Meet StemChef Founder Dr. Ashie Bhandiwad ‘13
Meet StemChef Founder Dr. Ashie Bhandiwad ‘13
Mom turned entrepreneur, Dr. Ashie Bhandiwad graduated from Dartmouth College in 2013 with a PhD in Engineering Science. During her time at Dartmouth, she could be found in the Lynd Lab or kayaking on the river with the Dartmouth Outing Club. Her sense of hard work, curiosity, and exploration would help to spark StemChef only a short four years later. Stemchef is an innovative business that makes STEM accessible to kids through food and cooking.
Ashie is a member of the Dartmouth Founders Project. We sat down with her to learn about her experience at Dartmouth and how that helped shape her path to the creation of StemChef.
What aspect of your Dartmouth experience do you rely on most as an entrepreneur and leader?
Since I was at Thayer, I can speak for the quote of Sylvanus Thayer etched in stone in front of the building: “To prepare the most capable and faithful for the most responsible positions and the most difficult service” as being so true a purpose and mission for the school.
As a graduate student, I had a very concerted goal at hand. This entailed seeking and learning the resources and expertise needed to get the goals accomplished. It meant out of the box thinking, determination in the face of failure, and a strengthened, self-propelled motivation. The tenacity, creativity, and self-belief I have acquired through my experiences at Dartmouth are the very tenets of my venture.
How did you develop the idea for StemChef?
I was at a Dartmouth Alumni event in the Bay Area, having a conversation with Thayer School of Engineering Dean Helble about getting more women in STEM fields. It took two years after that discussion to take action, and that was because of my daughter. Ever since she was able to talk, she was super curious about everything around her and incessantly asked me, “Why? What? How?”
For a few years, I was just playing a role of mom while also being employed at UC Berkeley working as a research scientist. I was trying to quench her curiosity in a hands-on manner with the available resources in front of us — food in the kitchen and on the table. After informally accruing a stack of “lessons” and explaining complex scientific concepts to a 4-year old, I thought it was too precious a phenomenon not to be shared with other curious kids. StemChef was formally launched last year.
What do you like most about your work? What keeps you up at night?
I love getting instant and honest gratification from my audience — kids! When I see the impact of the program on their little minds, having not only absorbed everything they learned but also applied to unintuitive situations, it is unbelievably satisfying. The excitement and sense of accomplishment they get after completing the lessons—no matter the quality of the result—is all the validation I need that I’m doing something right. Patience is an acquired virtue — and I’m not quite there yet. I have so many directions I would like to grow StemChef into and I spend sleepless nights afraid that I will run out of the time to do so.
Are there entrepreneurs or other leaders you follow or admire?
There are certainly many founders and leaders I have learned from, but I especially respect Larry Page. Besides the obvious, from my understanding of his personality, he has a massive moral grounding which I believe is more important than monetary success. I love and want to inculcate his sort of “Do the right thing” mantra within the very foundation of my venture. Honestly, I have built (and am building) my company from the passion to cause a change in the system more than on financial modeling (which is not to say I haven’t done that too!) so I appreciate that.
What advice do you have for students about using their time, relationships, and opportunities at Dartmouth to prepare for this kind of career?
I am constantly amazed at how close-knit the Dartmouth network is. The camaraderie among fellow Dartmouth alums, faculty, and anyone carrying the Dartmouth name is unequivocally unmatched. I would strongly urge students to spend time building a friend network while at school. Dartmouth staff and faculty have so much to offer, and most of them have an open door policy! There is an ever-willingness of Dartmouth staff and faculty to help and to remain part of your life even after graduation, so invest your time while you are there.
Besides the relationships, there are different initiatives and programs around campus that give you exposure to real-life elements that may be of interest from a more holistic standpoint — so, get involved. These soft skills and interpersonal relations are what count in the end.