We’ve all heard the old adage, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” 

Some of the best entrepreneurs I know intentionally elevate their networks. One way to do this is by joining fellowships and accelerator programs. Tania Kottoor is a master of this. 

In this conversation, we dive into a few of the programs that have been vital to her success in launching West x East and how to take advantage of pitch competitions beyond just the funding. 

Tania Kottor, is the Founder and CEO of WEST x EAST, an AI-powered design platform for custom-fit cultural clothing. 

Tania has been part of over 20 Fellowships, accelerators, and boot camps. She is a Tory Burch Entrepreneur,  Luminary Fellow, Vital Voices Grow Fellow, and Ladies Who Launch Fellow, to name a few. 

West x East has been gaining tons of momentum since it’s conception in 2023 and pitching at the IN-Prize competition at Rally is just one of the latest achievements. 

This conversation took place at Rally, the Largest Global Cross-Sector Innovation Conference. Rally forges and celebrates cross-sector connections between companies, entrepreneurs, investors and universities from across the globe and features a $5M cash IN-Prize pitch competition, 1:1 investor meetups, a demo arena, content sessions and more. 

Rally 2024 will take place from August 27-29, 2024 in downtown Indianapolis. Register now for early bird prices >> 

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Episode Transcript

Nate: From the crossroads of America and the Hoosier state of Indiana. This is Get In, the podcast focused on the unfolding stories and extraordinary innovations happening in the heartland today. I’m Nate Spangle and I’ll be your host for today’s conversation. Today we have a live recording from Rally, the largest global cross sector innovation conference held right here in Indianapolis.

On the show today is Tania Kottoor, Founder and CEO of West by East.

Tania Kottoor is the Founder of West by East, an AI powered design service for custom fit cultural clothing. Please enjoy this live episode of Get IN From Rally.

Tania: I’m the founder and CEO of West by East, which is an end to end service for custom fit and on demand cultured garments.

Nate: Oh, okay. Elaborate into that.

Tania: There are folks from the diasporas, whether you’re South Asian, East Asian, African and Middle Eastern, and there’s a required traditional attire for momentous celebrations like weddings, religious, cultural events. And the number one option to source these garments is a trip back to the motherland, which is ridiculous.

And with technology, we built a solution where our customers can design their outfit. From the comfort of their own home, so they can select a silhouette, color, fabric, and then they can use their phone to take their measurements virtually in 60 seconds. And they can see their avatar in the design that they created on their actual body before we go into production.

Nate: Oh my gosh, so is it a mixture of the software of doing the measurements, as well as the hardware of actually producing the garments?

Tania: Exactly, so we’re building a 3D knitting machine. So think of it as braiding your hair, right? There’s three strands. And it’s going vertical, but through the knitting machine, there are multiple strands and it’s going from all directions to create a physical piece of a garment, whether it’s a blouse or a sari, which is our MVP so that’s the back end production.

Nate: So I might need a little bit of education here. Can you elaborate? On what culture this is used in, and what is different from, normal textile manufacturing?

Tania: Yeah, there are other 3D knitting machines out there, but they’re used for thicker materials, like wool, to create knitted sweaters, or cotton to make basic shirts.

But those are not, those wouldn’t work for cultural garments, because it’s pure silk that you’re using, and these materials It just wouldn’t work. So we have to build our own version and as well as so the software component will seamlessly integrate with the machine. It’s like a bundle.

Nate: Yeah, so you have the hardware, like the actual textile manufacturing. Yes. And you have the software. It’s I’ve been in like 10 bachelor parties this year or 10 weddings and it’s like going every time to get fitted for a suit is like the software alone is just like very intriguing to me.

How long have you been working on this?

Tania: For over three years now, and the company has been self-sustaining itself. I like to say we’ve been stiletto strapped. Okay. But now we’re raising venture capital to scale. Okay. And what’s your background? I have a business degree and I work for an emerging designer in Chicago and I help build their brand from the ground up.

Now, I was cared at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman, and then I went to London to attend the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, and I was selected as one of the next leaders of luxury fashion.

Nate: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. And then where do you reside at now? I’m in Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn, New York.

Okay, so how did you hear about Rally?

Tania: So I’ve done several fellowships and accelerator programs which I believe has been instrumental. For my growth as a founder. So I’m part of a lot of slack groups. I’m I get a lot of newsletters. Honestly, I have no idea. I saw it. I applied and I got it.

Nate: What fellowship groups are you a part of?

Tania: I’m a Tory Burch fellow. Ladies who launch fellow. I’ve done visible hands accelerator program. Gold house ventures accelerator program.

Nate: Yeah, I’ve done so for other founders out there that might be like interested or considering joining these communities or these fellowship programs. What have been the biggest benefits for you?

Tania: I think for me is being part of a community that will support you in any way possible. Whether it’s raising funding, where it’s like trying to find a team member advisors. It’s just, you need those people when you’re an entrepreneur because it can be a very lonely journey. And those are the people that will be there whenever you’re…

When you got your lowest.

Nate: Yes, absolutely. Having the community super important. Where did you come up with this idea?

Tania: It was a personal pain point I’m a first gen Indian American who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and like having that dual identity of being Indian and American and the fact that I had to wait to go to India to get these clothes was just it was just so annoying Yeah, and it wasn’t just for myself, but it’s everyone I talked to within my own community friends and family and I realized that it wasn’t just the South Asian community.

It was everyone else, whether you’re Nigerian, Ghanaian, Korean, Thai, same exact pain point.

Nate: Oh my gosh. Yeah, definitely. I definitely see how that that would be very frustrating. You have to travel across the world to, get your, get a set of clothes. Yeah. So let’s talk about you came in for Rally besides the pitch competition.

What has been the best part of rally for you and where have you found it to be beneficial?

Tania: I think meeting other founders. I met a fellow Tory Burch founder. Amazing. Yeah, we’re part of the same fellowship, so that was really great. And meeting a few investors, having that one on one conversations.

What else? I got, I attended a private dinner last night. Ooh, where at? At St. Elmo’s. St. Elmo’s.

Nate: Okay, what were your thoughts on St. Elmo’s?

Tania: Oh, fantastic. You did the shrimp cocktail? I

Nate: did. What did you think

Tania: of that? I thought it was great. It is a heck of an experience. For your nose, to clear it out.

Nate: Absolutely, okay. Have you been to Indianapolis before? No, I haven’t. From Chicago! You didn’t make the, never made the trek three hours down?

Tania: I think maybe I did as a kid, but I’m sure things have changed, right? Okay,

Nate: So you coming from Brooklyn, New York, you’re playing lands, I’m assuming you didn’t drive.

Playing lands. What was the first thing you thought of Indiana? Super clean. Yeah. Alright. I’ll take that. I’m

Tania: in New York, yeah that’s fair.

Nate: Okay previous to coming in for Rally, what was Indiana known for, to you?

Tania: Just a Midwest state that’s slowly thriving.

Nate: Slowly thriving. Okay. Have you pitched already?

I’m pitching tomorrow. Pitching tomorrow? Yeah. How are you feeling going into it? I think I’m pretty good.

Tania: Feeling good? I’ve done a lot of pitch competitions,

Nate: oh, what other pitch competitions have you done?

Tania: I didn’t like math challenge. I’m trying to think. Oh, you’re just like a bunch.

Nate: Yeah. Okay. If you had to give advice to a founder that’s potentially like thinking about joining a pitch competition, what would your one piece of advice to nail a pitch in a competition be?

Tania: I think it comes down to the Q and a answer the question and then you can elaborate. Don’t do it the other way around.

Because some people do that. Even I do that at times because I’m trying to, yeah. Find the answer while I’m talking. Does that make sense? Don’t bury the lead. Yeah, but then the judges are at, they just want the answer. Otherwise they’ll ask the same question again.

Nate: Yeah. What if you had advice for a pitch deck for founders out there?

Tania: I think don’t use too much words. Keep it super simple. Use imagery. Like you’re really, it’s almost like a performance. So you have to like sell what you’re, whatever the product or service it is, right? Yeah, just keep it simple.

Nate: I love that. That’s great advice for, we have a ton of like entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs that listen to the show.

What’s been the most, what’s been the coolest person you’ve met at Rally? Give them a shout out.

Tania: Last night I met Harry Wilson for the dinner event. Who is Harry Wilson? The brother of Russell Wilson. Oh!

Nate: No way! Like the football player?

Tania: Yeah, I messaged him last night on LinkedIn and responded.

I got in. Let’s go. And I invited two of my female founder friends as well.

Nate: Amazing. Founder friends from New York? From here. But you met already. I met. Yeah. Amazing. I love that. What’s your number one piece of advice for people attending conferences like this? If they’re not pitching, how can they maximize their time at a conference like this?

Tania: I think you have to prepare ahead of time the, your agenda. Otherwise, you’re just gonna miss like sessions that you wanted to be there or keynote speakers. So just come prepared with that.

Nate: And coming out of it, how can you keep the momentum going and maximize what the conference did in the week following?

Tania: Follow up with everyone, connect with them on LinkedIn if you get their email, email them if you get their phone number, text them. And try to set up another one on one via Zoom or in person.

Nate: Absolutely, you’re hitting the nail on the head. Final question, what has been the coolest part of Indiana thus far?

The coolest part? What has gotten you going oh man, that is so cool?

Tania: Probably the restaurant. St. Elmo? Yeah. That’s fair. Yeah. It was like a maze getting there until we got to the private room. It took us like five minutes. You were back in the catacombs of St. Elmo’s.

Nate: I love it. That’s really cool. If listeners out there want to, one, become customers of yours, two, people want to support you and your mission and what you’re doing, how can they find you?

Where should they go? How should they connect with you? Yeah. So

Tania: Go to our website, WestbyEast. com. So it’s West X East, pronounced like South By. Southwest. And hit us up like you can DM us on Instagram. You can DM me. You can connect me on with me on LinkedIn. And if you’re going to a South Asian wedding or event, hit me up.

I’m here to help. You don’t have to be of South Asian descent. 25 percent of our customers are non South Asians. So yeah,

Nate: I love it. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It was a pleasure and best of luck pitching tomorrow. Thank you. Appreciate it.

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Matt: This has been Get IN, a Powderkeg production in partnership with Elevate Ventures. And we want to hear from you. If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on email.

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