning: There are all these different opportunities you can explore that can enhance your resume and build life experience, which is what really helped me stand out.”
While Competitions Zone allows students to showcase the skills they’ve acquired, Coding Angels lays that groundwork by making technology accessible to those who don’t have computers at home, nor resources like libraries and community centers that are equipped with them, in order to “provide kids with a hands-on introduction to programming and technology by engaging them from a young age.”
So far, the educational outreach initiative has positively impacted more than 150 youths—and not just in Narayanan’s community. She has partnered with her Rutgers University peers to help them bring the benefits of Coding Angels to their own hometowns.
“I started to code when I was in middle school, and I liked that it was something useful and important—and I wanted to give that experience to others,” Narayanan says. “But some libraries and community centers didn’t have laptops, computers, or any kind of technology, which means those kids wouldn’t get that opportunity to work with programming to see if they’re interested in it. So I ended up buying Raspberry Pis—which are inexpensive computers—and laptops and monitors so students could learn coding and programming languages.”
Narayanan loved witnessing the result of Coding Angels’ efforts firsthand.
“It was so humbling to see how excited the kids got from the workshops I hosted,” she says. “It was great to give them exposure to something new because it let them see a new aspect of their life, which opened up new possibilities for them. A lot of students would say ‘This is the most fun I’ve had the entire weekend!’ or ‘This is the best thing I’ve done all summer!’ and things like that, which was super exciting to hear.”
With her entrepreneurial spirit bolstered by the opportunities she helped bring to the next generation of technology gurus, Narayanan is looking forward to the NJBIA Women Business Leaders Forum to keep the inspiration coming while furthering her business education and making new connections.
“My main objective is to learn from other people,” she says. “So much of my career so far has been learning and getting feedback so I know what to improve on, so to me, an event like this is about getting to learn from others, their careers, and their experiences so I can improve myself as I keep moving toward my career. I’m also looking forward to meeting other women with similar interests and similar passions. And I think it’s cool that it’s something related to New Jersey and brings together people from different parts of the state.”
Narayanan’s leadership responsibilities at college include being co-president of Rutgers Women in Business and marketing co-director for the Rutgers Venture Capital Club. In addition to her own two ongoing technology ventures, she wants to keep being as involved as possible so she can keep learning how to be the role model she believes future generations deserve.
“When you’re starting off in your career, if you don’t have the right guidance or mentorship in general, you could be spinning your wheels and wondering if you’re doing this right and that wrong; if you have guidance that helps you look at a lot of different experiences from their starting points, it can help you figure out what you want to do and what skills you want to build on,” Narayanan says.
“I think joining activities and taking initiative on campus is probably the best way to meet and learn from people, and becoming a leader as an undergrad student gives you a great advantage in developing your own leadership skills so you know how to help others,” she said.