Beating Cancer at 21, Fighting Social Pressure for Marriage: How Kanika Tekriwal Became the Queen of Indian Aviation

When Kanika Tekriwal started up in aviation in 2013-2014, nobody took her seriously. But Kanika, having worked in aviation since the age of 17, had sensed a need for a technology-driven aggregator in the private jet space in India.

The Bhopal-girl, who was 24 at the time, had seen how the industry works in the developed world while studying and working in the UK earlier. She moved to Delhi and co-founded JetSetGo with her friend Sudheer Perla.

Kanika Tekriwal

The private jet booking experience in India was way below world standards then. Kanika had heard many private jet users complaining about it too. Her brainchild, JetSetGo, is an online airplane-aggregator platform that manages, operates, and flies planes for plane owners. It also lets customers charter aircraft and provides advanced trip-pricing capabilities. The startups mostly targets business owners who have to cover multiple cities in a day as well as emergency evacuations and pilgrims/tourists travelling to remote areas.

Having to establish herself in the male-dominated aviation industry at such a young age would have made anyone nervous, but not Kanika – because she had seen much worse, including a terminal illness, and beaten it all.

At the age of 21, Kanika was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of Cancer, which many doctors diagnosed as terminal. Although a handful of doctors told her that she won’t survive more than a few months, Kanika found the right medical help and got better in one year. “I even threw away my vitamins. But yoga helped me get my fitness back,” she recollects.

‘Woman’ entrepreneur

Once she got over the biggest hurdle anyone can possibly face at that age, nothing could stop Kanika anymore. All she had to do was escape from India, where her family was pressuring her to get married since she had turned 19.

Kanika moved to the UK to pursue MBA, and even worked there for a while before returning to India with a plan to start up. Although she had only about $100 with her when she started, Kanika kept going, and built a proper team in about a year. Today, JetSetGo employs about 70 people.

Initially, being a young woman, she struggled with many of her potential customers, all men, not even taking her seriously as an entrepreneur. In fact, she could not even sell one airplane in the first six months of the business. But with hard work and innovative thinking, things took a turn of the better, as is proven JetSetGo’s growth since then.

In six years, the company raised about Rs.15 crore from Puneet Dalmia, managing director of Dalmia Bharat Ltd, and former cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s YouWeCan Ventures. “Thankfully, we never had to go out and look for funding — it always came to us on its own. Customers turned into investors wanting to be part of the story,” says Kanika.

Aggregating private jets and helicopters in India for the first time, JetSetGo has become the country’s largest private aviation company today. Reportedly, JetSetGo – often referred to as the ‘Uber of Skies’- has been positive in-cash flow since its inception. In 2018, JetSetGo acquired Indo Pacific Aviation Limited, the country’s oldest non-scheduled aircraft operator (NSOP), for operations in India.

Having faced gender biases right from her childhood and experiencing it as an entrepreneur too, Kanika makes it a point to have gender equality inside her organisation. Whether it’s equal remuneration for equal work or the removal of barriers that inhibit the participation of women in the workplace, JetSetGo remains inclusive. “We are also the first aviation company ever to ensure that a female pilot is on board all of our flights,” she says.

For her incredible achievements, Kanika was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She has also been named among the BBC 100 Women in 2015, CNN’s 20 Under 40, and 30-Under-30 by Forbes Asia in 2016. Her other accolades include the National Entrepreneurship Award by the Government of India, and ‘Women Transforming India: Breaking the Glass Ceiling’ award that was launched by NITI Aayog. 

One may think that she has achieved it all. But Kanika Tekriwal has just started. The sky truly is the limit for this dynamic entrepreneur.

(Producer & Editor: Urmi Chatterjee)

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