“Like, straight out of a Skittles ad…”
That’s the phrase USC Viterbi undergraduate Nikita Dhesikan uses jokingly when talking about her mother’s closet of colorful blazers.
“These blazers are not just clothing to my mom; they are strength, they are courage, they are power,” she said. “When she puts one on, she feels she can do anything.”
Dhesikan, a third-year biomedical engineering student, with a minor in the USC Viterbi Information Technology Program’s “Digital Innovator” concentration, also assigns greater meaning to wearable style. This past summer, she started IDENTITI, a jewelry company that sells custom–crafted gemstone bracelets.
On IDENTITI’s website, customers take a survey that matches their personality traits to a specific gemstone. The chosen stone symbolizes the wearer’s own unique identity, hence the company’s name, and is meant to inspire self-confidence.
“The mission of the company is to create a movement to empower, and specifically, there’s a focus on empowering women due to the nature of it being jewelry,” she explained.
Even with a full-time course load at USC, Dhesikan manages the company entirely, running operations out of her apartment. She procures the gemstones from Fire Mountain, a gem sourcer based in Oregon, and handles all other aspects of the business, including website design, marketing and distribution.
“It’s definitely a challenge that I’m still trying to figure out–it requires a lot of organization and planning ahead,” she said. “IDENTITI has a three-day turnaround time, and there are many orders that require some adjusting. I think [the drive] comes if you enjoy something and are passionate about it. There’s always time for it, always a way.”
As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dhesikan travelled often with her family and became fascinated with the gemstones in the new countries she explored, including Egypt, Peru and Tanzania. Often, she marveled at how these geographically distant civilizations could attribute similar meanings to the stones—even without knowledge of each other.
Now, as a young adult, the self-described introvert has parlayed her inspiration from watching her vibrantly dressed mother along with her gemstone passion into IDENTITI’s brand.
“When I go into places, it’s always a burden of having a hard time talking to people or wanting to leave,” she said. “A bracelet is something you can physically wear on your wrist and walk into places with confidence.
The Bedazzled Entrepreneur
To support her ambition, Dhesikan leveraged several valuable learning experiences at USC. Last spring, in fact, she drew inspiration from BME 201: Biomedical Engineering Practice. The course emphasizes the critical nature of marketing design to the success of an engineer’s product.
“Engineers do amazing things–there’s so much innovation in the field,” she said. “When it comes to actually bringing the product to a customer, design allows the product to leap forward in terms of its success.”
In her spare time, Dhesikan has worked at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the USC Marshall School of Business. She has also participated in the interdisciplinary LavaLab cohort, USC’s semester-long product incubator workshop.
“I think the largest influence on my company are the people at Viterbi,” she said. “Whether it’s in class, or I’m part of the 3-D Printing Club, everyone comes in with something they’re very passionate about or some kind of unique background.”
La Gem(me) Nikita
Dhesikan’s future goals include solidifying the brand and creating good customer relationships. She hopes to expand the company in a completely different direction, perhaps skincare.
Thumbing through her personal dream journal, which includes IDENTITI website mock-ups, brand logos, keywords and other creative sketches, Dhesikan is coming to the fruition of a long journey in her own self-empowerment. She considers music artist Kanye West, one of the most popular people in show business, a source of inspiration.
“Aside all his personality and all the strong opinions about him, in his interviews, he talks about how he was taught that he could do anything if he just worked hard enough,” she said. “Listening to his music and being exposed to him in pop culture made me sit down and decide what I was passionate about and put the work in to do it.”
And much like her celebrity idol, Dhesikan seems to have no shortage of passion along with a strong work ethic, qualities she largely attributes to her biggest hero, her mother.
“She grew up in a village in India, never saw a computer until she was 25 and is now a very successful software engineer at a large company,” Dhesikan said. “When she moved here, she did what she was interested in and got her Master’s degree in computer science. She’s had a huge impact on me by example of being willing to go with the flow and but also, to put in that hard work to do what you care about.”