MBA Student Leaders Reimagine Forum to Focus on Crises, Change, and Opportunities

Headshots of Aakriti Narang and Deepak Punjwani

Aakriti Narang MBA’21 and Deepak Lachman Punjwani MBA’21 both have roots in India, both are 2021 Ralph Z. and Charlotte R. Sorenson Merit Scholarship recipients, and both are pursuing their degrees to gain more business knowledge and experience, but their routes to Babson College are vastly varied.

Narang is a culinary entrepreneur who began her India-inspired business last year. Punjwani already had a lengthy business background in his native Brazil and in India, where he started his own company.

Their divergent paths, though, now have merged as the student co-chairs for the Babson Global Entrepreneurial Leadership (GEL) Forum. The inaugural forum—which will be held virtually on March 5 and 6—replaces three large annual events: Babson Entrepreneurship Forum, Babson India Symposium, and the Babson Latin America Conference.

And, it’s Narang’s and Punjwani’s experiences as entrepreneurial leaders that will give the GEL Forum its form and focus.

Culinary Beginnings

While in high school, Narang started a small business selling patisserie products. With aspirations to become a chef, she was ready to attend culinary school in New York.

Although her sister, Alankrita Narang MSEL’15, graduated with the first MSEL class, Babson originally was not in her plan. Narang thought she needed more experience if she wanted to gain the knowledge to launch a business. But, after applying to and getting into a lot of good schools, she knew Babson was her calling.

“I have just one word to describe my experience to date, which is exhilarating,” Narang said. “It was nothing as I expected and yet so much more.”

In addition to being a co-chair of the upcoming GEL Forum, she is the vice president of branding in the Marketing Club, and has served as co-president of the Babson India Graduate Club.

Most notably, over the summer, she started an Indian meal-delivery pilot project. Missing the food from home in New Delhi, India, and not able to find a good replacement in Boston, Narang and a friend began Beyond Curried, a meal-delivery service to bring the taste of home to the Babson community every weekend.

Before long, Narang found herself creating a supply chain, building the company’s online presence, and seeking out resources in a new country in her spare time. She was making 25-30 preset full meals and delivering them to the Boston area each weekend. “I think that everybody still wants our food,” she said, “even though we’re not doing it anymore.”

From Brazil to Babson

Punjwani had worked in his family consumer electronics business in Manaus, Brazil, for 10 years before starting his own e-commerce luggage and travel accessories company in India. He took a step back and realized he wanted more of a business foundation, so he applied to many business schools and chose Babson based on its strong reputation.

An active member of the Babson community, Punjwani is co-president of the Family Business Club, co-president of the Babson Consulting Club, and an active member of the Graduate Student Council, where he serves as the vice president of the Center for Career Development.

During the pandemic, Punjwani was missing the networking opportunities that usually come naturally with in-person classes, so he set out to build his network another way. He launched a podcast, So What Exactly Do You Do?, that features Babson alumni and previous Babson speakers and breaks their jobs down into simple terms so anyone can understand.

“I wanted to share the conversations I had with them with the rest of my class,” Punjwani said, “and that was the one question I found myself asking everyone.”

Crises, Change, and Opportunities

Narang’s and Punjwani’s diverse experiences will converge at the GEL Forum. Together, they were tasked with building the inaugural forum from scratch, from concepting the theme and the format to coordinating speakers and figuring out how the virtual forum will run.

With so many challenges facing entrepreneurs every day, even beyond the pandemic, they have planned speakers to touch on identifying crises and taking risks despite those challenges. With an eye on entrepreneurial leadership, Narang and Punjwani have created the forum around the theme of “Crises, Change & Opportunities: Creating a Better World.”

Don’t miss the virtual Babson Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum on March 5 and 6.

Narang said they are building upon that theme in each of the four sessions. The driving thought behind it all, Narang said, is that “Tomorrow anything can come and shake your reality and how do you as an entrepreneur deal with it?”

Even as they focus on today, Narang and Punjwani look toward the future. They are proud to have built a road map for forum co-chairs to follow. “There will be people after us, but we were the ones who started it,” Punjwani said. “I’m very proud to have our names associated with it. We’ve put in a lot of hard work.”

However, they said they could not have done it alone. Their faculty advisor, Professor Anirudh Dhebar, and Felipe Venegas MBA’03 have been guiding them each step of the way, along with Kate Buckman, Director of Graduate Student Life and Leadership, and Katherine Worthington, Assistant Director of Graduate Student Life and Leadership, and the entire GEL Forum team.

“I am excited to see how this evolves over the years,” Narang said, “even when we’re long gone.”

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