sarabjeet singh

Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp

I recently attended the final evening of the Socent Bootcamp organized by Unltd India in Mumbai for all their investee applicants. UnLtd India is a social incubator, providing one-on-one coaching, networking, and seed capital that people need to achieve huge impact. Their investees do incredible things, from teaching photography to the visually-challenged (Partho, to using football to get drop-outs back in school (Ashok, OSCAR Football Club). Their aim is to find, fund and support India’s next generation of social entrepreneurs – individuals who have the ideas and entrepreneurial skills to create a better world.

This Social Entrepreneur Bootcamp was the first of it’s kind in India. Unltd was able to bring together a batch of 36 potential investees for five intense days of idea refinement, skill development, and personal connection. The experience goes beyond creating plans and strategies – participants get access to multi-sector expert mentors while exploring their own roles within a community of peers. Bootcamp is designed to accelerate the progress of these start-up changemakers so they can create maximum positive impact as quickly as possible.

The bootcamp was held in Bhayender surrounded by lush green hills in a suburb of Bombay. Day 1 was devoted to building personal connections. Participants learned about each other’s initiatives through speed-dating-style one-on-one conversations. It’s important to note that, though they are all potential UnLtd India investees, this is not a competition for the participants. One of the day’s highlights was a talk with Shilpi Kapoor of BarrierBreak Technologies, India’s premier accessibility consulting firm. Shilpi’s story of making technology accessible to the blind and visually impaired yields terrific insight. Day 2 witnessed workshops on the Theory of Change and social media hosted by the Unltd Team and a business/project planning workshop hosted by EdelGive Foundation.

One of the interesting Bootcamp participants was Ashish who is leveraging his business world expertise to create level playing fields in the informal sector. Maid-in-India, his start-up, will be an online recruitment and engagement platform for domestic workers (like maids, cooks, drivers, and nannies) and potential employers. Ashish also wants the site to link workers to training that improves the quality of their services – learning to cook healthy meals and getting certified as childcare providers, for example. The plan is to charge employers a premium for the service; this will create insurance funds for the domestic workers they hire.

During Day 3, while potential Level 1 investees braved the sweltering sun in the name of teambuilding, the Level 2’s connected with expert mentors. (Unltd India invites applications for two levels – Level 1 is for people who are in early stage whereas Level 2 is for those who already have a proof of concept.) These experts on legal structures, finance, marketing, and HR, including Pankaj Jain from Acumen Fund, Bharat Vasandani from Venus Capital and Aarti Madhusudan from Governance Counts, offered one-on-one sessions to work through project-based issues and to develop customized plans. A workshop on social impact measurement was hosted jointly by Intellecap and Unltd India. The workshop was aimed at the investees to help them identify clear indicators for the impact they are trying to create and discuss various tools one can use to do that.

Ashoka Fellow Vishal Thalreja from Dream a Dream shared his story with the group. Dream a Dream has reached the lives of over 3,000 children, with a core of about 150 who have turned their lives around completely. Ketan Desphande and Hemant Kabra, who lead Student’s Fuel, an organization that educates students in rural communities about entrance exams and admission processes to ensure fair access to higher education, celebrated a huge victory on Day 3. The state government was considering a bill that would make it impossible for any student not born in Maharashtra to study there. Thanks in large part to their advocacy, the bill has been overturned.

Day 4 was more like a wrap-up with Untld giving a session on “How to make a pitch” followed by the official closure and mock pitches being made by all Investees (both Level1 and Level2) which continued until Day 5 on Friday, March 26th. Mock pitches are a great idea and at least helped me get my pitch perfected for Let Me Know. The panel evaluating the pitches had experts from various backgrounds including the non-profit sector, social enterprise space, industry and investors.