Hometown Hero: Tejas Sekhar mobilizes college students to assist those in need during Covid-19 pandemic

By   – Special Sections Editor, St. Louis Business Journal
Tejas Sekhar

Tejas Sekhar has done more good in the St. Louis community in his 21 years of life than many can claim.

The Northwestern University graduate — and current Washington University student — has founded two nonprofits and one digital health startup, all in the hopes of assisting those in need. The most recent project for Sekhar is the creation of a nonprofit called EndingCOVID, launched under his parent nonprofit, TejHospitality, after winning a first-place prize of $2,000 at the 2020 TFA Social Innovation Challenge at Northwestern.

“In light of the inequity created by Covid-19 and the socially-responsible nature of the competition, I was inspired to use the prize money to buy 100-plus face shields for Mercy South Hospital here in St. Louis,” Sekhar said. “After getting the opportunity to deliver the face shields to the medical staff at Mercy South, I learned through conversations about the extensive need in the St. Louis community for additional PPE.”

Since the beginning of April, the nonprofit has grown its student-led team to include more than 20 students and has expanded its initial focus from St. Louis to mobilize students to benefit communities in other cities, including Chicago, Boston and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Local beneficiaries include St. Louis Crisis Nursery, St. Louis Area Foodbank and the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center, among others.

You've recently taken action to address an issue in the community by launching a nonprofit called EndingCOVID. What prompted you to do this? Given my ongoing nonprofit work with TejHospitality 501(c)(3), it made sense to me to mobilize other students to raise money and locally distribute pertinent PPE and other resources to hospitals, health care facilities, and essential workers. After partnering with other St. Louis nonprofits, we expanded our mission to distribute information, PPE, and other resources such as food and toiletries to vulnerable populations at our partner homeless and veteran shelters.

With the added shift of remote learning, many students were sent back home from college and could no longer attend extracurricular activities or spend time with friends, allowing students to have much more free time than they typically would have. And, as a student myself, I know just how expansive the untapped potential of other students is; it should be no surprise that I decided to tap into this potential and leverage this collective ability to help those in need given the incredible talent I have been fortunate to have had surrounding me through my peers.

What's the most rewarding part of this work? And the most challenging? The most rewarding part of my work has definitely been getting to directly meet some of the people that we assist. In this increasingly digital world, we can often lose scope or perspective on the work that we do as so much of it is accomplished online. The opportunity to meet those that we have been able to help is incredibly inspiring and a sobering reminder of the importance of the work that we are doing.

I can definitely say that the most challenging part is fundraising, as it often is with nonprofit work. Luckily, as an entirely student-led team, none of our team takes a salary. As a result, we are able to reinvest any funding we raise directly back into the community, allowing us to maximize our impact.


Have you always been someone who rises to the occasion? And who or what inspired you to take on challenges? I do believe that I have always been someone who rises to the occasion. As the eldest sibling in my immediate family and the eldest child in my extended family, I am the first in my family to grow up in the U.S. and attend an American university for my undergraduate degree. As a result of being the oldest, I have had a number of first experiences that I didn’t have anyone from my family to advise me on, which has necessitated me to rise to the occasion for better or for worse.

In your view, what makes a hero? We often think of heroes as those depicted in movies or on TV with supernatural talents or abilities. However, some of the most heroic people I have ever met have been those who deeply recognize their humanity and embrace it for all its worth. In my view, a hero is simply a person who is willing to work for something beyond themselves, whether that investment be in another person or for a social good.

Who do you admire that's doing good things in the St. Louis community? I would be remiss if I were not to mention my dad, Sekhar Prabhakar, as someone who is actively doing good. In fact, he is nothing short of the reason why I’m so involved in the community today as he made it his personal prerogative to give back to the community beyond his work in the software and IT industry. He is an incredible leader and an even better father — words fail to describe how much he means to me.

I have been fortunate to get to know Betsy Cohen and the incredible work that she does for the immigrant community of St. Louis through a number of organizations.

More about Tejas Sekhar

Title and organization: Founder of nonprofit TejHospitality, the parent nonprofit of EndingCOVID; managing director of Compass; director of community engagement at CEdge Software Consultants; student at Washington University

Born: Fremont, California; grew up in St. Louis

Education: Bachelor's degree in neuroscience and English literature from Northwestern University; currently pursuing a master's degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis

Work history: Sekhar has been a student at Northwestern University for the past three years and is currently a student at Washington University. During that time, Sekhar has launched his nonprofit TejHospitality and co-founded digital health company Compass.

Volunteer work: Sekhar currently volunteers with the Premier Care Surgery Center/Old Tesson Surgery Center to assist with basic patient care responsibilities.

About this section

The Hometown Hero program identifies and illuminates the region's most extraordinary contributors to the well-being of the St. Louis community. These health care workers, entrepreneurs, service workers and others have gone far above the call of duty to contribute to the common good during a historically challenging time. The St. Louis Business Journal is proud to spotlight this growing list of essential leaders who lift and inspire us all.


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