Search overlay

Search form




        Alumni, Entrepreneurship

        Harbert lends helping hand to New Venture Accelerator teams led by women

        October 18, 2021 By Troy Turner

        All News


        Auburn graduate student uses Harbert program to protect tigers in India

        A tiger in the Indian wilderness with the Coexistence Project logo on the left side

        Auburn School of Forestry and Wildlife graduate Vasavi Prakash uses her experience with the Harbert College New Venture Accelerator program to protect tigers in India.

        Editor’s note:  The Harbert College of Business is committed to developing a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem for students, faculty, industry and alumni that will fuel new venture creation and promote diversity among new entrepreneurs in today’s business world. In recognition of Women Entrepreneurship Week 2021, below is one of four stories showcasing women who are recent Auburn University graduates and have launched their business ideas with help from the New Venture Accelerator program.

        “More than 1,800 people die per year due to human-tiger conflicts”

        Vasavi Prakash poses with Aubie, who holds a large Valentine heart that says Be Mine

        Vasavi Prakash begins The Coexistence Project, which hopes to improve human-wildlife coexistence.

        Vasavi Prakash is a tiger fan unlike any other at Auburn.

        That’s because the PhD student in the School of Forestry and Wildlife has dedicated her work to finding a more peaceful coexistence between humans and the striped species so beloved as one of Auburn’s mascots.

        The Harbert College of Business has provided a way to help her.

        Prakash found her way to Auburn from her native India, where human encounters with tigers have become more frequent and more deadly.

        “More than 1,800 people die per year due to human-tiger conflicts,” she said.

        The New Venture Accelerator program at Harbert is providing Prakash entrepreneurial support in her global endeavor named with its goal in mind.

        “The Coexistence Project, a social entrepreneurship endeavor, is a non-profit organization that focuses on changing human-wildlife conflicts to human-wildlife coexistence with a three-pronged strategy:  educate, empower and engage,” Prakash said.

        “Education will focus on increasing peoples’ awareness,” she said. “Empowerment will focus on economic independence by developing alternative livelihoods and skill development of people facing conflicts.

        “Engagement will focus on linking passionate wildlife enthusiasts to contribute on the field for conserving wildlife and protecting human beings.”

        An elder’s death

        An image of human-tiger conflict

        In India, stories of human-tiger conflicts are becoming more common.

        The stories of tragedy can be shocking and disheartening, Prakash said.

        “Prior to coming to Auburn, I was a forest manager in India and have experienced first-hand the distress a family goes through when a death occurs due to human tiger conflict,” she said. “My greatest eye-opening moment was in January of 2016 while investigating a person’s death.

        “The woman of the household confessed to willingly sending an elder of the family out into an area where a tiger had been sighted. The elder’s death led to the family earning a few dollars for their sustenance. This is just one of many stories.

        “This kind of abject poverty and disregard for human life shook me to the core and motivated me to look for possible solutions,” she said. “I focused my PhD studies at Auburn University on human tiger conflicts but soon realized that research was only one way to address the problem.”

        Down to business

        So why come all the way from India to Auburn in search of answers?

        She enjoys being an Auburn Tiger, but she also appreciates Auburn’s offerings that can help her make a difference.

        Prakash promotes activites to inform locals of wildlife

        Vasavi Prakash engaging with kids to teach them about local wildlife.

        “Auburn University gave an opportunity to think about this problem and look for innovative solutions,” Prakash said. “Aligning with my interests of social good and entrepreneurship spirit, this is the beginning of a great adventure, and Harbert’s New Venture Accelerator program has given me support to streamline and formalize the idea and wings to fly.”

        The program also helps promote diversity in entrepreneurship, something others, including more women, can benefit from, she said.

        “Business seems a daunting endeavor, especially for women considering the risks involved,” she said. “Though my idea is still taking shape, it has been my best experience to learn, grow and lead. I believe we all have wonderful ideas and would recommend it to everybody.

        “Business ventures are fun and a challenge with something for everybody.”

        Her own goals, meanwhile, don’t stop with just people and tigers.

        “The Coexistence Project aims to start with human-tiger conflicts. As the Coexistence Project grows, we will expand our focus to include more species and countries,” Prakash said. “Preventing human-elephant conflict is next on our list.

        “This quest is to conserve our wildlife and protect the people around them.”

        New Venture Accelerator logoThe New Venture Accelerator is a partnership between Auburn’s Harbert College of Business and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation. Learn more about the New Venture Accelerator and Auburn’s entrepreneurial offerings.