By Stephanie Chan
Some people work for decades toward a place in the C-Suite. At the age of 21, Anushka Purohit is a C-Suite leader two times over—and she hasn’t even graduated from university yet.
The 2021 Young Achiever of the Year, as chosen by AmCham’s Women of Influence (WOI) committee, is an electronic and computer engineering student wrapping up her final year at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
And she is the CEO and co-founder of “sustainable drinking” startup Breer, as well as the CTO and co-founder of online booking platform StayK, which offers affordable, off-the-beaten-path excursions and activities in Hong Kong.
A graduate of ESF Renaissance College, she considered law and business before settling on engineering. “To be very honest, I was a little scared of going down this path because nobody in my year was doing the same thing,” she says. But her mother, an English teacher, encouraged her daughter’s interest in science. “I’m very grateful for that push.”
Drawn to engineering’s hands-on nature and real-world applications, she says she finds her studies too theoretical at times. “I kind of felt this constant gap of, I’m learning these things, I enjoy the theory behind it, but I’m not satisfied at the fact that I’m not able to do anything useful out of it.”
Breer, which Purohit founded with three of her HKUST classmates, grew out of this impulse to make a tangible difference. The company takes unsold, uneaten bread from bakeries around Hong Kong and turns it into beer; the bread replaces barley in the traditional beer-brewing formula of barley, hops and yeast.
Food waste has interested Purohit since she was a little girl. She remembers being ten years old and watching the barista at a chain coffee shop throw away piles of unsold, completely edible baked goods. “It put me face to face with the fact that this is our reality,” she recalls. She remembers realizing, “I’ve only witnessed it today, but it happens every day, regardless of if I know of it or not.”
Breer’s first beer, a pale ale, can now be found at Craftissimo, Second Draft and other mainstays of the craft brewing scene in Hong Kong; it’s also carried by vendors as diverse as HKTVMall and Slowood, the local zero-waste chain. Last December, 100 Maxim’s restaurants also started offering an exclusive Breer blend made with bread from Maxim’s bakeries. Purohit estimates that Breer has so far reclaimed 18,000 pounds of edible bread that was destined for the landfill.
Purohit’s other startup venture is StayK, an online platform that seeks to simplify booking staycations and experiences in Hong Kong. It’s a crowded market, but Purohit and her team differentiate their product by identifying hidden gems run by small local operators—for example, those who might not speak English or lack tech know-how.
Purohit, the only woman on the leadership teams for both Breer and StayK, is used to succeeding in male-dominated environments, and she considers herself an activist for women in STEM. “Even in my familial relationships, I’m always trying to exemplify that there’s nothing wrong in taking something studious or otherwise unfairly looked at as male subjects,” she says.
Her youth also makes her an outlier in professional settings. She cites her meetings with large restaurant groups as an example. “These are, naturally, people not only older to me, but also very, very much more experienced than me. They’ve built companies from 0 to 100,” she says. “You don’t want them to feel that you’re disrespecting their authority or their experience. But I’ve learned that if you’re standing up for yourself, there’s no one else really out there who’s going to want to take that stand for you.”