CRAIG: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the 101 Digital Podcast. I’m Craig Meyer, the CEO of 101 Digital, and I’ve got a very impressive guest on today, Isha Elandassery. Real quick, can you introduce yourself and you know what do you do?
ISHA: Okay, yeah. I’m Isha Elandassery. For starters, I’m pretty involved within my Naperville community. I have a two-year-old startup, Salus Security, that I started through the Incubator program at Naperville North High School. I recently was very involved within the Chamber, the Chamber of Commerce, through the High School Network. I was chair of that for two years. Now recently graduated from Naperville North High School.
ISHA: Thank you. And I will be attending Indiana University in the fall.
CRAIG: Awesome, yeah.
CRAIG: And as you said, involved with the Chamber, and just recently won the Four Under 40.
ISHA: Yeah, with you as well!
CRAIG: Congrats, congrats. But yeah, can you kind of just give us a little intro of how you got to where you are today. Like again, you’re 18 years old and you’ve already done more than most by the time they’re 30 or 40 or their entire career. So how did you get her in your short career?
ISHA: Well, I think it really started — Actually I want to go back to like what our fellow recipient Mikel says, “It takes a village,” right? So, I think I really started to get motivated within my community around 2020, the pandemic, and I just really wanted to get involved somehow, someway. So, with that in mind, I started getting more involved. I had a few ideas, but I remember that my teachers at Naperville North were the ones that really encouraged my ideas and didn’t dismiss it and I thought that was so valuable, especially with our business community. I forged relationships and garnered like mentors and the mentors that I received from this community has been so fulfilling. They’ve just been so nice. Like it’s so kind. You can just go up and ask a question and they’re willing to just help you and give you their time and really they helped implement a lot of the ideas that I had. And finally, I think really like my friends and my family for just supporting me. So, for example, for the first Naperville Rising Women in Business meeting we had a pretty low turnout, but I still remember my friends like a group of four just come in from the door, just there to support me and support my passions. And even if they weren’t even interested, but they were just there to support me and I thought because of that support, I had the motivation to continue and work on what I was passionate about, And I feel like that’s kind of where I am today is because of that support.
CRAIG: As I say, having a support network is extremely beneficial. Did you grow up in Naperville through all of school?
ISHA: Yes. I was in Naperville since Edward’s Hospital where I was born. So yeah, when I was young, I was actually pretty introverted as a child. And I still kind of am I’m not going to lie, but I feel like what really broke my shell was actually public speaking which was in like seventh and eighth grade.
CRAIG: That’s pretty impressive. I feel like a lot of people even in their thirties, forties and fifties are still nervous to do public speaking.
ISHA: Oh, I’m still nervous today.
CRAIG: Oh! But, you’re good at it.
ISHA: Thank you, but that’s kind of the shell that kind of broke me and really found my passions moving forward.
CRAIG: So, I guess, talking about these community efforts and everything: When did you kind of know that you wanted to get involved? Because just quick kind of backstory on myself, I’ve lived here in Naperville for 30 years now, but I never was involved. We are kind of as a company and myself not until recently, right? Had a kid, he’s almost four years old, and once you have like a family, for me that’s when I was like, “Oh like all of this is now for him.” Again, you’re 18 years old. So how is it that you had those thoughts versus when I was your age, I was like “Where’s the next thing to do with my friends?” And you know “We meeting up at Taco Bell?” like all those fun things. So how did you kind of start getting involved with the community?
ISHA: I think it was also because of the situation that we had in 2020, that pandemic. I still remember watching the news and seeing Edward Hospital like we’ve never seen that type of situation before and that really sparked my involvement. I was like at that moment I was like, “Okay I am very grateful for the situation that I have.” Both my parents could work from home and so I wanted to help in some way I was like, “This is something that I need to do because I can’t just sit idle, I’m kind of tired of watching Netflix.” You know? So, I was like, “Let me try to do something.” So that’s actually the year that I joined the High School Network. It was called the Student Advisory Board at that time.
CRAIG: Through the Naperville Chamber?
ISHA: Through the Naperville Chamber. And I more heavily got involved in 2021 because that’s when I started to attend Chamber events and meet with the Chamber staff because it was like more in-person at that time. And around that time I realized that the Chamber has the resources for high school students because, we were having this conversation before, but like high school students — our society these days like really, you got to know what you want to do really early on. It’s scary. It’s a lot of pressure especially with the amount of money you’re putting in for college for a four year. Something you have to specialize in as well. So high school students are now looking, because of society today, they are looking for an opportunity to explore different industries and pathways so that they have a better feel for when they’re applying for college and stuff like that. So, I still remember Kaylin and I were brainstorming at a school event and we created this mentorship program which we implemented this year. So now that program is the High School Network entails where high school students have the opportunity to have a mentor in an industry that they’re interested in and they can shadow them, meet with them virtually, one on one or even for a chat and coffee. Like I’ve had a few of my peers who did that in the program, and I think so far it has been really incredible. One of my friends was a part of the program. He mentored for Molex, and I remember him coming to my class one day and he was like, “Isha, I just need to tell you I’ve had a phenomenal experience because I feel more concrete, I have a vision of what I want to do. I’m not as confused as I was before.” So, I think it’s great. Hopefully it continues and I wanted to say again, thank you for taking interns from high school like I’m sure they appreciate it. It’s different when you get involved and you get active, and you apply the knowledge that you learn in the classes at high school.
CRAIG: Yeah, I was actually going to mention. I don’t know if you actually even remember, but the first time I met you was at the Business Incubator. I think you actually spoke to the incoming mentors and everything.
ISHA: Oh yeah! Of course.
CRAIG: I wasn’t able to have the time and commitment to do it, but that at least got me kind of understanding the program and hopefully I can do it either this year or in years to come. But even that program that wasn’t something when I went to high school that was there, right? So, it’s very interesting to see students now, you know, having the ability to understand how you start a business, what’s involved in it. Now the high school internship program, there’s just all of these things that when I was a student that we didn’t have, right? And again, I think that probably helps to have this different type of culture within high school where you know the students are almost like mini entrepreneurs.
ISHA: Yeah and I think it’s also like the application because in high school what I’m kind of seeing a shift because they’re actually introducing a CTE Internship program at North next year, so the Career Technical Education (CTE), and I’m seeing a shift from more textbook based classes that those are still there, but it’s shifting to actually applying that knowledge which I think is really good for the future because that’s kind of what the workforce is, the real world is and I just appreciate it more.
CRAIG: I 100% agree because when I told my team about bringing an intern, you know, some of them were nervous because they’re thinking, “Okay yes, you may have the book knowledge, but we really need someone who has the applied knowledge.” Well obviously, you need to do it to ever learn the applied side, but our intern James he picked up very quickly because again, he had the knowledge. But there is some applied knowledge that you learn in high school especially on the technology side, right?
CRAIG: Now circling back through to the Business Incubator. So, you started a business, right? Can you give us a little backstory of how that all started and maybe a little bit about the class and then what is the business doing today?
ISHA: So, Business Incubator is a class where you’re in a team with students and you get to start your own business. So, you problem solve, you use a lean business model to create a business. Each team has a mentor where they can get guidance from and basically what you’re aiming for is the final thing which is a pitch competition which is where you pitch for investment money from Naperville Education Foundation and if you do when there’s one two and three, I guess, you can win. If you do when you in the program after a Business Accelerator, you will use that money to accelerate your business.
CRAIG: I actually went to that this year at North.
ISHA: You did?
CRAIG: Yeah, it was really cool. I didn’t stay for the entire thing, but I was there for the wild card part. It was really cool to just see you know all of these different students having this business and trying to pitch it and you know get into like this Shark Tank type of environment.
ISHA: Oh my gosh I was wild card last year when I was in the Incubator program. Let me tell you I was on my seat like “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.” I wasn’t wild card. I was like the person who we were that team got to the semifinals, but we were like going for a wild card. But still, it was really just a good community, and I thought that that class really was the one that sparked my interest.
CRAIG: So, I don’t know if you know: I don’t know what it started at but it’s up to supposedly like 500 some students.
ISHA: Oh yeah?
CRAIG: Where the internship program is around like 20 right now. So, I have to imagine it was probably somewhat similar. It’s going to just grow year over year.
ISHA: So, this year we had three periods. No, two periods of a high school day for Incubator. Next year, it has grown to six.
CRAIG: That’s extremely impressive. So, the business though, you started to give us a little background on that and again where is it today?
ISHA: So, I started mine in junior year through Incubator and I remember it was with a team of girls, three girls, and they were all senior to me and I don’t know who they were, And I was like, “I’m scared, I don’t want to do this,” but it was really fun. We all connected and we all resonated, unfortunately, with a problem that we were scared. We had a fear of walking alone in the nighttime. One of them was a swimmer and, you know, swimmers in high school have to come at four in the morning and so she really resonated with that problem. So initially, we were targeting towards women in general, trying to create some sort of security bracelet or something like that. But then we found the demographic of college students. We found that there was a potential in the market especially for security there and then we all had an experience with a family member or friend who have experienced an attack or altercations on a campus. So, with that in mind, we all resonated towards a problem, and we created the Salus Security Band which is a discreet emergency wristband for college students. So, when they’re in a threat, they can just press and hold two buttons together and it will send their location and ID directly to their campus security officers which will then deploy an officer to their location. So that’s kind of the origin story. Right now, I was in the Accelerator program. I got a new team. We’ve currently talked to five universities in the Chicagoland area, so we got North Central, Lewis, IIT, Illinois Wesleyan and of course, Benedictine who we’ve been testing with. So, we got our first prototype completed, so we tested that with Benedictine. We have a few things we’re working on from that and the second one is getting completed now.
CRAIG: It’s extremely impressive and we talked about this before we started filming, but when I went to school at Western Illinois, they had these boxes, right? They had them spread out around the campus, blue light on top, but you know, they’re not everywhere. So, to have something that’s physically on you at all times and reporting back to the security at the campus is extremely beneficial. And I can just see that being something that can save someone’s life.
CRAIG: So, it’s interesting to see how you took the knowledge you’ve learned from school but again, that community background that you have of wanting to help out, and kind of merge those two into a business.
ISHA: Exactly and I feel like there’s a misconception that businesses a lot of people especially high school or if you have this misconception, “Oh this is just to make money,” in like profit, but I feel like if you put business for serving in your community it can become something bigger than money. Money is just a bonus, you know?
CRAIG: So, I mean honestly, it’s easy to say but like that’s how we see it here at 101 Digital. I mean we are a service-based company, right? We’re here to help our customers use technology to better their business. Even if that’s having a computer that’s faster so that you can get home to your families, you know? It kind of sounds cheesy, but honestly if we can do that and people are able to get their work done faster than awesome. Or let’s say we’re helping nonprofits. We’re able to help them in a way that it saves them money and then they can use that money to then put towards their causes.
ISHA: That’s amazing.
CRAIG: Obviously, talking about technology and us being a technology company, I want to kind of just go over some of the technology that you’ve been using in that business, that you’ve used in your daily life to kind of better things. What does your technology background look like?
ISHA: Yeah, so for my business we actually have hired a developer, a high school student. His name is Maaz.
CRAIG: Which is awesome.
ISHA: Yes, let me tell you, he’s phenomenal. Very, very kind person. And he’s offering his time to help us build it. So, he’s using information technology to create the application for the campus security officers which was completed and we also use telecommunication to send our location as well as ID via cellular to that application. So, we’re still in that pre-product phase of course with prototyping, but we’re just researching and designing what we can.
CRAIG: And the other thing that we again talked about off camera was now you’re trying to use that Z coordinate if it’s in like a dorm room or something. And that’s where again maybe technology can come into play where, yes, they would have to install some things, but whether it’s Bluetooth, NFC, there’s a lot of technologies that can kind of help in these safety related incidents.
ISHA: And I feel like since the future is technology: Security can be so impressive like it can be faster for a real time location. We’re trying to get down to like less than 5 seconds, you know, with sending locations. So, it’s like if you use technology as your advantage in security, I feel like you can make this world super safe you know?
CRAIG: It doesn’t have to all be about social media.
CRAIG: Even when you think about say the telephone, right? We now have the ability, whether it’s a younger kid, to be able to pick up a phone and call a parent versus, this is probably before your time, I mean it’s a little even before my time. But you only had a home phone, right? So, all of these different technology upgrades that we’ve seen over the years, a lot of it can be serving to the community and just safety in general.
CRAIG: So, I guess to kind of just finalize: how can people find you and find your business? I guess for you personally I mean again probably find you on LinkedIn, right?
ISHA: The LinkedIn is the best way. I love posting on there the stuff if you want to get involved more and some of the stuff that I’m doing or just kind of seeing what I’m up to. But I think really if you want to get something out of me, I think just get involved in your community. I think that’s like the biggest thing especially for high school students. Like you said with the internship that you’re doing with the program, and I think it’s a two-way relationship you guys gain. We’ve talked about this before the podcast. You gained something out of the high school students, and we also gain something. We gain that knowledge, that expertise that you have and you guys gain — what was it again?
CRAIG: I mean we get actual employees, right? Yeah. It’s tough to find employees in this day and age and again as we talked about like you know the knowledge that they’re getting right It’s kind of like you know you’ve you can see that they’ve already had the training in you know for specifically us computers networking and cybersecurity. So I mean that again at a high school level is extremely impressive
ISHA: Yeah, and also at the high school level: I remember I was volunteering, my developer Maaz hosted a hackathon, and that was my first experience in seeing that. It was like a 12 hour from 8 to 8 and I was so shocked. I was like, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
CRAIG: I’ve only seen that in like movies.
ISHA: You should come next! They always host at North this annual hackathon for all Naperville students.
CRAIG: Do you know roughly when that is?
ISHA: It’s around April.
ISHA: Yeah! You know what? You should be a judge. I’m going to talk to Maaz and get you in.
CRAIG: Sounds good. Well again, thank you for coming on today. Really appreciate it.
ISHA: Thank you for inviting me.
CRAIG: And I’m sure everyone will be following along as you progress in your college career and after that. So other than that, you can check us out at 101Digital.com and thanks again for watching!