Lak Chinta (Morning MBA ’15) isn’t often at a loss for words. He’s a natural speaker: as comfortable catching up with an old friend as he is pitching an idea at a business meeting.
It’s therefore fitting that he’s one of the brains behind Attollo, a startup that gives kids the gift of words with their innovative talking stickers. Since 2015, when Chinta and his fellow classmates developed the initial idea for stickers that speak for the prestigious Hult Prize Competition, Attollo has made a striking global impact — particularly in communities where kids have limited access to educational opportunities.
Today, they are operating in six countries — Canada, Chile, Ghana, India, Tajikistan and the U.S. Beyond this, they’ve been invited to speak at major childhood development conferences and summits organized by NGOs and governments.
Chinta still remembers their humble beginnings at the Rotman School, where they found support, resources and a voice to make their vision a reality.
“The timing was just right,” he says. “There was a bit of luck involved in the pieces coming together for me to pursue the MBA and start a new journey.”
An unlikely entrepreneur
Initially, Chinta had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur.
Before pursuing the Morning MBA program at Rotman, Chinta had established a career in academic research. After earning his PhD in neuroscience, he worked in labs in Canada and authored a number of academic papers. Eventually, he became interested in transitioning into the business side of science and started thinking about roles in commercialization or finance for healthcare or tech organizations.
Within a few months at business school, he quickly discovered other interests.
“I liked the process of getting a team together and pitching new ideas. For the first time, I started looking into a future in business development and partnerships,” he says.
In his final year of the program, he and a classmate started discussing the possibility of entering the Hult Prize Competition, a prestigious year-long program that challenges MBA students and senior-level undergraduates to develop a solution to a pressing social issue.
“How can we feed growing minds that are hungry to learn?”
—Lak Chinta, Morning MBA ’15
“We were inspired from the very beginning,” explains Chinta. “There was a detail in the background materials for the competition that caught our attention — the idea that children all over the world are starving for words, just as urgently or desperately as someone might be starving for food.”
They were inspired to help kids from poorer communities who might engage in fewer conversations with adults and have less exposure to different words than kids raised with more resources.
He and his classmates Jamie Austin (Morning MBA ’15), Peter Cinat (Full-Time MBA ’14) and Aisha Bukhari (Morning MBA ’15) came up with an innovative way to feed starving, young minds: developing vibrant stickers with QR codes. By scanning these codes with tablets (which Attollo would find funding for and make available), kids could hear new words and phrases recorded in their language.
Attollo was born, and the pitch won them a first-place finish at the regional round for the Hult Prize in Dubai.
Help from the Rotman community
As the team got to work preparing for the final round of the competition — which included developing a pilot program and working with an accelerator in Boston — they started leveraging resources and connections at Rotman.
Through the Rotman network, they became connected with an investor, who provided initial funding to the group and still serves as an advisor to the team. Through Chinta’s enrollment in the Top Manager’s Perspective class, where upper-year MBA students meet with and learn from CEOs and senior executives, the group was able to engage three CEOs in advisory roles.
The team also put their classroom learnings to good use. They applied their business knowledge to secure funding and develop a strategic plan that would enable them to scale their operations globally.
“The richness of perspectives and quality feedback from our peers and faculty was invaluable, and probably the best part of being a student at Rotman,” says Chinta. “Classes involved hearing 40 or 50 different, intelligent perspectives, and all before 9 am.”
Though they didn’t win the top prize — Attollo secured the runner-up spot for the global round of the competition — Chinta decided to keep going with the venture.
As he steadily advanced and built a career in finance and innovation operations at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, he began arranging for extended absences from work so that he could continue developing Attollo.
He recently resigned to focus on Attollo full-time.
Today, Chinta splits his time between Toronto and India so that he can manage operations across multiple continents. He’s busy. This year alone, Attollo has committed to working with the Government of India on a plan to reach 40 million children within five years, presented at International Development Day in Ottawa (for an event organized by Global Affairs Canada and Grand Challenges Canada) and started introducing talking stickers in private schools. Earlier this month, the group inked an exciting deal with Government of Haryana, India — for the first time, Attollo will be working in women’s health and child development by supporting antenatal care and nutrition programs.
“Our end-goal has always been to reach 100,000 kids a day, and we are still committed to that,” he says. “Our main focus remains: how do we get these stickers into the hands of people that need them? How can we feed growing minds that are hungry to learn?”
Written by Rebecca Cheung | More Student Stories »