Featured Founder: Chitra Kanagaraj
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Chitra Kanagaraj, the founder and CEO of PikMyKid, a comprehensive student safety platform for schools that mitigate risks and distractions during school dismissal.
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Pete who are scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
I was a Corporate Director for Cognizant Technologies, a global IT consulting company with over 250,000 employees for over 12 years. In my role I held various positions across multiple departments within the company. I did everything from digital product rollouts to Corporate Operations, driving company performance scorecards. When I felt like I had outgrown my Engineer’s degree, I got my MBA from USF, allowing me to work with local CEO’s and incubator programs to pitching my startup. My new-found knowledge combined with my corporate experience helped me launch and carry my startup, PikMyKid, from that incubator into the thriving business it has become along with my husband and Co-Founder, Pat Bhava. We found a niche in the safety of the school dismissal process that no one else seemed determined to solve, and we took the chance to create something new and solve a problem we witnessed almost every day at our daughter’s school.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
Schools today are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of technological resources and softwares available to them, but an incredibly small amount of them figure into school safety and none looked to regulate, automate, and track dismissals that were often chaotic and dangerous for everyone involved. During dismissal, children get into pretty much whatever car they want to, and there is no direction, save for the occasional frazzled teacher with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie trying to keep it under control. After both being given the wrong child and our child almost being directed into a stranger’s car, we realized not only the safety issues of the current system but the massive liability the school has for mistakes that happen during that time. PikMyKid is helping schools with simple, user friendly tools and a process to identify every parent, guardian, or assigned driver that comes onto campus and streamlining traffic around the carline, while also supplying an emergency alert system that teachers can use to contact the appropriate authorities in unsafe situations. Our system makes the experience safer and hassle free for both parents and staff, and we enjoy making life easier for these hardworking people. Every day I come into work knowing that what I’m doing is keeping children like mine feeling safe at school and protecting their futures, and nothing feels better than that.
Name the biggest challenge you faced as you’ve launched PikMyKid. How did you overcome it?
Every school faces this problem, but most of them assume that it is not at their school until a student goes missing or the wrong parent picks up a student. We learned that we cannot sell a solution when the buyer does not understand there is a problem to begin with. Our marketing and safety consultants have to fine-tune our reach to create awareness about the issue so we can work proactively to prevent disaster rather than retroactively when the damage is done.
Where do you see your company headed next?
PikMyKid’s growth is completely based on what we hear from schools and what we see through our data. The numerous schools using our program have given us insight to optimizing district transportation needs and promoting traffic intelligence guiding parents to efficiently manage their time. When technology presents itself as a solution in many areas, we see more challenges also created by them. PikMyKid in its new Kidio avatar would continue its focus on student safety and help district use innovative social media analysis to engage with their students
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you’d share with another founder just starting out.
Ideas are dime-a-dozen! It is only worth something when it reaches the right audience with the right pitch with a great go-to-market strategy and a passionate team behind it.