Sheetal Bahirat was born in India in 1986, but spent her early school years in Cupertino, California, before moving back to India with her family to Bangalore, India, when she was in the 8th grade. Like all of India at that time, Bangalore was in an economic boom. Information Technology was exploding; in fact, Bangalore was, and still is, considered the “Silicon Valley” of India. It was there that Sheetal launched three startup businesses, all before the age of 30!
Sheetal started her first business while studying Business Management in undergraduate school at Sri Bhagawan Mahaveer Jain College. As a student, Sheetal was struck by the difference between her educational experience in California compared with her experience in India. In California, the education system included experiential and project-based learning techniques that helped in a child’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development. In India, the system focused on a teacher-based system, leaving a big gap in the development of students.
Born with an innate sense of fairness and a penchant for social responsibility, Sheetal saw how India’s educational system could be supplemented. Sheetal’s first business tackled this issue. Seed Leads, as it was called, attempted to bring the California educational model to India’s primary school system. Seed Leads quickly landed its first Elementary School client; but, Sheetal had little actual business experience and Seed Leads closed at the end of that first school contract.
Her next venture, Voonik, was a personal styling and shopping app geared towards wealthy housewives of Indian CEO’s. Voonik was extremely successful: it grew from 6 to 600 employees and raised over $10 million dollars.
At first glance, Voonik and Seed Leads seem like two very different businesses. But there is a commonality: both businesses are about learning, self-help, personal growth and the idea that change comes from within.
The belief that change can be affected from the inside-out was even more evident in her third startup, Big Blender (a cold-pressed juice company). Sheetal had always had an interest in whole foods and their positive impact on a person’s well-being. There was just one problem: as the company grew, Sheetal became increasingly bothered by the amount of food waste generated by the production of her juices. Sheetal began researching ways to utilize every part of the fruit and plant and eventually found herself at the website for The Culinary Arts and Food Science Program at Drexel University. She contacted Professor Jonathan Deutsch, the director of Drexel University’s food product development program and Food Lab, Drexel’s culinary innovation testing ground. Deutsch was so impressed with Sheetal, her history of entrepreneurial ventures, and her passion for the science behind food that he offered her a position (which she accepted) as a Research Assistant in Drexel University’s Culinary Arts Graduate Program.
It was there, while making guacamole, that Sheetal and her co-founder, Zuri Masud, first started thinking about the avocado seed and whether it could be used to create a food product on its own. Could it be a resource, rather than a waste product? Guacamole only used the fruit’s pulp – but what about its seed and skin? Sheetal discovered that the majority of the healthy antioxidants contained in an avocado are found in its seed and skin. Her discovery that these antioxidants are also water-soluble led to the creation of a beverage made from the avocado seed. Sheetal used the resources at her disposal – all that she had learned in her Food Science classes and in her experiments in Drexel’s Food lab, as well as her experience in product development with Seed Leads, Voonik and Big Blender – to create a tea from the avocado seed which she named Avoh Tea. In the process, not only did she create a delicious and refreshing beverage, she made a sustainable drink that is zero-calorie, sugar free, probiotic-rich, with three times the antioxidants of green tea.
In 2019, Avoh Tea was awarded a cohort with Food-X, a prestigious food incubator located in New York City. She has since re-branded her company, changing its name to Hidden Gems, and the name of her flagship beverage to Reveal. It’s mission:
Hidden Gems wants to change the way we look at our resources. Our mission is to create beautiful, environmentally safe, and socially responsible up cycled products by discovering the hidden value in the food people would normally call trash. Our hope is to reduce food waste, continue to create and support sustainable systems for sustainable living, and inspire everyone to discover the hidden gems in the world around us.
At the heart of Sheetal Bahirat’s entrepreneurial journey, from Seed Leads, to up cycling Avocado seeds, is the goal of making the world a better place. Hidden Gems provides consumers with a healthy beverage alternative (healing again from the inside out – a reoccurring theme in Sheetal’s story), it keeps food by-products out of the waste stream and it educates consumers about the possibilities of sustainable living. I can’t wait to taste what comes next!
For more information about Reveal and Hidden Gems, visit http://www.drinkreveal.com/.
Sheetal and her co-founder, Zuri, will be sampling Reveal at Drexel University’s Women’s Empowerment Summit, on Monday, March 9th, at Behrakis Grand Hall, 3250 Chestnut Street Philadelphia. Admission is free. RSVP here.