100 speakers, 600 delegates, Rs 3.5 Cr in investment: meet the social entrepreneurs at Villgro Unconvention

100 speakers, 600 delegates, Rs 3.5 Cr in investment: meet the social entrepreneurs at Villgro Unconvention

Thursday December 13, 2018,

4 min Read

A total of Rs 3.5 crore was awarded to the winners of the Villgro iPitch competition for social innovators. In this photo essay, we bring you face to face with the social entrepreneurs exhibiting at Villgro’s annual conference.

PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 270 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon galleryworld music festivaltelecom expomillets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.

Established in 2001, social enterprise incubator Villgro works with early-stage for-profit businesses that have an impact on the lives of the poor in India. Its portfolio companies include Uniphore, DesiCrew, SkyMet, Onergy, MicroGraam, Aroghyam, Farm Harvest, Promorph, MadGuy Labs, LeapSkills, SkillTrain, SkillVeri, VectorDoc, Masuta, and more.

Past participants at the annual Unconvention conference on social entrepreneurship include Prukalpa Sankar (Social Cops), Sombodhi Ghosh (Aakar Innovations), and Geethanjali (Adiuvo Diagnostics). Four sectors were the focus of parallel tracks this year: agri-business, healthcare, energy, and education/employment (see our related article, What it takes to scale a social enterprise in India).

Unconvention 2018 drew over 100 speakers across 35 sessions, with 600 delegates and 40 exhibitors. The speakers included Mukesh Sharma (Menterra Venture Advisors), SD Shibulal, (Infosys), Amaresh Chakrabarti (IISc), Pushkar Vichare (HCL), Chintan Bakshi (Startup Oasis), Mahesh Yagnaraman (Acumen), Rini Dutta (Centric Brand Advisors), Meenu Bhambhani (Mphasis), Dinesh Goel (Siana Capital), Nagaraja Prakasam (NSRCEL), Hardika Shah (Kinara Capital), Kartik Desai (Asha Impact), and Sudha Srinivasan (N/Core).

Key issues raised were mainstreaming innovations, financing models, going global, corporate partnerships, policy impacts, B2B marketing, and CSR funds. See also YourStory’s coverage of the Incubator Marketplace launched by GIZ, Samhita and Villgro.

The event included a mentoring clinic, CSR roundtable, and investor speed dating. Winners of the iPitch competition were awarded a total of Rs 3.5 crore (see the list of companies, investors, and investment amounts in Table 1 below, and winner profiles here).

Over 1,200 entrepreneurs pitched in a national discovery program, which was open from 21 August to 21 September. Direct in-person pitches were made from 10-26 October, with the winners announced on 8 December. The jury comprised Villgro and its seven investment partners; the head of each incubator or senior advisors were representatives from each investment partner.

“It wasn't just the numbers of attendees that made us happy, it was the quality of deep sector-focused conversations that happened. We have always tried to push the envelope when it comes to sector-driven sessions and that was the critical piece of the conference,” said Villgro founder and CEO Paul Basil, in a chat with YourStory.

For the next year, Villgro plans to sharpen its focus on the four sectors and harvest a robust ecosystem. Over the past two decades, Villgro has supported over 200 social innovators and has witnessed various paradigm shifts over the years.

“The one rule of thumb that stays the same is how close the entrepreneurs are in understanding their customer's pain. Everything else stems from this. Having a human-centered design is key. The rest follows,” Paul says, as a tip to aspiring entrepreneurs.

He also has suggestions for impact investors. “One of the biggest questions that budding impact investors need to ask themselves is what returns they want and how much risk they can take. Early stage companies require patient capital, and that is where the risk appetite comes in the picture,” he cautioned.

“The investment instruments to be used are rooted in this evaluation of returns and risks. And then, of course, there are causes one is passionate about and that definitely plays a role in the degree and level of involvement of the investors. So the bigger question then becomes, why do you even want to do this? And that is the real driving force,” explained Paul.

In this photo essay, we bring to you some of the exhibiting social entrepreneurs from SpotSense, OmiX Labs, Krimanshi, Yostra, Thoomri, EmpowerU, Siri, Ilumy, Adiuvo, JivaBhumi, NeoMotion, FarmHarvest, DataGlen, MoncTech, BattiGhar, Bempu, Janitri, BrickCells, BlackBoard Radio, KrishiHub, Urdhvam, Vishalya Foods, easyNav, and Lal10.

Now, what have you done today to find a real big Indian challenge to address, and unleash your passion and creativity to solve it?

Got a creative photograph to share? Email us at [email protected]!

See also the YourStory pocketbook ‘Proverbs and Quotes for Entrepreneurs: A World of Inspiration for Startups,’ accessible as apps for Apple and Android devices.

Also read: What it takes to scale a social enterprise in India: experts give a rundown


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