How DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme is helping startups drive social change, one innovation at a time


When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, campuses of educational institutions across the country had to be shut down. The move threatened to impact the training of budding healthcare professionals at a time when the country's healthcare sector was struggling to treat the rising number of patients with an understaffed workforce.

Amidst the crisis, Gurugram-based EdTech startup Bodhi Health Education rolled out an online platform for nursing schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu with the support of the state’s nursing and midwives council. The platform helped the students continue their education when physical classes weren't possible and has benefitted almost 12,000 till now.

The startup's Co-founder Abhinav Girdhar says the team had been planning to rollout the platform for long, but weren’t able to due to a paucity of funds. They were finally able to launch the platform after applying for the DBS Foundation Social Enterprise (SE) Grant Programme and winning SGD 50,000. Plus, the mentorship sessions and networking opportunities that were a part of the programme helped it polish its business model.

Bodhi Health Education is among several startups in India and its neighbouring countries that have been able to roll out innovative solutions that could drive social change with the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme.

Launched in 2014, the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme supports early-stage social enterprises building disruptive solutions that can drive change amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interested in applying for the programme? Hurry, the last date to apply is June 30, 2021. Register now

An agent of social change

The programme is back with its seventh edition and is looking to support social enterprises that are building scalable solutions and can enable people to lead better lives.

With an aim to fuel a change across sectors, the foundation will continue to support startups that are working to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing food wastage.

The challenge also features a new category ‘Towards Zero Food Waste’ that targets social enterprises whose solutions can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by addressing the challenge of food loss across the agricultural value chain. According to the World Wildlife Fund, almost one-third of all the food produced in the world ends up being wasted. The number is equal to about 1.3 billion tons of vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy products and grains. The organisation estimates that reducing food loss could cut down GHG emissions resulting due to human activities by almost 6-8 percent.

Given the devastating economic impact of the pandemic, the foundation had also introduced a special grant assistance 'Business Transformation and Improvement Grant' (BTI Grant) in 2020 to help struggling social enterprises tide over the crisis. The assistance helped the grantees with capital support, retain jobs and transform their businesses amidst the pandemic, among other benefits.

Opportunities galore in store for startups

The winners of the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme will benefit from the continuous support and expertise of experienced mentors, who will help them through various stages of their growth journey.

Kaushik K, Co-founder of AgriTech startup Kheyti, which had also won the grant, says that the mentorship sessions helped his team shape their financing model, fine-tune the finance strategy and connect with other investors. Kheyti enables farmers to grow food in scaled-down versions of greenhouses, while helping them secure loans from banks and leverage tech-based solutions.

Kheyti had received a grant of SGD 50,000 which the team said had been invested in scaling the solution. “As a result, we were able to cut down the cost of their product by around 80 percent,” says Kaushik.

“Currently, the foundation is supporting us in running a call centre to address farmers’ queries and problems. They are also helping us with hiring employees for the call centre,” says Kaushik.

Recalling one of his key lessons from the experience, he adds, "Our mentors helped us conduct farmer interviews to understand the customer (farmers) better. One of the things we realised was that the farmers were happy with the fact that they had someone on their side that was helping them incorporate modern technology."

Talking about the programme, Abhinav says, “What stands apart about the foundation is that for them the enterprise and team behind it is the most important. The foundation has continuously tried to link us to mentors and it has been a very understanding relationship. The way they value the well-being of the startup founders and the team above everything has been a very positive lesson for us.”

For its 2021 cohort, the foundation has decided to increase the total funding to be disbursed to SGD 3 million, which is more than twice the amount that it invested last year. Apart from the funding, the programme packs several other incentives that can be crucial in driving growth and unlocking hidden potential for businesses. The finalists can look forward to the following benefits:

  • Grant funding of upto SGD 250,000 for each startup
  • Assistance with banking needs
  • Chance to participate in capacity-building programmes
  • Bespoke mentorship sessions with experts
  • Networking opportunities with investors
  • Potential cross-market collaborations with DBS Foundation’s community of social enterprises

Apart from these benefits, each of the participants will be assigned a DBS relationship manager and a group of specialists from various divisions of the bank who will help the startups curate customised growth plans according to their unique requirements.

They will also help participants with strategic advice on raising funds, connect with industry experts and DBS Private Bank clients to explore investment and business opportunities and match them with senior DBS leaders for mentorship opportunities.

Who can apply

Here are a few of the conditions that the participants must comply with:

  • Must solve for environmental and/or social challenges
  • Have a proven business model with a track record of sales and profitability
  • Have an innovative approach with a differentiated product
  • Have potential to scale
  • Must be registered as a business enterprise and have a presence in Singapore, India, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

Over the years, the DBS Foundation has helped several social enterprises that exhibit a strong potential to innovate and scale and enabled them to reach new heights with DBS Bank's services, connections and expertise.

If you have an idea that has the potential to drive impact with innovation, don’t miss this chance to fast-track your growth journey! Register now. The last date to apply is June 30, 2021.


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