Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal with ACT leaders make the case for Indian startup ecosystem to come together for a larger purpose

At TechSparks 2021, India’s most influential startup-tech conference, Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal along with marquee startup investors and the leadership of ACT Grants emphasise how the startup ecosystem wields the power to ‘solve societal problems at scale’.
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“We believe anything is possible when founders, investors, venture capitalists, and tech entrepreneurs come together for a larger purpose. 

We believe the startup ecosystem has the power to solve societal problems at scale. 

We believe founders who build successful businesses can also build the foundations for a better world. 

Leaders who create great shareholder value also have the empathy to create greater share value. 

We believe in collective action.”

So reads the Charter of Beliefs of ACT, a social change movement for the Indian startup ecosystem that started out as a response to fight COVID-19 and has now expanded its mandate to cover healthcare, education, environment, and women’s participation in the workforce. 

Reading out the ACT Charter, Mohit Bhatnagar, Investment Advisor of Sequoia India and 2021 COVID Response Investment Committee along with other ACT leaders -- Prashanth Prakash, Partner, Accel Partners, 2021 COVID Response Investment Committee; Neetha Joy, Head, Healthcare Initiatives ACT Grants; and Sandeep Singhal, Managing Director, Nexus Venture Partner, 2021 COVID Response Investment Committee -- and Deepinder Goyal, Founder and CEO, Zomato -- came together at YourStory’s flagship startup-tech conference TechSparks 2021 to make the call for Indian startup entrepreneurs to build socially responsible businesses and solutions and products that address societal problems at scale.

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it and crippled whole countries, it also brought together people like never before. Keen to offer support and succour, individuals, companies, and organisations stepped forward to do all that they could.

In the Indian startup ecosystem too, entrepreneurs and VCs, all, came together to launch Act Against COVID (ACT), a Rs 100 crore grant to power startups building and deploying solutions to combat COVID-19. 

Explaining the genesis of ACT, Mohit says, “The thought had been growing for over a decade. Three years back, I met Ashish Dhawan, who belonged to the world of private equity but had shifted attention to create social change through education. We discussed how wonderful it would be if the entire energy of the startup ecosystem could be used to solve these really hard problems that society faces.”

The conversation resulted in an informative doodle detailing out possible and present efforts on the back of the envelope.

“But that paper ended up at the back of my cupboard and that was it. Until March last year, when COVID attacked us and there was a genuine, spontaneous outpouring from the ecosystem,” Mohit says. 

Prashanth says the idea was to create impact by facilitating a new way to look at social entrepreneurship and creating solutions for problems that needed collaborative efforts.

Today, ACT has transformed into a social change movement that aims to bring in innovation and provide support in four key areas - health, education, environment, and gender issues. 

“(At ACT), your competition is COVID-19 or poverty and inequality. You are collaborating with everybody. I am proud to say that the nucleus of collaboration - of bringing people together and cheering everyone on - is still very much intact,” says Neetha Joy, who heads Healthcare Initiatives of ACT Grants, which mobilised more than 350 volunteers from across different hierarchy levels at various organisations within the startup ecosystem during the second wave.  

How startups can drive societal impact at scale

To be clear, before ACT too, there were enough examples of the most successful entrepreneurs, like Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal and Freshworks’ Girish Mathrubootham, who were building socially responsible businesses and giving back to the ecosystem and the society, while driving initiatives to address the most pertinent societal problems at scale. 

Zomato, for example, had initiated the Feeding India campaign, worked on various relief campaigns, while being among the foremost organisations to provide 26-week equal paid childcare leave for both parents and introduce EVs to the delivery fleet.

Speaking about what prompted Zomato to start the Feeding India Campaign, Founder Deepinder Goyal calls it a “parallel purpose to the business” he was building.

He reminisces on his initial days at Delhi after his move there from Punjab, which sowed the seeds of working on this “parallel purpose” and of doing more than building a business.

“When I came to Delhi, I had a culture shock. It was painful to see people begging for food at traffic lights; it still is a shock for me. So while we were doing what we were doing,  I thought ‘is there anything I can do to also solve this?’ It wasn’t about this being a larger purpose than the business. It was a parallel purpose to the business,” Deepinder says. 

As separate charitable institutions “don’t have legs beyond a point,” it becomes essential to intertwine your initiatives with businesses, Deepinder adds. 

“Feeding India was similar. Like Zomato feeds Feed in India and Feed in India feeds Zomato. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. We have done over 250 million meals for the poor. For Feed the Daily Wager, we had more than three million running trucks on the road; we did more than 78 million meals for 45 days. The idea is to do what we can. 

“But then again, India slid down the hunger index so we were not doing well at all on that front. That meant all of us had to do a lot more work. But the size of the issue is so big that none of this is creating the impact we need,” Deepinder says. 

And that explains why just making money or creating scale “wasn’t enough” for founders like Deepinder Goyal.

“Beyond a point, everybody who works with us needs a higher purpose that is beyond business goals. Culturally, the entire team is the same. We wouldn't have this team quality if people weren’t looking for a higher purpose. It all feeds into each other and compounds,” he adds. 

Indeed, while a lot of businesses are built from the thinking around “what businesses want from the rest of the world”, the change in mindset, he believes, starts when we ask, “what does the world want from us”. 

He aptly sums up the call for collective action among entrepreneurs, saying, “Whenever you give back love into the world, you get love back. You never know how you get it back, but you do. And this helps your business. The only thing I would like to say is have a long-term point of view, do well, do good, and it will help the business. People think of social, CSR, and all these things as costs, but they aren’t; it’s a lot of goodwill and revenue as well."


ACT is looking to give grants to innovations in the area of education , healthcare, environment, and sustainability. If you are a startup, entrepreneur, or an innovative solution that will help the bottom 75% of India's population and create an impact along these critical areas, please do apply at https://actgrants.in/as-a-grantee/


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For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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