Although the application period for the next round of SÄRÖ/FRACTURE is nearing its close, we still have time to meet some of the programme’s wonderful alumni. The University of Helsinki’s pre-incubator for socially impactful solutions has already fostered two batches of eager social changemakers, the previous one attended by designer and strategist Medha Gupta and Nidal Karagic, evolutionary biologist at the University.
The two answer the Teams call from their home. Quickly it becomes apparent that someone else wants to join in on the remote meeting fun: Gupta and Karagic’s Parson Russell Terrier, Milo. “We are having a hard time keeping him at bay when we have calls,” says the CEO of Pawple, Gupta, and laughs. “He loves to join meetings!”
Although he’d surely much prefer everyone’s attention was all on him, Milo must settle for Karagic’s inattentive scratches for the duration of the interview. Being very familiar with these—albeit sometimes endearingly troublesome—joys of pet ownership, comes also with an understanding of the challenges it may bring. This, indeed, was the motivation for Gupta and Karagic to found Pawple, an all-in-one pet community with the aim of creating peer support between pet owners and pet lovers: “The problem that we saw was that it can be very difficult to raise a pet, especially in cities and especially if you live alone. We know a lot of people who’d like to have a pet companion, but they simply don't have the time or energy to fully commit. There’s also the serious problem of pet abandonment, which has become more common within the last few years. With our solution we want to provide a support system for pet owners and educate people on what it means to own a pet,” explains Karagic, who acts as the COO of the company.
Gupta and Karagic had been working on their solution prior to SÄRÖ/FRACTURE by participating in the Aalto Digital Creatives pre-incubator, but felt they needed a bit more time to finetune the groundwork of their project. “We both have full-time jobs in addition to working on Pawple. Joining another pre-incubator gave us a clear framework for a routine. Thematically structured progress, deadlines to meet, workshops to show up to, that all helped us make allotted time for working on this,” says Gupta.
The team’s tactic has been to hammer out their idea gradually by going over and over their concept multiple times. In SÄRÖ/FRACTURE, they felt they finally managed to take a more comprehensive look or a “bird’s eye view” of their solution, which allowed them to fix issues that had gone unnoticed before. This, they say, has led to them being able to be more efficient in communicating the idea behind Pawple: “We now know exactly what to say—what is important and what isn’t. We know how to hone down our message to as few words as possible, but as many as necessary,” Karagic says. As an example, Gupta and Karagic reference their clever tagline, Sniff around with Pawple, which came about in one of the programme’s workshops.
Another epiphany of sorts brought on by SÄRÖ/FRACTURE was the inclusion of a business-to-customer aspect to the community: “The programme helped us realise that we didn’t really have any kind of financial model in place for the project. Of course, we needed money! After speaking to pet-associated businesses, we discovered that they’d be interested in being involved, and that’s something that we’re now incorporating into our solution,” Gupta explains.
Gupta and Karagic also commend the programme’s emphasis on creating a safe space and fostering psychological safety: “Really the best part of the programme was the welcoming atmosphere. In there, you were allowed to ask stupid questions and try out stupid ideas,” Gupta describes. “Truly, it’s a very low-stakes environment to test your ideas and see if they make sense. It’s a good place for someone who just wants to try something out, without fear of judgement!”
Since the ending of SÄRÖ/FRACTURE, the people of Pawple have barely rested. Gupta and Karagic got accepted into our 6-month social impact incubator, TREMOR, designed for those who want to further advance their projects, as well as the Kiuas accelerator, where they’re getting more help specifically with the financial side of things. The team has been in the process of speaking to various businesses who might be interested in getting involved in their project, on top of which they’ve become more active in marketing, by sticking up flyers around town, as well as by launching a blog section on their website and activating their socials. So far, the Pawple community has operated via their website and an email newsletter, but the team is on the look-out for a CTO to join them on the road to Pawple becoming an app, as neither Gupta nor Karagic have a tech background. At any rate, the team is proud to tell that they have their first Pawple community event coming up very soon.
Gupta and Karagic have big plans for the future of Pawple: that of it becoming the one-stop shop for any pet-related needs, whether it’s pet insurance, pet food, or indeed, someone to take care of your dog while you’re on holiday. “If we’re allowed to dream, the end game would be to become the Facebook for pets,” laughs Karagic. Despite these ambitions, Gupta and Karagic say that what they really want to do for now is focus on taking small steps with their project: “Of course you want to keep a bigger goal and a mission in mind when you work on a project like this. But we think it’s better if you don't think about not having 10 000 users. Rather, work on getting the first five. Make the exercise into something that is digestible for you. Cut the cake into smaller pieces,” Gupta makes sure to emphasise.
Another thing that the team wishes people knew when getting into entrepreneurship is that rejection is, in fact, the norm in the field: “Don't expect everyone to throw money at you just because you have a good idea. You need to talk to, you know, ten, twenty, thirty businesses until somebody might be like, ‘Oh yeah, you have a cool thing here.’ You must be able to handle rejection, and don’t expect everything to happen overnight,” Karagic formulates.
We cannot wait to follow Pawple’s story in the future, as it is sure to be a successful one—undoubtedly with a lot of furry support from the energetic Milo (despite his Teams-meeting saboteur tendencies). Both Gupta and Karagic subscribe to the handy trick of “faking it ‘til you make it”: “There’s absolutely no harm in trying! Keep in mind that you can always learn how to do things. Just go for it and figure out the rest later,” Karagic laughs and gives the impatient Milo finally a proper rub.
The third round of SÄRÖ/FRACTURE, kicking off later this autumn, is taking in applications until 27 September. Make sure to read more about the programme here! You may also contact project lead Mari Karjalainen through firstname.lastname@example.org or through LinkedIn.
Get to know some other alumni, too: