How HDFC Bank’s SmartUp grants is empowering social sector startups

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India is home to one of the largest startup ecosystems in the world. And while all these startups are bringing innovation, disruption and advancement to their respective industries; access to funds for product development, research, and market reach, among others, continues to be limited to startups based out of metros and other large cities in India.

However, Tier II and Tier III city-based startups are bringing about a paradigm shift in the ecosystem by building products, services and solutions that have a far reaching social impact.

Slowly but surely, these startups are getting funding, recognition and a platform to market.

Empowering social startups

Making all this possible is HDFC Bank’s SmartUp grant for startups demonstrating a social impact. The grants are offered under the aegis of the bank’s SmartUp and Parivartan initiatives to support not just startups from cities like Mumbai, Pune and Delhi, but also smaller towns across India.

Smartup is an end-to-end initiative to offer value added banking to startups and the startup ecosystem with several flagship initiatives like HNI meets and mentoring for startups. Parivartan is the umbrella name for the bank’s social initiatives.

Now in its fourth year, the SmartUp grants have helped nurture startups that offer unique solutions to bring about sustainable changes in the society and environment. Over the years, the bank has built long-term relationships with its incubator partners to enable mutual learning and create synergies for startups, apart from running a structured process to select the cohorts.

With an endeavour to create a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem that is conducive for the growth of startup businesses in India, HDFC Bank, under this SmartUp initiative,also encourages and financially supports selected socially inclined startups at crucial stages of their development through certified Business Incubators. Over these years, the bank has had 15 such partners -

four IIMs (Ahmedabad , Calcutta , Bangalore & Kozhikode) , four IITs (Kharagpur, Madras, Kanpur & Hyderabad), BITS Pilani, Villgro, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology- Technology Business Incubator, T-Hub , Zone Startups India, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India and ISB Hyderabad.

On ground impact

These incubators and their partners have impacted several innovative startups across many sectors including skilling, education, healthcare, sustainability, assistive technology and more.

Among these are startups such as Urdhvam, which works with integrated and sustainable environmental solutions for groundwater problems; Kriya Labs that offers tech solutions for making value added products from crop residue; Phycolinc, which works for the bioremediation of water bodies through algae solutions; Giftabled, which is empowering people with disabilities and enables them to live a life of dignity; Periwinkle Technologies that is developing affordable solutions for cervical cancer diagnosis and many more.

The last three cohorts of the HDFC Bank SmartUp Grants have supported 70+ startups, which in turn have helped create 2,100+ jobs, and impacted more than 15,000 students, penetrated 345 villages, and trained and employed over a 100 women drivers. These women drivers are also training other women to become independent.

New cohort goes online

Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, HDFC Bank is kicking off its fourth cohort this year in a digital format. Moreover, given that the pandemic has put constraints on schools and prompted a large exodus of migrant labourers from cities, the focus of the initiative this year will be solely only on education and skilling sectors.

To enable this year’s cohort, HDFC Bank has partnered with nine incubators –

FITT (IIT – Delhi), I-DAPT HUB Foundation (IIT – BHU), AIC BIMTECH Noida, FIED (IIM Kashipur), GUSEC Gujarat, C-CAMP Bangalore, AIC Banasthali Vidyapith – Jaipur, Villgro Innovations Foundation – Chennai, and T – HUB Hyderabad. The startups receive the grants via these incubators.

The grant amount for each of the startups differs based on the segment, scalability of idea and sustainability among others.

“We begin the new decade with a renewed focus to enable and nurture social sector start-ups,” said Ms. Smita Bhagat, Country Head – Government, E-commerce and Startups, HDFC Bank. “Our partnership with incubators will mentor the winners to scale up their ideas. Enterprises working in the social sector are doing commendable work in changing the lives of millions of Indians. SmartUp grants is one way of offering our support and encouragement in this journey. We want to be a pillar of support for social entrepreneurs who want to bring a positive change to the society,” she adds.

Applications for the new cohort of HDFC Bank’s SmartUp Grants for social impact are now open. To apply, click here.


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