How 4 IITians and a cook-turned-coder are using fitness to create a community of change-makers

How 4 IITians and a cook-turned-coder are using fitness to create a community of change-makers

Wednesday September 14, 2016,

4 min Read

It was November 2015. Three IIT Bombay graduates, after four months of brainstorming over different ideas along which they wished to start their social enterprise, went out for a walk to narrow things down. Frustrated by the lack of easy options, one of them exclaimed that “Doing good should be as easy as going for a walk.” It is this ease of doing good which led to the eventual birth of ImpactRun.

The team created what it calls a 'fitness philanthropy app', where anyone can raise funds for a cause by simply jogging or walking on the app.


Team and early days

The three engineers, Ishan Nadkarni (27), Piyush Nagle (25), and Nikhil Khandelwal (26) were soon joined by a fourth friend, Gaurav Mehra (26). They also had in-house inspiration in their cook Akash Nautiyal (21) who never studied after the tenth grade.

"We saw that Akash took a lot of interest in coding. Even while cooking or cleaning the house, he used to stare at our screens, trying to understand what we were doing," recalls a visibly proud Piyush, ImpactRun's tech co-founder.

"So three of us chipped in to buy a Macbook Air and taught him how to code from HTML, JavaScript to now React Native. He's not stopped coding since then, and is a strong member of our team."

Fixing the CSR, one step at a time

With the app, a user’s runs or walks simply convert into funds for non-profit organisations. But the money does not come from the pocket of the user. They tap the Corporate Social Responsibility market here.

The ImpactRun team partners with corporates and non-profits and creates causes for users to run or walk for. The corporate sponsors then raise the funds from their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets corresponding to the distance covered for that cause. Non-profits use these funds to create impact at the grassroots level.

The CSR market in India currently stands at a whopping Rs 8,000 crore and the government plans to get this up to Rs 20,000 crore by 2020. A heavily underutilised and opaque market, a recent study concluded that only 18 percent of companies fulfil the CSR mandate in India.

Since most corporates do not know how best to utilise their budget, India’s CSR sector is heavily run by brokers who are not necessarily transparent in their process. Ishan, ImpactRun's co-founder says, “These brokers enjoy a huge matchmaking fee, at times even 70 percent from both corporates and non-profits. The CSR market is waiting to be disrupted by technology.” In doing so, the social enterprise is also helping get transparency and trust back into the sector.

A win-win situation

“With more users joining in, the bar for transparency suddenly rises up. We share a monthly impact report and a campaign report with everyone, our sponsors, partners, and users. The corporate sponsoring the run through CSR gets branding in the app, so there’s a win-win situation for all.”

When asked how the small team of four founders and three coders manages to ensure that the funding reaches the right NGOs, Ishan responds, “We have Charities Aid Foundation (CAF India) as our due-diligence partner. They ensure that the non-profits are checked for past impact and transparency. This also helps ensuring trust with our users and CSR partners.”

Business model and future plans

ImpactRun's business model is quite interesting. The social enterprise separately charges the corporates 10 percent of the total amount raised as a product and campaign execution fee. "This is equal to the current industry standard for a CSR matchmaker. We give an additional branding advantage to the companies." Bootstrapped until now, the social enterprise is now in the middle of their angel round of funding.

When asked about their future plans, Ishan says,

"We want to build a community of change-makers. This community will eventually, using the power of technology, solve humanity's biggest challenges like hunger, drought, pollution, disease, and climate-crisis. Our generation is the most equipped with solutions, thanks to the internet. It is our responsibility to execute them to create a better world faster."