International Women’s Day: She Didn’t Want To Choose Between Motherhood And A Stanford MBA — So She Did Both

Srishti Kawatra poses on the GSB MBA Slack channel with a Stanford onesie to announce the upcoming arrival of Baby Kawatra. “If you’ve ever been curious about deciding to have a baby during MBA or otherwise — just ask,” she wrote. “I would be more than happy to share. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, and this community has been super supportive. I’m looking forward to this milestone and achieving many new ones this year.”

On her very first day at Stanford Graduate School of Business — what MBAs call Day 0 — Srishti Kawatra got some big but not altogether unexpected news: She was pregnant.

As former assistant dean of MBA admissions, Kirsten Moss, gave her welcome speech, Kawatra was thinking about the very special journey she was about to begin: MBA, wife, mother, an accomplished career woman on the cusp of what comes next. While much has been written about the “motherhood penalty” for women pursuing business school as well as demanding post-MBA careers, Kawatra’s pregnancy was welcomed and very much deliberate. All the pieces were falling into place.

“Being the Type-A person I am, I planned everything from the ideal timeline of getting pregnant to what having and caring for a newborn would look like. I was lucky enough that it worked out exactly as planned,” says Kawatra, GSB MBA ‘24.

“I am a strong believer that your life choices as a woman don’t have to be ‘or,’ they can very well be ‘and.’ You can get married ‘and’ have a job, go to business school ‘and’ have a baby, become a C-suite leader ‘and’ raise your kids. The list goes on. This philosophy has governed my life choices to date.”

Srishti Kawatra, co-founder of Zomato Feeding India, completed a 0 to 1 journey before coming to Stanford GSB. Courtesy photo


In her home country, Kawatra co-founded and built one of India’s largest food techs with her husband, Ankit – who also happens to be a GSB MBA from the class before her. Feeding India feeds millions of people through a distribution system for excess food.

Within 4 years, it became one of the largest social enterprises of its kind and was acquired by Zomato – the Doordash for India. Kawatra led the post-merger entity within Zomato and grew it to $20 million in annual budget.

Now, finishing her second year at Stanford, Kawatra and her husband are preparing to transition back to the “real world.” She is looking to build a career in venture capital investing for early- and growth-stage companies while raising her 9-month old son.

While Stanford GSB and her classmates have been very supportive in her family’s journey, there is very little conversation about family planning and relationships at many MBA programs. Kawatra wants to change that narrative.

For International Women’s Day, we asked Kawatra to reflect on her career so far, deciding to become a mother, and juggling it all in a top MBA program. Our Q&A is posted below, edited for length.

Tell me about Zomato Feeding India. What is the purpose/mission?

Feeding India is a food-tech organization to bridge the gap between excess food supply and demand for food. We have a B2B solution for grocers, wholesalers, events, corporate offices and a B2C model for volunteers. Post acquisition from Zomato, we transitioned from a social enterprise to a non-profit model.

The idea to start came from Ankit, my co-founder, who went to a wedding where he saw massive amounts of food being wasted. In 2014, there was no solution in the country to channel surplus, good-quality food and food enough to feed millions every day, worth $675 million, was wasted. At the same time, 200 million people in India slept hungry every night. We were pulled into it as it felt like an important problem to solve.

In the first four years, we received great traction for our two offerings: The direct-to-consumer program, Hunger Heroes, was a first-of-a-kind zero-fund, self-sustainable food delivery program serving 3 million meals annually. We expanded from two to more than 32,000 volunteers in 215-plus cities since inception in 2015.

The B2B offering, Magic Wheels, followed an “uber-pool” system for surplus food, where we would collect and deliver excess food from multiple locations within a 5 mile radius. We facilitated 14 million meals annually in more than 12 cities and sold to 62 clients including Google, Sodexo, and Starbucks. Feeding India’s essence came from the idea we have enough to address hunger – food, intent and ideas. We just need to ramp up our efforts.

Due to the impactful nature of our work, we have been honored by numerous distinguished figures, including the late Queen Elizabeth of England at Buckingham Palace, the United Nations, New York, Indian Prime Minister Modi, former Indian President, many national and international celebrities such as Priyanka Chopra, Shahrukh Khan and many other notable dignitaries.

Describe the process of building the company to the acquisition.

As a founder who is bootstrapping the company, you have to wear multiple hats and do everything from recruiting, finance, legal, strategy to sales. I worked weekends, 24/7 with no days-off for the first four years of the company.

Also, as a 21 years old female founder, I faced many obvious biases. A 50 year old SMB (small-medium business) owner doesn’t want to listen to a 20-something woman telling them how they’ve been doing things wrong for the past two decades. Many did not take me seriously in the beginning and I had to do two times the work to just even get meetings.

The passion for our mission turned naysayers into advocates. I kept going and preserved as I believed in the vision I wanted to create. Once we started getting traction, we built up enough credibility to attract partners and stakeholders who believed in our work.

Why did you want to pursue an MBA?

In the last 7 years that I ran a company, I realized how the scope of personal growth for entrepreneurs is driven by self-learning. It got me so far, but I realized if I want to increase my growth in areas that went underlooked and grow exponentially to achieve my fullest potential, I have to receive formal coaching. I also wanted to take a step back from operating and explore other roles and industries such as venture capital investing, which an MBA provides a great launchpad for.

Why Stanford GSB?

I knew if I wanted to go to business school, it would only be at Stanford. Having interacted and worked with multiple alumni from GSB, I understood how the school promoted a unique culture of innovation through authenticity and vulnerability. Also, for anyone who wants to be in investing, Stanford’s proximity to venture capitalists being in Silicon Valley has a unique value!

Also, it helped that my husband was going to be around at Stanford since was pursuing his MBA from Stanford too (Class of ‘23), so while I was fortunate to receive admissions from other top schools, I chose Stanford.

Ankit Kawatra, GSB MBA ’23, during his graduation holding his newborn son. He started his MBA on year before his wife.

You mention your husband and you have similar backgrounds. Please explain.

My husband, Ankit Kawatra, is also the co-founder in Feeding India and a year above me at GSB. We both met at our first job at Gartner when he interviewed me to join the research team and then later to start the venture together. We have worked together for a majority of our career. Also, we are from the same high school and undergrad course (different campuses!) We had too much in common to believe at first!

Walk me through the decision to apply for business school separately from your husband?

We debated whether we should apply in the same year and ended up applying in different years. I feel really grateful that we both got in. I remember feeling afraid of being rejected in my first attempt. If I had to go back, I would have more faith in myself, my journey, my achievements, and finally the admission process!

I wrongly believed that if we applied in the same year, the admissions committee would find our backgrounds too similar and ding one of us. Then, reapplying next year would be harder as you’ve shown improvements in your profile and that process just felt very exhausting and hard to crack. Also, I was also enjoying my time at Zomato, leading up to the company’s IPO and was leading revenue-generating projects for the company. So we decided that Ankit would apply first, and I would apply the next year.

After admission, speaking to Kirstin Moss, I asked if Ankit and I applied together in the same year, would she have dinged either one of us since we had similar profiles. She confirmed otherwise, as GSB looks beyond just your work, looks at the person holistically and we are different people with different motivations! And it’s really true!

Do you believe it would have been easier for your family if you both were accepted into the same year?

We’ll never know what would have happened. However, there are immense benefits to being in a separate year as your spouse. First, you have an extra 425 people you can be friends with. Ankit and I have made friends across 4 classes graduating in 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025. We expanded our network significantly!

Second, just spending time on this beautiful campus is so invigorating – the energy inspires you to be better everyday and be your best self.

Third, we lived both experiences: Living as a student and being the spouse! Lastly, going a year after him, I was able to gain his insights to spend my time and create my journey more intentionally.

Alternatively, if we were at GSB together, it would be more time efficient. We would also have similar schedules which would have been easier to find personal time.

What are you hoping to get out of your Stanford MBA?

I have spent my time at GSB doing venture capital investing. One of the learnings I had from Ankit and other GSB alumni was to be very intentional with your journey and pursue opportunities accordingly. So instead of exploring various options, I knew what I wanted to do and went straight to it.

I am taking classes in finance, venture capital, private equity, financial modeling etc. Also, focused on developing a lot of soft skills with classes like the very famous touchy-feely, persuasion, negotiations, strategic communication etc.

Srishti Kawatra, co-founder of Zomato Feeding India, completed a 0 to 1 journey before coming to Stanford GSB. Courtesy photo

A collage of photos marking baby Kawatra’s monthly milestones at Stanford GSB.

When did you start thinking about starting a family? 

It was one week after I was given the news that I was accepted into Stanford’s MBA program in December 2021. The initial excitement faded when reality dawned on me: I would be 31 by the time I graduated. I always wanted to have children and realized that if I wait, then it may be more challenging to have children as I get older. I considered various options as I brainstormed on how to juggle when to have a baby, do my MBA, and build my career post-MBA.

Option 1 – Should I defer a year and have a baby now? Even though I might have a baby, that meant I delayed starting my post-MBA career by another year. Also, would I be able to manage a newborn through two years of school? Will my MBA experience be as fun as others?

Option 2 – Should I do an MBA at all? I could just not go Stanford and have babies at home, but I would most probably regret that decision my whole life.

I spent a week thinking about the pros and cons of these various choices and then a new option emerged: Can I have a baby while I do my MBA? What would that life look like? Will I have an “ideal” MBA journey like others? A big benefit I saw from this approach was that I could have my baby while I was at school and could avoid taking a career break when I graduated post GSB.

Reflecting on my journey, I realized I had always had the courage to take the unknown path, even if it was very daunting. It didn’t matter if there was precedent, what my peers would think, or what even is an “ideal” MBA journey? There is no set path, it was just a notion of a “perfect” MBA journey that existed. I was very secure about my decision as I prioritized myself and my family over what others would say or think.

Once I decided, I supported my decision with data and started talking to any women in GSB who had babies while being a student. Even though there were only two I could find! They were enough to make me feel much stronger about my decision.

Describe your first year experience as a pregnant woman in an MBA program? Did you feel like you missed out on anything?

I consider myself fortunate that everything fell into place exactly as I had envisioned. I had my baby a week before our summer break and got four months of rest. It was tough, but I did it all without taking any leave of absence from school, taking as many credits as I desired and refusing to compromise on my social and career commitments. I even interned in the summer while managing a 4-week old newborn baby.

Thanks to the planning, I was able to be more intentional, efficient and resourceful with my time. I went all out in my first year to socialize and be part of most clubs and events.

In my first year and to date, I have worked with multiple venture capital funds on campus including Pear VC and the MBA Fund (across Stanford, HBS, Wharton) doing sourcing, due-diligence, making investment decisions and developing investment thesis. Additionally, I, with a few classmates, launched the ‘Stanford Class 24 Fund’ which is a $1.4M fund to invest in the graduating class of GSB 2024. I also became the Co-President of the Entrepreneurship Club and actively organized multiple networking sessions with companies, VC info-sessions, fireside chats with founders and founder pitch nights for my peers in the class.

As my third trimester approached during the spring quarter, I strategically front-loaded my coursework and took the rest of the quarter off. I remember I was going to class until even a week before my delivery date!

We also had a baby shower on campus and Ankit and my classmates joined us to celebrate. We feel very loved and are lucky to have such a supportive community of friends like family that feel like home away from home. Our baby has 425 aunts and uncles that love him and he’s been to GSB parties, birthdays and some classes too!

Baby Ivaan Kawatra, born May 24, 2023.

Were there any other mothers or pregnant women in your cohort? 

There was no one in my year who was pregnant at the time. When I announced my pregnancy, I received overwhelming support from all my classmates, but what touched me the most were the heartfelt responses from fellow women in the cohort. Many expressed how they, too, had contemplated starting a family but found it difficult to envision how it could align it with B-school.

In general, across all B-schools, there is very little conversation around family planning, women in management, and balancing career with family. GSB is super supportive for expecting mothers however few they may be in numbers.

I spoke to many of my peers one-on-one in the following weeks of my announcement and was proud to know that I could set an example for them to gain courage from. In my second year, we already have two new moms in our class.

Indira Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi aptly once said, “The biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other.” and this sentiment resonates deeply with me. Balancing the desire for a family with career aspirations is a challenge many women face.

Personally, I believe there is no “perfect” time to have a baby. There will always be competing priorities, whether it’s awaiting a promotion, striving to achieve a significant milestone in your startup, or navigating job insecurity amidst the never ending wave of tech-layoffs.

Anything GSB or elite MBA programs could do, in your opinion and based on your experience, to better support students with families?

Yes! In general, all universities can do a few basic things to encourage more mothers in MBA programs:

  • Have more representation of students who are mothers in their marketing materials – on their website, student panel, social media, MBA ambassadors, etc. This would encourage more women who are mothers to apply or consider having a baby while pursuing their MBA.
  • Focus on diversity during admission: In general women are a minority in almost all the B-schools, but you will hardly find any mothers. There are usually only 0-2 mothers in every class and the journey becomes very lonely.
  • Family-Friendly Campus Facilities: This is so basic. Have family changing rooms, baby changing tables, lactation rooms in certain areas of campus.
  • Financial Support: Daycare can be expensive, it’s about $3,000 a month in Palo Alto, more than our campus subsidized student housing rent! It would be nice to get funding to support these caregiving facilities, especially for students who are parents.

How has the second year been so far?

Navigating an MBA journey while caring for a 9-month-old has been an experience in itself. The second year has been very fulfilling, but demanding too. I’m lucky to have a supportive partner in Ankit and my family whose assistance with caregiving has been invaluable. While the balancing act is more difficult than I imagined it would be, it is not impossible to manage. I operate with the mindset of embracing all opportunities and then factor in necessary guardrails. For example, I prioritize enrolling in classes most relevant to my career, yet I may opt for a 10 a.m. session over an 8 a.m. one to spend quality time with my baby in the mornings.

Ankit is an equal and immensely supportive partner, with a remarkably very high EQ! There were moments postpartum when I felt guilty for leaving the baby alone with him for too long or felt unable to fully focus on my career aspirations. Yet, he consistently reminded me of my ambition, goals, and pre-baby passions.

Together, we sync our calendars, divide and conquer certain tasks. For example, he takes on breakfast and lunch and I do dinner and nighttime routine for the baby. We understand that at different stages of life, one partner may require to be prioritized while the other provides steadfast support. Currently, as I navigate B-school and going through a formative time in my career, Ankit stands as my pillar of strength, my trusted confidant, and my catalyst for growth.

Most importantly and above all, I owe my ability to do an MBA while raising my child to the remarkable women in my life. Both my mother and mother-in-law have selflessly taken turns staying with us, offering unwavering support and care for our child. Their selflessness has granted me the flexibility needed during this extraordinary chapter of my life.

Additionally, the amazing women mentors and examples of inspiration have given me the belief that your career and ambition can go hand in hand. Linnea Roberts, Founder of Gingerbread Capital, gave me my summer internship in venture. She believed in my work and ability to manage a newborn baby while working full-time! Kirthiga Reddy (GSB ’03) who, like me, navigated motherhood during her MBA journey and went on to do the most path-breaking things in her career, demonstrating how it can be done and done extremely well!

What advice do you have for families, women considering pregnancy or with children, when pursuing an MBA?

  • There is never a perfect time to have a baby. The only thing to ensure before you plan for a child is to be financially stable.
  • Find yourself the right partner. Having a companion pushing you to be your best, supporting you through your journey and reminding you now and then of your ambitions and dreams pre-baby is one of the most critical things
  • Find the right mentors and build your own support system. I owe my career to the amazing women who have enabled me to get here.
  • Find your values – as a person, couple and family – and stay true to them always.
  • As a woman, don’t restrict your career opportunities – work hard to plan and work towards how you can manage your ambition and family.
  • You can have a baby AND do your MBA. You can be pregnant AND strive to get the next promotion
  • Paying for a nanny / babysitter / daycare is not an expense, but an investment in your career. The ROI on this incremental and comes in the future – you may not see it immediately, but going out of the workforce because of motherhood is not the solution.

What’s next for you and your family?

We’re focused on achieving our goals while balancing our growing family. As Ankit and I transition back to the real world after completing our MBA from Stanford, we’re discovering our own unique way of navigating professional success and parenthood concurrently.

I’ll be starting my career in venture capital investing in early and growth stage companies. I love how as an investor you have the opportunity to shape the future and create a better world through strategic investments. Drawing from my experience as a founder who navigated the 0 to 1 journey, led through an M&A process, and scaled a post-merger entity, I deeply empathize with entrepreneurs striving to turn their visions into reality.

I am excited to support founders who are building solutions for things the customers desperately need or don’t even know they need yet! I’m looking forward to supporting founders who’re looking to disrupt the most pressing challenges the world needs to solve – access to affordable healthcare, financial equity, revolutionizing food systems etc. I have been working on different investment thesis that I believe have the potential to solve critical problems, example: How to address the growing needs of “caregiving” for seniors and children.

Lastly, I’m super passionate about supporting female founders and investors. Having seen first hand how challenging it is to raise funds, find the right mentors and balance ambition/career, I am dedicated to building systems that facilitate greater access to capital for women, both as investors and founders. The ultimate goal is to cultivate a landscape where women are empowered to assume leadership roles with decision-making authority, driving positive change and innovation across industries.


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