It’s not often that social work and entrepreneurship are mentioned in the same breath, but the concept of improving communities through commercial means has been a major focus for Gwinnett resident Soumia Vellanki.

Vellanki, who grew up in Peachtree Corners and attended Simpson Elementary School before transferring to the Westminster School in the sixth grade, has an array of passions, including health care, public health, math and science education, nonprofits and giving back to her community.

“I’m really interested in health care and nonprofit work,” said Vellanki, who graduated from Westminster in May and in August began her college career at Vanderbilt. “A lot of my high-school career was spent tutoring at youth family centers and creating STEM enrichment programs for Atlanta Public Schools’ students in kindergarten through fifth grade. That’s where I found my interest in giving back and creating things and being an entrepreneur.”

Her most recent venture – established with Westminster classmates Elena Karas and Julia Rhee – combined several of her interests, most notably entrepreneurship for women-owned small businesses and providing funds for and awareness of My Sister’s House, an Atlanta-based shelter for women and children administrated by the Atlanta Union Mission.

The Atlanta MakHERS Market was held in early August at the Atlanta Union Mission and featured offerings from local female-owned small businesses and high school artists.

“My real passion goes back to talking to people and working on projects that help communities from the grassroots perspective,” said Vellanki, who is studying sociology and human organizational development at Vanderbilt. “I really admire a lot of the young businesswomen in Atlanta that are able to make that possible. Also, it’s the reason the market is focused on empowering young businesswomen in metro Atlanta and giving back to Atlanta Mission Women’s Shelter.”

Vellanki said the four-hour market attracted 21 female-owned businesses (who pledged 10% of their proceeds to My Sister’s House) and more than 500 attendees, raising some $8,500.

“It was really fun seeing all these people rally behind the vendors,” she said. “Part of the market was a boutique Elena, Julia and I crafted from donated clothing items. We fully created that stall and sold nearly 300 separate pieces of clothing and 100% of the revenue from that went directly toward My Sister’s House. We are really excited our first event went so well.”

Although she’s got a considerable slate of classes at Vanderbilt, Vellanki said she’s endeavoring to continue the social-impact-through-business theme on campus by joining Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations, which is conducting pro bono data analysis for United Way Greater Nashville, and by joining the coed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi and Women in Business.

In addition, she’s working on the Vanderbilt Review, a literary arts journal and said she’s looking for other ways to volunteer in Nashville.

“It’s a handful but I like being busy,” said Vellanki, who in high school worked diligently with the Agape Youth and Family Center (teaching fourth- and fifth-grade students about health, wellness and healthy lifestyles) and with START (Science Through Action Trips), featuring after-school math and science tutoring and field trips.

The Atlanta MakHERS Market – which also featured a set of music from Atlanta-based duo Blue Sound – was so successful that Vellanki plans to pursue a similar initiative in Nashville.

“One of my goals for this year is working in the Vanderbilt-Nashville community with a Nashville MakHers Market and seeing if I can tie it in with Women in Business on campus,” she said. “There’s definitely an audience and a lot of people willing to help out. We’re inspired by the success of our first event and hopefully now we’ll be even better organized since we got the framework done.”

With regard to hosting another MakHERS Market in Atlanta, Vellanki said while there’s quite a distance separating her from Karas (now attending Duke) and Rhee (now at Stanford), they might try to pull something together next year.

“We’d like to do again,” she said. “Since all three of us probably won’t be back until next summer we’ll shoot for an annual market and then try to do independent markets in Durham, Palo Alto and Nashville.”

For more information, visit Atlanta MakHERS Market on Facebook or @atlmakhersmarket on Instagram.

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