When something as charming as technology is successfully applied to social good, everything becomes sexy. However, there is an ocean of questions between ideas and actions which not only concern the technical aspect of developing viable technologies, but also the hurdle of how to start and run a social enterprise.
NASSCOM Foundation’s Technology for Good, which was held at ITC MyFortune on March 11, was an opportunity to make the debate going, as well as to discover new personalities and approaches.The event was organised as part of NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum and was supported by Mphasis and Genpact. In the session ‘How to walk the talk: from innovation to enterprise’, successful entrepreneurs from different spaces gave voice to their experience sharing points of view and challenges they faced.
The panel included K Chandrasekhar (CEO, Forus Health Pvt Ltd.), Sean Blagsvedt (CEO, Babajobs.com), Unni Koroth (CEO Foradian Technologies), Sameer Sawarkar (CEO, Neurosynaptic Communications Pvt Ltd), Anoj Vishwanathan (Co-founder, Milaap.org), and Harsha Mahabala (CEO, Edutel Technologies Pvt. Ltd).
Some interesting points they raised were:
- Not having a background in the sector one wants to start up has great advantages.
“Often you can see the problem from a different perspective, and see how your own expertise can help the sector in a way that experts involved in it could not. I started a company that helps preventing blindness in rural areas and have no medical background at all. However, I am an engineer and I know technology: I built a product that has screened eyes of 800,000 people in 20 different countries.” (K. Chandrasekhar)
“The more you know about a sector, the less are the chances you start up because you can visualise more clearly the obstacles ahead.” (Unni Koroth)
- About the vision of the venture.
“Few questions to answer before starting up: is my idea actually going to help people? Or is it just ‘technical masturbation’ – namely an idea I fell in love with and just makes me feel proud of having conceptualised it? Second: would it be interesting for people large enough to make money? Who would pay for that?” (Sean Blagsvedt)
“We realised what the real problem we wanted to tackle was only after a year we had started.” (Unni Koroth)
“The first week we launched our product we had 100 patients, the second and the following ones, zero. It took us another two years of research to understand how to implement it properly. But in those two years we created a network of healthcare in rural areas which has become a powerful means of communication for remote areas.” (Sameer Sawarkar)
“When we started, we did not even know which sector we fell into. You can imagine how it was trying to convince VCs to give us money.”(Anoj Vishwanathan)
- The monster of disillusion
“Many good things are said about social entrepreneurship and many of them are true. But the reality is that when you are in trouble you are completely alone. I thought about giving up more or less 20 times in the past 15 years and it might sound cliché but the responses I was receiving from those who admired my work have kept me going. One retired teacher, blind in one eye, offered us to donate his healthy eye for research. That made me realise that my own weakness is nothing compared to the impact that I can have through my venture.”(K Chandrasekhar)
“At some point we were really about to fail. What kept us going was our ego: we could not prove right those who had already predicted our failure. We could not make much money in India so we went abroad. We were chasing the ‘win win’ model, but in India everybody asks to reduce prizes and you are forced to provide a substandard product. The result is not a ‘win win’ but a ‘lose lose’ situation. Now 80 per cent of our revenue is generated abroad and because of that we are able to provide high quality services in India.” (Unni Koroth)
“Many criticised us, but we are always willing to do if we are proved to be wrong.” (Anoj Vishwanathan)
“A person we had contacted to be our mentor told us to quit, he said ‘we were wasting our lives’. We kept going and realised that the idea is just a portion of the venture, what matters is the execution and no one can predict that.” (Harsha Mahabala)
The flows of inspiration from established enterprises gave way to the emerging ones, which included
Genauth Solution Pvt. Ltd. started by Sneha Choudhry and Nikhil Sikri, uses neurological studies to improve the art of learning.
SAS PoornaArogya Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. started by Dr Arjun Sachinadan, provides low cost healthcare services in collaboration with organisations like MFI and NGOs.
Guru-G Learning Labs gamfies, personalizes, measures and unifies teachings in remote rural areas to enhance a better learning experiences in schools.
SourceTrace Systems enables mobile transactions for industries that work in developing economies including agriculture, financial services and retail, through a system able to capture transactional information at the source with minimal or no telecommunication infrastructure, even in remote locations.
Enability Technologies creates wearable devices to help people with speaking disorders communicate effectively.
Asvas Healthcare Pvt. Ltd has built a chain of clinics in semi-urban and rural areas across south India to deliver Primary Health Care, Speciality Services, Laboratory Services and Pharmacy services.
Jaaga, Regional Head for Code for India Fellowship was present at the event to underline the importance for computer engineers to dedicate their time for social causes and explained how one can do this through Jaaga.