ContextMedia co-founder Shradha Agarwal has always had a passion for communication and launched her first media enterprise at age 9. While building ContextMedia from the ground up, she branded the healthcare media company as for-benefit, a for-profit enterprise that exists for social benefit, and focused on organizational culture architecture. Having led ContextMedia’s product development strategies for media and technology, Shradha currently designs and oversees the expansion initiatives that have doubled the company’s growth year-over-year.
Shradha is also an angel investor, conference speaker, and startup advisor, mentoring at the Founder Institute, serving on the board of Northwestern Student Holdings, and participating at YEC, 1871, CEO, IIEE, The Executives’ Club of Chicago and Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Shradha and her co-founder were honored at the White House among Empact’s top 100 young entrepreneurs in the country. Shradha was also recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the Tech 50 individuals leading Chicago’s startup wave; she was inducted into the 40 Under 40 list of young achievers in 2012.
As a broadcast journalism alum of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a concentration in economics and international relations, Shradha’s prior experiences have taken her into newsrooms at NBC and CLTV. At NU, she founded the Northwestern Business Review and served as the editor-in-chief, developing the mission, plan, and operations for the bi-annual magazine. She was featured by the NU Alumni Association as one of 30 most promising graduates in her class of 2,000 students.
Having lived in Delhi, Calcutta, and Singapore, Shradha says she’s drawn to big cities. Now living between Manhattan and Chicago, she loves the energy of the former and the warmth (all pun intended) of the latter. A speaker of five languages, she enjoys traveling and has been through Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Shradha is also a music and dance enthusiast, having once run her own dance troupe that fused contemporary and classical forms.
MO: Tell us the story of how the idea for ContextMedia came to life.
Shradha: We were undergrads at Northwestern University, running a few business organizations focused on experiential learning. One of these was a student-run publication with distribution at several campuses nationally, which focused on highlighting the role business should and does play in making a social impact — essentially marrying the “doing well by doing good” concept, or what is now called “conscious capitalism.”
We were discussing an article one Friday night in my dorm kitchen while watching an all-time favorite movie, “The Godfather.” We had to pause as we got deep into the start of a powerful idea — putting contextually relevant, hyper-targeted information on living healthier in physician waiting rooms. The three of us had all been caregivers to family members living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, and we felt the need for more education on lifestyle changes related to nutrition and exercise. Utilizing the few minutes of wait time in a doctor’s office as an educational experience to enhance the patient-physician conversation during the appointment just made a lot of sense to us.
MO: You are passionate about bringing together for-profit companies and social responsibility. Why do you think this is so important for other entrepreneurs to consider?
Shradha: There is no other way to run a business sustainably! If someone wants to build a viral SoMoLo company to flip it for riches, the chances of such trend-based businesses disrupting the future are low.
For entrepreneurs looking to build the next Amazon or Apple, the only way to make a healthy profit over the long term is by providing social benefit to the audience they serve. Whether it is improving hand hygiene, educating children on a chronic condition, bringing artistic creations on sneakers to a global customer base, or helping shift-based employees find the right jobs, a growth-designed business has to focus on serving a true need and removing some pain felt by a group of people (personally or collectively as a business).
MO: You have lived across the world in Singapore, India, and now Chicago and New York. How has this global perspective impacted your career and the initial decisions you and your co-founder made when establishing ContextMedia?
Shradha: Living in different places and interacting with people from diverse cultures teaches perspective on each individual customer, thinking without parameters, and finding alternative ways to arrive at a solution when one road seems blocked with hurdles.
Early in the years of ContextMedia, we decided to focus on the individual and avoid labels because each environment, patient, and practice is unique — and so are their needs. We gained the ability to think from the end user’s perspective and provide them a solution, rather than thinking from our own mindset and what we have to offer.
MO: Rishi Shah, your co-founder, and you have pledged to give 1,000 hours of mentorship to young entrepreneurs over the next year. Why is mentoring young people so important to you at this point?
Shradha: When we started, we were fortunate to have encouragement, guidance, and support from a lot of people. One thing we missed having was someone who had recently been in our shoes — we wished we’d been able to call them in a situation and ask what they’d have done. As entrepreneurs, we bring a perspective that adds to that of investors’, customers’, and other stakeholders’ for founders launching a business. Mentoring founders also infuses us with renewed energy and helps us stay young and hungry. We learn a lot from each of them, too, and find our conversations mutually beneficial.
MO: You seem to have your hand in a little bit of everything. What is your advice to other entrepreneurs as they are trying to balance the many hats they need to wear over the year?
Shradha: One idea we all agree with, but struggle to implement continually, is focus, a simple yet challenging concept for entrepreneurs. It is important to focus on the highest-value actions, delegate to others, and trust your team. Having a co-founder whom I respect and trust has always given me the comfort of knowing someone has my back if anything needs a second set of hands to get done.
MO: Congratulations on Chicago’s 40 Under 40 award, Stevie’s Awards Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2012, and more. What was your favorite moment of the last year?
Shradha: My favorite moment is always bringing on a team member who suddenly takes the company from first gear to third gear, and seeing our growth accelerate due to his or her contributions. While we have many of those hires, two this past summer in particular have already made a huge impact and multiplied our efforts — probably my favorite moment.
MO: What is in store for ContextMedia over the next six months?
Shradha: We are very focused on doubling our YOY growth while developing new patient education tools iteratively.
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