Financial literacy is a key component for the success of startups and the Intuit Circles programme enables this kind of entrepreneurial success. The programme brings together various stakeholders such as investors, co-working spaces, incubators, accountants, and more from across India to help startups and entrepreneurs get ahead. Intuit believes that without proper guidance on financial matters, startups will find it challenging to make the right decisions to fuel their own success. One startup that they are helping is Mitti Café, a chain of cafés which empowers people with physical, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities through employment and training opportunities.
Mitti Café is the brainchild of 25-year-old Alina Alam. While volunteering for NGOs working in the disability space in Bengaluru, she realised the untapped potential and lack of opportunities that people with disabilities have, especially those coming from low socio-economic backgrounds, most of who have never had access to formal schooling. She wanted to build a social enterprise that could act as a bridge to nurture and bring out the best in them, and that's how Mitti Cafe came to be founded in 2017. Mitti Cafés are managed and run completely by adults with disabilities like paraplegia, hearing and speech impairment, multiple sclerosis, visual impairment, dwarfism, autism, Down’s Syndrome, mild schizophrenia, and more.
These Cafes are unique as they are designed as platforms for the differently-abled to showcase their potential for productive activity and to create awareness about the cause of equal opportunities in employment. Alina says, “By engaging persons with disabilities, we believe that they would act as agents of change by example and thereby promote a system of self-sustenance and wellness through our unique livelihood development initiative. Adults with different types of disability work together and complement each other’s strengths.”
Alina opened the very first branch at Deshpande Foundation in the B.V.B. College of Engineering and Technology campus in Hubli and today, they are present in several institutions, colleges, and corporate houses around Karnataka. “We’ve tied up with corporates with a focus to collaborate towards garnering livelihood opportunities for the economic independence and dignity of adults with disabilities,” says Alina.
Their first employee was 20-year-old Keerthi who has paraplegia and cannot walk. A class-five dropout, she came in crawling for the interview as her family couldn’t afford a wheelchair. When she first joined them, she couldn’t even hold a cup of coffee. Four months down the line, after training, Alina proudly mentions that she counts money like a professional, and is the manager of the first Mitti Café, and oversees seven other adults with disabilities.
A similar story is that of Bhairappa, who has dwarfism. After being rejected at seven job fairs for people with disabilities, he came to Mitti Cafe not knowing how to wear shoes or even brush his teeth. Today, he is the team lead at one of their cafes. Sabiha suffers from multiple sclerosis, has a seven-year-old son, a brother who is paralysed, another brother with Down’s Syndrome and aged parents. A survivor of extreme domestic violence, she was one of the best salespeople at Mitti Cafe with tremendous marketing skills. Today, she runs her own business. The impactful tales of several other individuals are unending.
When they started up, they were primarily working with those with physical disabilities. The challenge was when they had to employ adults with intellectual disabilities, and it was difficult to train them. They changed the entire training programme, and incorporated art and music. Today, their team is more inclusive and employs those with physical as well as different mental disabilities. Alina proudly says how much of a perfectionist people with intellectual disabilities are. “Some may be slow, yet are not aimless but very focused.”
The Mitti Café team comprises Jayteerth Katti who heads Operations, and Anjani Gupta, an IIT-Madras graduate who is on the Board of Directors. Both Jayteerth and Anjani left their well-paying jobs to make do something meaningful in the disability inclusion space. Mitti Café now has nine centres which empower over 61 adults with physical, intellectual and multiple disabilities. In Bengaluru, they were given their first opportunity by ANZ bank and are now present at Manyata Tech Park, Eco-World Tech Park, Infosys and Iqvia, among others. They have so far trained over 100 adults with disabilities from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Recognition for their efforts have been pouring in. Mitti Café won several awards, including the Microsoft Nipman Award for Innovation in the space of Disability Inclusion in 2018, the Ford Foundation Social Enterprise Grants in 2019, and the Tiecon Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year award, 2018, among others. They have been mentored and funded for their Bangalore chapter by Social Venture Partners and incubated at NSRCEL-Social at IIM-Bangalore and Enable India.
When Alina started her entrepreneurial journey, it was difficult as no one from her family had done this before. She didn’t know simple things like capex and opex. “Initially, we would write down our accounts, and record revenue and expenditure using Excel. In a year and a half, with nine cafes, Excel wasn’t helping,” says Alina. In the first outlet, they had three different payment methods, and every time an investor asked questions on their financial status, they would have to manually calculate it.
Mitti Café wanted something that would be easy to use for their employees, as a majority of them come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with some being school dropouts and some never having attended school. As the nature of their organisation was different, they wanted a software that would cater to their needs. During a workshop for entrepreneurs at IIM Bangalore, Mitti Café got introduced to the Intuit Circles team. That’s how their journey with Intuit Circles began. Initially, they were unsure whether the software was suitable for India’s tax system, but once they got familiar with it, the onboarding became simple.
On how critical financial management is for Mitti Café, Alina says, “Along with social impact, we definitely have to measure how sustainable we are, especially since we have a cause at the heart of it, which comes with a lot of responsibility. Unless we have financial hygiene and processes in place, it’s very easy to sink.” They had several questions regarding customising the software with respect to their working model, which the Intuit team helped them out with. Within a month, they were able to set up a proper accounting system for their cafés using QuickBooks Online and Accountant Connect.
Alina recommends that other startups join Intuit Circles, as she believes that this is a great platform that provides access to learning from people who are on a similar journey, from those who have started or reached a certain stage. “For me, every day is a learning experience with Intuit Circles. Being a part of the stories of success and failures of similar entrepreneurs and sharing our own is important for symbiotic growth, and Intuit helped me in that aspect of learning,” she says.
Watch how Intuit Circles helped Mitti Cafe sync with QuickBooks Online to create an easy-to-use customised accounting system for their entire team.