Villgro Unconvention, the annual flagship event of Villgro, drew to a close on a wet evening in Chennai. The two-day event saw a confluence of social entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, ecosystem players, and a miscellaneous set of people either connected with the social enterprise sector or aspiring to know what it is. Villgro’s primary function is to identify innovations that impact the rural population and devise go-to-market strategies, thereby creating a viable product or service and market out of the innovation. The innovations, otherwise called grassroots innovation, either create products for the rural customers or provide solutions that are affordable and useful.
A snapshot of Villgro
Take for example Voicenet, an IVR-based speech recognition technology company, incubated by Villgro. Illiterate rural population can seek information using a unique mobile-based voice recognition technology developed by Voicenet. Villgro not only provides incubation funding but weaves a support system by providing interns from prestigious rural management schools to work with the incubatee companies. Fellows are chosen to help the companies formulate strategies, to mentor incubatee innovators, and to help design a firm business plan. Fellows are experts that work with the incubatee companies for 10 months. The fellowship program is supported by Rockefeller Foundation. The engagement is in-depth and brings varied benefits to the incubatees. In short, talent pool is created for the incubatees and expert advice is available for close to a year. The incubatees can leverage these opportunities to build scalable businesses out of their innovations. Various other services are offered by Villgro.
The annual platform for celebration of social entrepreneurship
Villgro Unconvention, an annual platform that celebrates social entrepreneurship and enables the social entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide a world of opportunities to social entrepreneurs, has four distinct sections—Wantrapreneur (business plan competition for startups), Innohub (showcase of social innovations), the Summit (panel discussions and workshops), and Investor Forum (connecting entrepreneurs to investors). Villgro Awards in seven categories (lifetime achievement, social enterprise, investor, incubator, grassroot innovator, media, and journalist) identifies the social enterprise network that contributed immensely to social entrepreneurship in the previous year.
Panel discussions—Perspectives on social entrepreneurship
The distinct feature of this year’s Unconvention was its narrow focus. Panel discussions took stock of social entrepreneurship in different time zones (past, present, and future), debated on opportunities for innovation and social entrepreneurship, looked at how investments can be impact making, and threw open the challenges of incubating social startups. The trajectory of the discussions started with an overall view of the social entrepreneurship, narrowing down to specific opportunities for social innovation. Then, it branched off to discuss the investment part and the incubation part. So a 360-degree view was sought to be provided.
Workshops—Educating social entrepreneurs
Learning opportunities were provided with workshops on investments (how an entrepreneur should ready for investment by Sandeep Farias, MD, Elevar Equity), legal aspects (of starting a social business by Pankaj Jain, Legal Cell, Acumen), and measuring impact using new tools (on how to study impact of your innovation by Lindsey Anderson of Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs [ANDE]).
My Story sessions—Live case studies
Three My Story sessions showcasing three distinct success stories (Desicrew, Masuta, Sustaintech) provided varied outlooks. Saloni Malhotra, Desicrew founder, sustained through failures to build a rural BPO. Madubananda Ray, Masuta founder, helped tussar silk weaves find a better livelihood. Svati Bhogle of Sustaintech provided simple, innovative solutions to help conserve fuel for rural homes.
Innohub—Live demo of social entrepreneurship
Villgro Stores (a Villgro initiative to provide last mile connectivity for products that fulfil rural people’s needs), Neurosynaptics (weather monitoring systems development), Skymet (weather forecasting technology), Arogyam Foods (organic products developed by rural farmers), Network of Indian Agri Business Incubators (NIABI), and Masuta (tasar yarn production) showcased their services/products at the Villgro Pavilion.
Investor Forum—Funding opportunities for social businesses
Eight investors (Indian Angel Network, Aavishkaar, Ennovent, Frontier Investments Group, GrowVC, LGT Venture Philanthropy, New Ventures India, Omnivore Capital, and VenturEast) listened to 10 shortlisted companies (Villgro chose 10 out of 240 entries). This forum not only opened up investment opportunities for social entrepreneurs but provided ample learning ground for investors as they interacted during the pitches.
Villgro Awards were given away in the seven categories. The seven categories represent the complete network of social entrepreneurial ecosystem. Shradha Sharma, YourStory founder, was awarded the journalist of the year. (We cover the awards in yet another report.) Three Wantrapreneurs (startup social entrepreneurs) were identified out of the 10 pitches made on December 2, the day before the Unconvention, by an eminent jury