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Shradha Agarwal is being honored as a Champion of Change for her accomplishments as an immigrant entrepreneur and innovator.
I was born to hard-working and ambitious parents who started life with little more than an education and a desire to do well. Their goal in life was to provide opportunities for their children so that we could then go on to contribute to the world, without such basic worries as feeding our family or keeping a roof above our heads.
One other dream my mother saw for my brother and me was an American education. She saw it as a route to opportunities to fulfill our destiny and to make an impact on the world we live in. Growing up in India, education is a necessity, but not sufficient alone to make a healthy living so that one can afford the luxury of working towards impacting the world. She wanted us to arrive at the “Land of Opportunity,” where armed with a solid education, ambition, work ethic, and tenacity, one can truly participate in projects, initiatives, and organizations that are answering difficult questions and seeking solutions to world problems such as disease and hunger.
With this ambition in my genes, I arrived in Chicago on September 5, 2004, and enrolled in the journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While on a scholarship to a United Nations high school in Singapore, United World College of South East Asia, I had identified my “calling-of-the-day” as bringing information to an audience to drive engagement and awareness. Having reported for a local news station during the mid-term elections of 2006, I quickly saw the impact of bringing all types of powerful data to the right audience at the right time and in the right place.
In 2006, my college friends and I had an idea—installing media screens in waiting areas of physician practices and showing videos about simple lifestyle changes that improve lives for those diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as diabetes. Now in its seventh year, ContextMedia has hired almost 50 employees and is generating millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Hiring and culture are very important aspects of running our own company. However, I often feel restricted in the talent we have access to—either for visa reasons or for retraining limitations. Additionally, access to capital has historically been a challenge in our growth. As an immigrant, I also worry about my own future in this country, given the uncertainty of a path to citizenship.
I am fortunate and grateful for the opportunities I have had in this society that truly believes in merit and each person’s potential to contribute, more than it focuses on color, religion, gender, or age. We live in an interesting economic time marked by the global recession, but by offering resources to entrepreneurs to build companies, create jobs, and contribute to the growth of the economy, recovery is possible. This country, more than most other European, African, or Asian countries, acknowledges and encourages entrepreneurship. While no country is perfect, the United States of America is a nation built on free enterprise, creative thinking, and risk-taking, which has allowed me to contribute back as an entrepreneur and investor. I look forward to continuing to expand and inspire others to follow their dreams and utilize the resources this country offers to build, grow, and give back.
Shradha Agarwal is Co-Founder of ContextMedia.