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The impact of empowering student entrepreneurs

As a registered nurse, Jasmine Bhatti knows that patients leaving the hospital may still have a long road to full recovery. For people who don’t have a network of family and friends to assist them after a hospitalization or surgery, the joy of going home can be tinged with anxiety.

Bhatti had an idea that could help — a marketplace that connects nurses to patients and families who need medical guidance and support after a hospital stay or outpatient surgery. But with her intense schedule as a nurse caring for COVID-19 patients and as a PhD student at Arizona State University, coupled with a lack of business experience, Bhatti needed some help to get her company, Navi Concierge Nurses, off the ground.

“My co-founder and I are nurses, so our expertise is in clinical care. It was a challenge for us to learn so many different other business-related skills like accounting, financing, marketing, creating strategic partnerships and more,” she said.

Bhatti found the support she needed through the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, officially established in 2020. Innovative problem solving, transdisciplinary research and inclusivity for all learners has always been at the heart of the ASU Charter, but a generous gift from J. Orin Edson set the stage for an evolution of the concept — in perpetuity.

The gift was a major milestone in the Edson family’s long history of support to ASU.

J. Orin Edson was, himself, the living embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit. Deeply devoted to the community, he held the belief that talented and forward-thinking people like Bhatti should have the resources to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Edson and his wife, Charlene, have been ASU benefactors since 2005.

“The Edsons helped set ASU on a path to valuing entrepreneurship with their initial gift in 2005 establishing the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. That gift enabled ASU to be the first investors, as the ‘friends and family round,’ to student-driven startups and the development of new solutions,” said Ji Mi Choi, vice president for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise and founding executive director of the Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute.

The Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative has paved the way for nearly 300 student-led ventures, which have filed more than 40 patents and raised more than $46 million in external funding. In 2018, a second endowed gift supported Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute training and development resources to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship. It has also provided support for faculty to develop and offer extra- and co-curricular training utilizing a wide range of subject-matter expertise.

Bhatti participated in the institute's Venture Devils and Venture Devils Plus programs, which currently include more than 700 teams. Since the start of the pandemic, both she and her co-founder have been focused on patient care in the hospital where they work. But in true entrepreneurial spirit, they have managed to grow their company in spite of trying circumstances. Bhatti said the institute's programs were influential in developing the clarity needed to design and actually create the business.

“We were given the opportunity to connect with other professionals whose guidance helped us refine our strategies immensely,” said Bhatti, who is now completing her dissertation in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, named through a generous gift to ASU health care programs from the Edson family in 2019.  

Bhatti admits that balancing school, work and business ownership was a challenge, especially when paired with the emotional, mental and physical fatigue of caring for COVID-19 patients.

“I had to turn those painful emotions into fuel to propel this business forward,” she said. “It’s like you keep adding things to your plate and you have to figure it out as you go because everything becomes important. Right now for me, balance means just making sure I’m getting good sleep, I get to see my loved ones and I’m engaging in a handful of activities every day that bring me joy.”

Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation empowers students to concurrently pursue education and entrepreneurship. While the primary focus of the institute is ASU students, faculty, staff and alumni, it also supports a diverse range of lifelong learners and entrepreneurs of every age, interest and socioeconomic background. ASU’s entrepreneurship programs have received numerous awards over the years, including the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, and the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers Award for Outstanding Contribution to Venture Creation.

The Edsons’ gracious contributions have allowed ASU to expand its portfolio of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives, as well as the depth and breadth of the programs.

“ASU’s commitment and leadership in innovation is evidenced with the establishment of the institute and enables us to materially follow through on taking fundamental responsibility for the economic and community development and well-being of the communities we serve,” Choi said.

“In addition to the stability of the institute serving as the foundation for entrepreneurial programming, we also galvanize support from many other philanthropic and funding sources to further the impact we have on advancing solutions — new products, new services and new processes — to address problems and unmet needs in society.”

On top of collaborations with many ASU academic programs and colleges, Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation facilitates multiple funding opportunities, provides collaborative working spaces for ventures at all stages, and offers training and development resources, including a robust mentor network to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs find solid footing.

Bhatti credits her own mentor, Rick Hall, with believing in her and encouraging her to apply to the Venture Devils program. Hall is director of the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab (HEALab), and assistant dean and clinical professor of health innovation programs at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“He connected us to a professor in the college of engineering who was able to help us create a prototype of our product,” Bhatti said. “He connected us with the law school so that I could save money by having students help with some of my initial legal documents. Dr. Hall also introduced me to a handful of incredible people throughout the university who have become followers of what we are building.”

Through hard work, perseverance and leveraging the resources available to them, Bhatti and her co-founder were ready to make their business happen by the end of last year. They began taking their first clients in January 2021, went from zero to more than 90 nurses in their network, and have made almost $500,000 to date.

What advice would Bhatti offer other student entrepreneurs?

“It may sound kind of silly,” she said, “but I didn’t think that my idea was enough to really go and ask for help. In hindsight, I don’t want any student to ever think that. If anyone ever tells you that you have a good idea, roll with it. Believe in yourself as much as others believe in you. Especially in the beginning.

“I promise that once you start to see what you are building is meaningful, you will understand the power of your idea. All it takes is the spark. The university has all the fuel to help the flames grow and spread.”

Top photo: Jasmine Bhatti, founder of Navi Concierge Nurses and PhD student in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Photo by Brandon Sullivan