Aardra Ambili’s (MS ’14) path to success

Aardra Ambili graduated from UGA less than 5 years ago and is already making waves in the technology field. The UGA Alumni Association recently emailed Aardra about her recent entrepreneurial success with Raybaby, a non-contact sleep and wellness tracker for infants.

What advice would you give to a current UGA student who wants to start their own business?

The journey is definitely long and hard, but not impossible. I would certainly advise aspiring entrepreneurs to expect a certain level of hardship and expect to build resilience over time. I have found it helpful to surround myself with friends and family who are encouraging and supportive. Entrepreneurs live an isolated life especially in the early stages of the company and for people who aren’t  accustomed to not having a social life- they might find it uncomfortable. Entrepreneurs really are a different breed because you end up living in a distant future that might never materialize. As a culture, we also need to celebrate failure- that we as individuals can experiment with different outcomes of our decisions and some of them might be wrong, we need to begin to accept that culture fully. As UGA students, I would strongly urge them to connect with their community – you are in the midst of like-minded people who believe in innovation and collaboration. You might even be eligible to receive funding and grants as a UGA student and they usually go a long way in helping one pave one’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

What are some of your fondest memories from your time at UGA?

My fondest memories at UGA were spent studying at the UGA library, working on different projects. Not kidding. I was studying for my master’s in artificial intelligence and it was a tough program. I remember spending hours either alone or with my friends solving problems – they were never easy and you could never expect to breeze through them. But I loved challenging problems. I remember walking through campus in the fall; it was so beautiful, a perfect time for meditation on the million thoughts that were running through our heads. I remember being inspired by a fellow doctoral student who had been an entrepreneur, and being genuinely inspired by the enthusiasm, initiative and energy. I think that we often underestimate our potential, and we keep forgetting about human resilience and capability, we need to keep reminding ourselves of our human civilization’s inclination towards greatness.

What was the inspiration for Raybaby? 

We met a lot of mothers and fathers who are extremely worried about their children’s wellness, whether they were sleeping well or breathing well. It so happened that one of the founder’s parents was having a conversation on electronics and how they are all powered by lithium ion batteries, and how they all  inherently carry a safety risk. And he asked a thought-provoking question: “How can you place a lithium ion powered electronics device on someone who is sleeping?” The conversation has evolved to where it is now – and we are extremely proud of what we are creating- a non-contact alternative to the current vital monitoring solutions, which is a much safer option. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between vital monitors and video cameras- they should have both in one product.

Currently, doctors track respiration rate by placing their hand on the babies chest and counting breaths manually, which is inefficient. Our solution doesn’t require any kind of electronic device on the baby’s body, a huge relief since parents can now sleep safe and not worry about exploding lithium ion batteries. 

Our product, Raybaby, notifies parents/caregivers/daycare centers:

  • when your baby rolls over
  • when your baby is awake
  • when your baby is sleepy or sleeping
  • or even when your baby is running a fever

We are supported by Johnson & Johnson and HAX as part of their joint consumer device health accelerator program. J&J is helping us create a more market ready and baby friendly product. We use clinically-tested and FDA approved components.

How did your time at UGA prepare you for your career?

While at UGA, I published some papers in applied machine learning – applications where we use artificial intelligence to solve real world problems. But I realized I wanted to make a difference and it took some time for me to realize the way to do it might be to take a break from academia (I had initially planned to apply for a doctorate degree) and work in the field. I went on to work in a few startups and I believe that the time I spent at UGA really helped me to think critically about problems and how to solve them. It made me realize the importance of a community and how communities tackle tough problems. As individuals we are often short-sighted and are trapped in biases and in small mindsets, however when you have a team with varied experiences they bring in their own set of rich expertise and perspective and that makes all the crucial difference when solving problems. Serendipitously, I soon met Ranjana and Sanchi, my fellow founders, who are as excited and as passionate as me, we are strung together by the desire to make a deep lasting impact on people’s lives.

You can learn more about Raybaby and Aadra’s work at Rayiot.org

UGA alumna changes lives in Uganda

Kupendwa Ministries, founded by Amy Washington (BBA ’09) in 2011, is a maternity home for Ugandan teenagers facing crisis pregnancies. Amy, a Watkinsville native, first visited Uganda after graduation and during a return visit in 2010, a severely malnourished little girl living in an unstable home was placed in her arms. Amy relocated permanently to Uganda in 2011 to adopt this child, and five more orphans were placed in her care soon after. Upon discovering childbirth is the number one cause of death in Uganda, Amy knew she had to do something to help alleviate this devastating statistic.

Abby Bryant and Amy Washington (BBA ’09) teaching Amy’s seven children to Call the Dawgs all the way from Jinja, Uganda.

She opened Kupendwa driven by a mission to “save lives, two at a time.” Since then, more than 50 mothers and babies have lived at Kupendwa, and Amy has served as foster mom and grandma to them all. Today, she has legally adopted five of her seven children and is in the process of adopting the remaining two. This past spring, Amy and Dr. Juliet Sekandi, assistant professor in UGA’s College of Public Health, met while Juliet was conducting research on the university’s behalf and formed an instant friendship.

Dr. Juliet Sekandi and Amy Washington (BBA ’09) visiting in Jinja, Uganda

Amy asked Juliet, a native Ugandan, to speak at Kupendwa’s second annual fundraising banquet and on November 17 they were reunited stateside. Juliet’s heartfelt message helped the banquet successfully raise $40,000. Amy and Juliet serve as a shining example of how professors and students can impact one another’s lives beyond the classroom. As they reside in each other’s native homelands, their commonalities have bonded them in a truly one-of-a-kind friendship. For more information about Kupendwa Ministries visit www.kupendwaministries.org.

2017 Bulldog 100 Celebration

On February 4, the University of Georgia Alumni Association and friends of UGA gathered in Atlanta to celebrate the 100 fastest-growing companies owned or operated by UGA alumni during the eighth annual Bulldog 100 Celebration.

The 2017 fastest-growing business was Chicken Salad Chick, helmed by president and CEO Scott Deviney, who received his degree in economics from UGA’s Terry College of Business in 1995. The company is based in Auburn, Alabama, and was started by a stay-at-home mom and her software salesman husband after selling chicken salad at PTA meetings.

To date, the company operates 62 restaurants and has sold 146 franchises in eight states, selling chicken salad in 15 flavor profiles. In 2016, Chicken Salad Chick landed at No. 37 on Inc. Magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S., raking in $9.8 million in 2015, with a growth rate of more than 6,000 percent in the past three years. The company has also been named one of FastCasual.com’s top Movers and Shakers and one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2015 Breakout Brands.

View the complete ranked list of all 100 companies at alumni.uga.edu/b100.

This year’s keynote speech was given by Double Dawg Debbie Storey (AB ’80, MBA ’06), retired executive vice president of mobility customer service at AT&T, author of Don’t Downsize Your Dreams. As Storey wrapped up her remarks, she encouraged all of the evening’s guests to stay connected to the University of Georgia. 

Nominations are now open for the Bulldog 100 Class of 2018. Learn more about the criteria and nominate a business today.


The Illustrator Behind the Commit to Georgia Campaign

Portions of this interview will appear in the March issue of Georgia Magazine.

As the University of Georgia community prepared for the kickoff of the Commit to Georgia Comprehensive Capital Campaign, it became very clear that the best conduits to the tell the story of the state’s flagship university are its graduates. Enlisting the help of spoken word artist Mike Young (ABJ ’14) and illustrator Seth McWhorter (CED ’11), these active young alumni helped bring Georgia’s goals of breaking barriers and opening doors, enhancing the learning environment and solving grand challenges to life. Today, we will share portions of an interview with McWhorter, but be sure to keep an eye out for your copy of Georgia Magazine to learn more about Young.

McWhorter calls Athens home, and has designed logos and illustrations for a variety of companies, including Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries. He started his career at a landscape architecture firm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is currently an art director at Fitzgerald & Co. advertising agency in Atlanta. McWhorter’s black & white illustration of the Arch can be seen on the cover of the campaign CASE Statement, and additional drawings of the chapel bell, Abraham Baldwin, Uga and Herty Fountain will be used in other campaign materials.

When asked what he wanted his UGA legacy to be, McWhorter said, “it’s an honor to have something I created used to benefit UGA, a place that’s meant so much to me throughout my life.”

Celebrating UGA’s 232nd Anniversary

In January, the University of Georgia celebrated Founders Week, which was held in honor of the university’s 232nd anniversary. The University of Georgia Charter was signed on January 27, 1785, making UGA the first state-chartered institute of public higher education and the birthplace of public higher education in America.

The week kicked off with the presentation of the President’s Medal to Paul M. Kurtz, retired associate dean and professor in the UGA School of Law. The President’s Medal recognizes extraordinary contributions of individuals who are not current employees of UGA and who have supported students and academic programs, advanced research and inspired community leaders to enhance the quality of life of citizens in Georgia.

The medal presentation was followed by the annual Founders Day Lecture, presented by the UGA Alumni Association and the UGA Emeriti Scholars and the Office of the President. This year’s lecture speaker was Charles Bullock, Richard B. Russell Chair in Political Science, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor and University Professor, and his lecture was titled “The Highs and Lows of the 2016 Presidential Election.”

The Student Alumni Association kept the celebratory feelings going throughout the week with a series of events for students, including a T-Shirt giveaway, Tradition Tuesday and a birthday party in Tate Plaza.