Social Entrepreneurship Gets its Due at Villgro Unconvention


Villgro UNCONVENTION Showcase: Innovation Unlimited

Paul Basil, Founder CEO of Villgro, can take heart from the fact that Villgro UNCONVENTION carried the message of innovation quite clearly if at all anything else. If innovation is not reinventing the wheel, but inventing novelty, the host of participants showcased at thepress meet conveyed a clear message that if they have support for their innovation, they can become global. Sucharita Kamath, who looks after the Innovation Ecosystem at Villgro, set the tone for the press meet by introducing Wantrapreneur awardees and Villgro’s homegrown incubatees. If you want to know the reach of Villgro, it is pan-India and that too into the hinterlands of the North-East, the much neglected part of the country in terms of developmental agenda. Pranjal Baruah, CEO, Mushroom Development Foundation, Guwahati, Assam, narrated how difficult it was to sell mushrooms way back in 1994-1995. He won the Wantrapreneur award for Early Growth-Agriculture. Mushroom is not a traditional food item in Indian homes. To find a business opportunity out of it, scale it, and find market is something that truly deserves recognition. Villgro just did the crucial part of “limelighting.”

Language is not a barrier to innovation and if the upwardly mobile Indian youth with their tongue-in-cheek English are rewriting the rules of the game through BPOs, Vivekanandan, a Villgro incubatee, lacks vocabulary in English. But that did not prevent him from finding a solution for a nagging problem in the rural household. He has created jobs and opportunity out of a simple procedure of converting, say, rice to rice powder and chilly to chilly powder. His pin pulverizer with 1 HP capacity targeting the postharvest/agri processing segment provides an opportunity for a rural person who can service 200 households’ need of powdering food ingredients.

Santosh Ostwal’s (Ossion, Pune) perseverance and passion to make a difference to agricultural farmers through his NanoGanesh device (which can be used to remotely switch on and off the motors in the farms and can also be used to check if the motor is on or if power supply is available from a distance of 50 km) won him an international recognition last year in form of a Nokia award for best mobile technology in Barcelona, Spain. He won Wantrapreneur award in the Others category at Villgro UNCONVENTION and has been approached by a segment of investors and customers at the Villgro meet.

G. Gopalakrishnan explained the work of the organization NEEADS he heads in using rice husk ash to produce bricks. Alarmed at the adverse effects of risk husk ash (pH=8) turning agricultural soil acidic and affecting temple towers in Kancheepuram (a temple town), NEEADS invented a way to convert risk husk ash to bricks. In partnership with a hollow bricks company, NEEADS converts rice husk ash to bricks now. Villgro’s contribution to this endeavor is letting NEEADS understand the global impact of this phenomenon.

Grassroots innovator and scientist T. Muthu Iyyappan, who hails from a remote village in Kanyakumari (so remote that reading a newspaper would require you to travel at least 5 km), looked for solutions to the fishing community in and around his geography and came up with an innovative automatic feeder for poultry fish farms. He won the Grassroot Innovator award at Villgro UNCONVENTION.

Saloni Malhotra, Founder CEO, DesiCrew Solutions, contributed within her sphere of influence in bridging the urban-rural divide by taking BPO to villages and “moving jobs” to people instead of people moving out of their villages for jobs. Her rural BPO is three years old and is present in Coimbatore and Nagapattinam districts of Tamil Nadu. Her challenge was making the ruralfolk who come to work in her organization aware of importance of time in terms of deadlines. DesiCrew provides data entry services using computer-literate rural girls for insurance companies, Internet companies, and others. Villgro helped in the incubation of this company.

Sreejith, cofounder of ROPE (Rural Opportunities Production Enterprise), is engaged in rural manufacturing. Villages in rural areas have huge creative artisan population as well as environment and eco-friendly natural fibre materials in the neighbourhood that can be converted to products, which in turn have a huge market. For example, banana fibre was used to create a product for a retail company. Rural production centres of ROPE provide opportunity for people in villages to come in and work using their skills rather than migrate to big cities in search of employment. Villgro provides support by supplying human resources to ROPE.

Paul Polak, Founder of IDE, explained the work of IDE in alleviating poverty and also how IDE talked to farmers to understand their problems. For example, farmers needed irrigation solutions during the dry season. Jill Tucker, Senior Program Officer, Lemelson Foundation, explained her organization’s initiatives and partnership with Villgro to help rural innovators.

Paul Basil, CEO, Villgro moderated the press conference and explained the objective of Villgro UNCONVENTION in bringing innovation to the forefront. As Pranjal Baruah put it, Villgro “mainstreamed” social entrepreneurship through its UNCONVENTION.

More details - Villgro UNCONVENTION: “Unconventional” in Every Sense

Report by Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, Chief Evangelist,


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