Shweta Kulkarni

Director, AstronEra

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Draw your own path, pivot as you please.

What do you do?

I am a science populariser. I call myself an "Astro-Preneur" as I am an entrepreneur working in the field of astronomy.

Why did you choose this field?

It was my 16 th birthday in 2011 when my parents bought a telescope for me as a birthday gift. Right after few days, there was going to be a total lunar eclipse and I invited my friends and family to watch through the telescope. I had also prepared a little presentation about how the lunar eclipse takes place. About 60 people showed up that evening on my home’s terrace and that really boosted my confidence. Next, I decided
to do an overnight stargazing program outside of the city and some of my friends agreed to do it with me. We tried to spread the word as much as possible and about 30 people registered for it. It was the first paid event we ever conducted, and we received a lot of appreciation for it.
We decided to conduct programs with the name Astron. Until 2013 we did a couple of such programs with no profit no loss. I just wanted to reach out to people and tell them whatever I knew. Back then, I never thought that I was being and entrepreneur. It was simply my hobby and my parents totally supported it.
In 2013, I decided to take a step ahead and registered Astron as an activity under a not profit organisation, “SHK Trust” I became officially CEO of Astron-SHK Trust at the age of 18. My partner Nimish Aage joined me in this venture and as he was doing his graduation in photography, I also got familiar with the camera and editing software. We used to make some short films together and they used to work out really great. Eventually, an idea took birth in our minds. What if, we make such astronomy videos? We would reach out to more people. We wanted to expand our boundaries and this was the best way we thought we would make it work.
I emailed my idea to Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar. I had met with him
briefly few times before and thought that he is the best person to guide me on this idea. We discussed about all this for 2 hours and finally he asked me to write it all down and email it to him. I went home and wrote a note of about 2 pages explaining my idea of creating astronomy videos. Within an hour, I received an email from him where he had put me in CC. This email was actually sent to Dr. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary of Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India. In this email, Mashelkar sir had attached my two paged proposal and had requested
Sharma sir to guide me with it. Few days later, I received a call from DST and we were informed with all the formalities to officially propose this project to DST. It took us about 6 months to come up with a perfect proposal and this time it was of about 100 pages! We got selected for the next stage and were invited to a meeting with the panel of scientists and experts from DST to present our proposal for final selection.
And we got it! We were the youngest people proposing through a very small organisation, yet, we received the grant from DST to produce astronomy videos.
In all this process, Nimish and I both received a lot of international
exposure as we were invited to International Astronomical Youth Camp in England. A lot of fellow participants saw the videos we created and they wanted to see more from us.
We decided to then create trial astronomy courses and hosted them on udemy.com where we received amazing response and our courses became top rated courses in the astronomy category on udemy. Soon after this, I was selected in women startup program and decided that hosting courses on udemy wasn’t going to be enough for me. I had thought of having my own astronomy portal long ago when we started producing astronomy videos. WSP was my break and the time had come to make my dream come reality. My startup idea of creating an astronomy dedicated eLearning platform was selected for incubation and then we registered a new company named AEII Pvt. Ltd. Our brand name is now “AstronEra” and www.astronera.org launched on 24th November 2018 becoming not just india’s but world’s first astronomy dedicated eLearning platform.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I am now a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of England, which is a great honour to me. As a woman entrepreneur and astronomer, I would say don’t hold back. Be bold. And seek help from other women as they will boost you more than you can imagine. Choose wisely who you are around with. Sometimes the closest ones may make you feel unappreciated but you have to set your priorities straight. Always follow your passion. Listen to your heart but take your brain along.

Why do you love working in STEM?

E-Learning is supposed to be the future of educational field and
particularly of Non-Formal Education. In recent years, E-Learning which
is considered as extension of Distance Learning, has assumed very
important position in the field of Non-Formal Education all over the
world for most of the disciplines. Astronomy, as a discipline couldn’t be

an exception. Appropriate and well-developed E-Learning modules
would help a lot for reaching out with preliminary introduction of the
field of Astronomy to arise interest in the masses regarding Astronomy.
Many students are not able to pursue the course of Astronomy due to
lack of basic information about various aspects and branches of
Astronomy in spite of other factors favourable. Furthermore, many
adults pursuing some other career but still having a desire to get
introduced to the basics of Astronomy, seem hardly having easily
reachable opportunity to fulfil the desire. It is really required to have
something to provide right orientation and information in organized
manner before their interest in the field of Astronomy dies or faints,
may he/she be a student or an adult. Right intervention/access at right
time would enable them a possibility to engage into the field of
Astronomy at least to some extent and to the level and mark whatever
possible to them.
The Indian Constitution provides for a fundamental duty of the citizens
to develop a scientific temper under Article 51(h). In India, there are
wide spread superstitions and influence of unscientific elements even
in this modern era. Unfortunately, it is regardless of education or socio-
economic status. On the other hand, there is no awareness about our
graceful past regarding study of Astronomy since ancient times. Such
factual information needs to be provided without over-glorification. It is
the requirement to expose the masses to the scientific information
about the mystic space and astro bodies. The lack of ‘Astronomy
Culture’ in Indian masses is not affordable for our country moving on a
progressive path.

The idea of AstronEra originated from the experience of the deprivation
of having basic orientation/ information about various
wings/branches/aspects of Astronomy for the willing enthusiasts to
convert their potential into living relation with Astronomy (at whatever
scale and/or level) with no upper age bar which is hurdling the creation
of ‘Astronomy Culture’ in India.

Best advice for next generation?

No one can stop you from doing what you love. Draw your own path, pivot as you please. Others may attempt to stop you but if you believe in yourself and stand on your grounds, they back away. The real hurdle to cross is the self-doubt.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"The journey is the destination"

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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