The young entrepreneur’s organization helps students with visible and invisible disabilities find mentors from the tech industry.
Smart and ambitious Naitik Mehta came face-to-face with reality during his internship at Microsoft. It was there that this second-year student came across the first blind engineer of his life. Later he learnt that this engineer was in fact denied a seat at the entrance exam for one of India’s top technology institutes but was awarded a scholarship at the very reputed Stanford University, all thanks to the support of a mentor.
The story of this engineer inspired Naitik to co-found NextBillion.org, an organization that helps students with visible and invisible disabilities find mentors from the tech industry. “We began thinking back on our lives and what made us what we are today. And it was mentorship that changed our lives,” says the young co-founder who started NextBillion.org with four individuals, two of them being differently-abled themselves. “People with disabilities are an underserved population in universities, companies and even communities. The fact is that they are twice as likely to be unemployed. We plan on changing that,” he asserts.
Nextbillion.org is a social community where students with disabilities can get in touch with tech industry professionals who are more than ready to share their experience and knowledge. Naitik and his partners have together worked with some of the biggest brands in the IT industry – Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, Google and Uber to name a few. Their networking and expertise in the industry gives the organization an edge.
The 8-10 week long mentorship program comprises goal setting, networking, disability disclosure, personal branding, technical skill development, relationship building, navigating opportunities and finally, interviewing in the real industry. Mentors dedicate a couple of hours a week while NextBillion makes sure both the mentors and the students have everything they need. “Mentors need patience to learn how to teach and to give. And so NextBillion is here to provide them with the resources so that everything is on track. We support the mentorship for 8 to 12 weeks and at the end of it, mentees emerge more confident. They have a development plan up and working,” says the 22-year-old entrepreneur who has recently completed his graduation and plans to take on this challenge full-time.
Naitik studied Interaction Design, and used this knowledge to design NextBillion.org as an easy-to-sign-up and simple-to-understand site to navigate opportunities to get geared for the real industry. NextBillion.org makes sure both the mentors and the students are engaged at all times. About 13 of the organization’s students have already written their success stories and are working full-time in the tech industry; two have launched their own businesses; and four are interning, working their way one stepping-stone at a time.
The humble recipient of over 25 awards around the world has bigger dreams for those he’s helping. “This year our goal is grow the community to 500 students, in 2020, perhaps 2000 and gradually we want to scale it up to a place where we are not restricted with numbers,” shares Naitik, who has been honoured with the global ‘25 Under 25’ Award from the founders of the Internet, Canada’s Top 3 Student Entrepreneurs by EO GSEA, and a ‘30 Under 30’ Award from BCBusiness for driving change in British Columbia.
NextBillion.org wants to focus on targeting the 2.2 million students with disabilities waiting to be part of the tech industry. Given their expertise and network in the industry, the founders want to remain focused on doing a better job rather than a booming one.
Contrary to public opinion and general notions, people with disabilities turn out to be more innovative and in fact more productive. Studies show that 90 per cent of people with disabilities are either equally good or even better in doing a certain job than people with no disabilities. Mentors who entered the program at NextBillion were twice as comfortable working alongside people with disabilities.
Naitik’s message to everyone is “to keep an open mind, to look for strengths beyond appearances, as a simple chance can be life changing. People with disabilities have navigated challenges all their life and most of the times they exceed expectations. Tell them your story. That itself is learning to them.”