Surabhi and Shyam were two bright students from IIT Mumbai who had created a low-cost Braille display as a proof of concept. In a market where similar products were as expensive as $2000 and out of reach for most visually impaired individuals, their product BrailleMe promised to be four-five times more affordable. They came with a prototype to the NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum in 2016 and were chosen as the winners in the Accessibility category.
This changed everything for them. They gained catalytic grants, sector expertise, mentorship and validation from NASSCOM Foundation in the Accessibility space. The exposure from the awards helped them reach out to other organisations, and mentors’ feedback helped improve the product. They used the grants for conducting field trials and garnering active engagement with NGOs pan India. Today, it has grown from a prototype to a fully commercialised product with distributors covering 30 countries such as USA, UK, France, South Africa, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, among others. Innovision’s BrailleMe is a ‘Made in India’ product disrupting a global market and competing not only on affordability but also technology and functionality.
Innovative technology ideas from startups and NGOs alike are helping develop the country as a whole, enabling inclusion of communities and leading towards achieving sustainable development goals. But there is a real struggle at hand, the struggle to scale, be it in impact, numbers or profitability. There is no single straight route to scale. It is deeply personal to each company’s experience, and that’s where NASSCOM Foundations’ expertise can help.
How to scale-up?
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) national report, more than 100 million business ventures are launched every year. That makes global entrepreneurship extremely competitive. Moreover, new business founders want to scale-up as fast as they can because they don’t just aim to survive but to thrive before other similar ventures take the lead. There are challenges that scale-stage startups face in areas ranging from product evolution and competitor attacks to organisational management and business leadership.
Scaling up requires creating a mix of capacities that fit perfectly with a social enterprise’s social and monetary goals and its surrounding ecosystem. A well-thought-out scale-up strategy is the best assurance, not only to them but to their many stakeholders — that they have the potential to make a real difference in the world. Some of the areas to focus on while planning a scale-up strategy include:
Talent: Getting the right people for the right job is not easy. Most successful social enterprises rely on a blended approach of recruiting highly skilled people, and training existing employees with new skills. A focus is also kept on retaining talented people.
Communication: From hiring new staff members to acquiring new clients/investors, communications plays an important role. If a social enterprise is not able to clearly communicate its goals and impact stories, it cannot scale.
Alliance-building: A great way to grow impact is to partner with other large entities with similar interests such as community groups, governments, and corporations.
Lobbying: In most cases, social enterprises have to work where the government and legislature can help further their cause. A lot can be accomplished by persuading legislatures, judges, and regulatory authorities to help make the rules become a catalyst instead of a bottleneck.
Earnings generation: An increasing number of social programs grow with revenue generated through their own operations.
Replicating: While replicating products and solutions is never encouraged, social enterprises and NGOs have to be open to learning and adopting best practices and processes from larger companies in a similar sector.
Stability: A social enterprise or NGO cannot plan to scale if it is not stable financially, or otherwise.
While the above pointers may make scaling-up seem like a daunting task, NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum (NSIF), through its catalytic grants and focused industry mentorship, can help you through all these parameters and more.
More than a decade of innovation collaborations
Over the last 10+ years, NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum (NSIF) has successfully supported Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-led innovations to solve pressing problems in areas like education, healthcare, accessibility, financial inclusion, among others. The objective of NSIF is to help scale tech-based solutions for the less-privileged to address gaps in key developmental areas and foster inclusive growth.
They’ve successfully helped scale ideas for social good across sectors. Some of the past innovators include BleeTech Innovations Pvt. Ltd. which has built an affordable multi-alert wearable band that would enable the independence of those living with hearing impairment. Other winning innovations are Haptic Torch for the blind, which is a pocket-sized non-contact torch for detecting obstacles in the distance of 1,200-1,500mm. PiJam Foundation provides school students access and training to low-cost open source technologies to foster skills like digital marketing, problem solving and design thinking.
Sukhibava Healthcare trains local micro-entrepreneurs living in slums to use their cloud-based mobile technology to educate underserved women on menstrual hygiene. Samarthanam provides vocational training to disabled youth across the sectors of IT/BPO/Banking/Hospitality and others. KrishiSuchak is a simple chat-based communication platform between farmers and agriculture experts to exchange information using text messages, photos, voice messages, and videos in English or a local language. ChalkLit, a mobile-based training platform, aims at building the capacity of teachers in low-cost private schools. The list goes on.
Thematic categories to bring about a change
If your innovation addresses a gap in a social challenge including, but not limited to, any of these areas within the Indian context, you can apply to the NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum 2019.
- Education - Primary, secondary and higher education, knowledge dissemination or awareness, skill development, vocational training, capacity building and training programmes
- Accessibility – Low-cost solutions that use touch, voice and movement, wearable safety devices, online advocacy forums, technology that enable accessibility of daily activities for the disabled, e-learning solutions and ICT based training for people with learning disabilities
- Healthcare - Affordable healthcare solutions, mobile technologies that provide vital health information to community members and health workers, maternity, child care and old age, women health, hospitals, well-being projects
- Environment - Clean energy, agriculture, access to drinking water, climate change, and sustainability
- Financial Inclusion - ICT mediums to encourage and enable people to have the skill, knowledge or information about financial instruments, solutions on financial decision making/independence
- Other Social Issues - Disaster management, women empowerment, child labour, governance, civic rights and more
You can also apply to more than one thematic category, or provide multiple entries in one thematic category, as long as each application is for a unique and different initiative.
Eligibility and how you can apply
If you're a not-for-profit, a for-profit/social enterprise, or an early-stage entrepreneur, you are eligible to apply. You should be an Indian entity or foreign entity with a registered presence in India. Click here to view the complete eligibility details for each applicant type.
Applications for NSIF are now open and will close on June 30th, 2019. To apply, all you need to do is choose your applicant type and verify whether you are eligible based on the criteria. You can choose from one among the above-mentioned thematic category and create an online account to provide details to apply for the Forum.
Your solutions will be judged based on ICT innovation, social impact, cost, timeline, sustainability and scalability. The winners will be announced at NASSCOM Product Conclave, which is the industry’s largest product event scheduled in the first week of November 2019 in Bangalore.
If you're a past winner of NSIF, you can still apply, provided you meet the eligibility criteria and enter with a different initiative. However, if you've won the NSIF challenge in the last three years (since 2015), you will not be able to apply for the same innovation. Please note that there is no application fee associated with the Forum.
Reasons to participate in NSIF
There's a lot in store for those participating. Your solutions will be judged by expert jury members comprising renowned leaders in the industry. All the winners having ideas with potential for high impact in their thematic category (except other social issues), will receive a grant of Rs 10 lakh, along with structured mentoring for a year.
What’s more; they will be mentored by industry leaders, experts in social enterprise, innovation and development projects. Additionally, NSIF winners will become part of the community of innovators at NSIF, which gives them access to network connects and events by NASSCOM Foundation and its partners.
That's not all. As a part of the NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum, winners will receive recognition on a national platform, publicity, connects to industry, access to experts, successful innovators and entrepreneurs through the Forum. You also get a chance to participate in NASSCOM Foundation and partner events as speakers and delegates, opening a wide variety of avenues.
Hurry up, and apply for NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum 2019. This is your chance to contribute to the movement of changing the face of India. Applications close on June 30, 2019.
For further queries, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.