Reviving a Family Business: Challenges for Young People in India Today

Perhaps the most crucial round of interview for us—the site visit—tells us the most about a potential candidate for investment. While on a site visit we learn things we never would have learned otherwise. The entrepreneur is on their home turf—often more confident, open and honest than when we first meet them in our office.

Obliraj telling us about his idea to revive his family weaving business

Obliraj is 21 years old and came to us with the idea of reviving his family weaving business. Obliraj’s family has been weavers for generations. When we asked just how many generations his family had been weaving, Obliraj’s mother laughed and said, “As far back as anyone can remember—not just his father’s family but my family too.”

Unfortunately, families that continue traditional handicrafts and arts like these are changing occupations in India because of new aspirational values for their children to become doctors and engineers. Also as traditional crafts families are not able to compete with machine made priced bulk items, nor do they directly go to market or find ways to innovate with design – families leave their traditional crafts and migrate to cities with the goal of becoming part of India’s economically prosperous. With so much pressure to follow defined paths to success, traditional family occupations are being left behind – especially by the younger generation who just can’t see the value in the craft and poverty of their parents. Many weaving, dyeing and embroidery businesses are shutting shop after countless generations of business because no one is left to carry the legacy on and those who do want to continue, lack the capital to upgrade and compete with bigger players, design innovation or access to markets, either restricted by language, or lack of internet access/communication skills.

Obliraj is different. He’s young and he wants to be an entrepreneur in the line of his family business, but he wants to begin again, differently.

Obliraj with his weaving family–mother, father, and two younger brothers

Carrying on a family business is hard work. The looms and other machines in Obliraj’s home were purchased second-hand eight years ago. Now they are in need of an upgrade to a hydraulic system that will double their production capacity. Sometimes determination is not enough for young people who want to carry on the traditional businesses of their families. They also need investment and support. Maybe they don’t need new metal machines—actually the traditional wooden ones work better—but they need better lighting to see, or they need better ventilation to stay healthy – they need visitors with design inspiration, they need new access to markets offline and online.

Obliraj showing his expertise at the eight year old second-hand loom

In our cities we have a massive youth unemployment rate, and it’s only increasing. Without the right skills, young people will never become doctors or engineers. But a lot of these young people have skills they’ve learned at home in their traditional craft businesses. They just don’t realise they are skills. Nor are they sure what to do with them.

Perhaps what we all need to understand, as that it’s best for India and the world we live in as a whole if the poorest young people are able to innovate, and take their traditional craft businesses to new levels of scale.

Their businesses will protect our traditions as we enter into new economies, create jobs for  other young people and support villages, stopping the great urban migration.

Invest in a young craft entrepreneur today.

We’ll let you know what happens at the Investment Committee meeting for Obliraj.


Making a point of celebrating birthdays: all entrepreneurs & enterprises (and their investors) celebrate the day it all began

It’s hard to believe that’s January 2013 is already nearly coming to a close. Be! Fund-Karnataka is about one and a half years old and Be! Fund- Maharashtra has just celebrated its six-month birthday. So having rolled up our sleeves and put in a lot of hard work to find and invest in young entrepreneurs across India, where are we now?

In 2011, we invested in four entrepreneurs to start businesses in plastic recycling, rooftop farming, farmer transportation and garment manufacturing employing people who are differently-abled. These men were the first of many hero entrepreneurs to come. In 2012, we invested in 12 more entrepreneurs, including 9 women, to solve problems with local enterprise solutions such as solar products, urban biogas, rural diagnostic laboratory, compostable Areca nut leaf plates, and many more.

So we’re celebrating birthdays for new businesses, entrepreneurs and many ‘success days’ for every challenge met.

Yellawa has now taken her specialty pickle business to scale and has created three jobs for young women from her Dalit community. She is a role model for local women proving that even the youngest can run their own successful and innovative businesses. Mageshwari created 60 solar lanterns to enable over 750 children to study in tuition centers in KGF villages and brought light to over 100 nearby homes. And Mallaiah helped save lives by diagnosing dengue fever at its earliest stages at his rural diagnostic lab, making the best medical diagnostic services available to those living in rural areas far away from city hospitals.

But as we’ve also learned this year, as an early stage entrepreneur there will certainly be challenges along the path to building a sustainable business. Jayanthi, who creates beautiful candles from recycled church wax, lives in a slum with contaminated water often making her daughters and mother fall sick. Radhakrishna, who takes farmers to market in his truck, recently got in a small car accident on the road, causing minor damage to his vehicle (he was fine!) and putting him off of the road, and therefore deliveries, for one month.

Whether 2012 was mostly filled with successes or challenges to overcome, each of these entrepreneurs came to us with a solid business idea that would solve a problem in his or her community and the daring to board the entrepreneurial roller coaster to success.

2012’s entrepreneurs span the age group from 20 to 35 years old; they received investments ranging from Rs. 28,000 – Rs. 430,750 ($560 – $8,615); they live in urban slums and rural villages. Be! Businesses are unique to the entrepreneurs running them and the communities and people they serve. But all of our entrepreneurs have one thing in common—the commitment to establishing and managing innovative businesses to solve problems in the communities in which they live.

They are our heroes.

From Determined Young Person to Be! Fund Entrepreneur: The Be! Fund Interview Process

Raziya came all the way from Mysore to tell us about
her idea to start a restaurant for construction workers and other industrial
labourers in her community.

As calls stream into both the Mumbai and Bengaluru offices, young people have already taken the first step toward entering the pipeline for a Be! Fund investment. When a young person calls us up, their ideas range from “I want to start a business and make a difference! What should I do?” all the way to a well-formulated business plan for taking farmers to market. For all of these cases, our Be! Fund team gives them our business-building guide and speaks with them to make sure they fulfill our three basic criteria:

1. Young (Between 18-29)

2. From a low-income background

3. Sufficient market research to prove their for-profit business idea can create a positive social impact and solve a problem in their community.

For young people who fit these criteria but don’t yet know what they want to do, our team asks them to give it some more thought and asks them to call back when they know what they’d like to do. For those young people who do have a developed business idea, team members ask them to come to our office and tell us about their idea. And for us, the candidate’s willingness to travel to our office matters—that’s how someone proves their passion for their business. Over the last year and a half, we’ve learned that people, who aren’t serious about their business idea, just won’t come, so calling people to our office is an important part of the selection process.

After this in-person interview, we continue to gather information from the entrepreneur over the coming weeks or months, supporting him or her along the way about how to do market research and determine whether farmers really will pay 100 rupees for that bag of compost or actually just 75 rupees.

Here is an example of Bhanuprakash’s excellent market research explaining
the materials needed and cost of each for his nursery business.

Once all this market research has been collected and a draft business plan created, Be! Fund team members go on a site visit to the candidate’s proposed site to verify the potential profitability and social impact the businesses. This is the stage where we interview family members, community members and potential customers to make sure they are all on board in support of the entrepreneur so that when times get rough, the entrepreneur will be surrounded by a network of support. All of this information is used to finalize a business plan and is presented to the Be! Fund investors. From the initial phone call to Be! investment takes an average of 3-4 months. This gives us time to build an honest, trusting working relationship with the candidate and to make sure the candidate is deeply committed to moving from idea to implementation.

At the end of this process, we are always pleased to announce the new round of hero entrepreneurs that we will invest in and help grow into sustainable for-profit businesses, which will have big positive social impact for their communities.

We’re so excited: we won the Citi Micro Enterprise award for the most Innovative Livelihood Promoter of the Year (2012)

Athar and Matilda take a bow

Citi Foundation is the global philanthropic arm of Citigroup and supports economic empowerment and financial inclusion of low-to moderate-income people in communities where the bank operates. The Be! Fund teams from Bengaluru and Mumbai were in Delhi to receive the award on January 12, 2013.

Thank you India for believing in possibility and knowing that the poorest young entrepreneurs can change the world for everyone!


Missed calls + text messages: calling women entrepreneurs everywhere


Our Mumbai numbers are ringing all day long: young entrepreneurs are calling us to talk about their ideas.

Hema discussing business ideas!

Just as Ashwin returned from the movie screenings in Sangli, the radio commercials pierced into every nook and corner of Maharashtra to announce the call from Be! Fund Mumbai. We are so excited when entrepreneurs from the most remote, underdeveloped areas of Maharashtra such as Jat taluka call in with a business proposition. Indeed, we have all been busy discussing ideas all day long on the telephone! Some of the young people amaze us with their clarity and their experience while others want to share their ideas and understand how they can build better plans.

An excited mother called us saying all she wanted was to come see us. At first, her excitement was confusing – she’s not our target audience – but we invited her for an interview anyway. She came in with her daughter (who was the entrepreneur!). Her daughter said she wanted to start an organic farm and later expand to setting up solar lights in the village. We were fascinated with her motivation and her sensitivity for her community and we like her plan, organic farming + renewable energy, now that’s cool. Another young man called with his plan to produce jams and pickles using a fruit that grows in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, locally known as “Ambadi”. Wikipedia came to rescue; we found that Ambadi is popularly known as “Roselle”, it is grown in various parts of India and is also popular in countries like Myanmar, Australia and Nigeria for making jams and pickles. Who knew. We’re excited to try his jams :)


Razia responds to the missed calls

While it’s exciting we’re also seeing another trend, for every 20 young men that call us, one young woman calls us. Young women are more hesitant, they have to win family support, they are not sure if they can travel to our office, they want to be in a group, make sure we’re real. We’re committed to investing in as many women as we invest in men, and so as soon as young woman calls us, we’re on it. Asking if she can come tomorrow, if she needs directions, help, us to come pick her up from the train station, the Be! Fund women take over, trying as much as possible to make Be! Fund equally accessible to women as to men. We draw the line at giving ideas – we won’t give ideas – but if a young woman comes to us with an idea, we celebrate, fast track, support her and try to talk to her family to gauge their support. Young women who call us have the desire to “be” different and do things differently; and we are certain that they will. Yet others drop out due to lack of support from friends, family and their community. We hope that the women who find a way to negotiate rigid societal norms, will be role models for other young women. There can be no greater impact than changing the way our world sees women, and in turn, creating space for young women to change the world.


Be! Fund 2013 media outreach begins with a Bang!


Ashwin Shikhare, our volunteer from Mumbai travelled to Sangli district to screen our “Bollywood” movies about entrepreneurs in rural Maharashtra communities.

Movie Screening at Sangli

Ashwin arrived this morning, gleaming with a smile and a newfound enthusiasm from the field. It was his very first experience at screening movies for young people as well as working for a cause such as that of Be! Fund. He said, “It was fun to talk to young people because they had so many ideas.” Several young people who had great ideas belong to the border areas of Maharashtra (and Karnataka), speak Marathi with a Kannada accent or speak only Kannada. Ashwin does not speak Kannada but he had a solution, he proudly shared, “It was simple. I told them to share their idea with whoever was around and understood their language or dialect. They translated it for me to write down!” He adds, “The women were shy to speak with me. I brought back their names and numbers for you to call them!” 

Next, Pramod will screen Be! Movies in 23 communities and we’re excited about the poster exhibitions at railway stations to pause the fast moving crowds to introduce the idea of Be! Fund. And our radio is on air now – a call to the entrepreneurs in Maharashtra has been aired on Radio Asmita (Frequency: AM 536.7 to 555) in Mumbai, which includes Thane and Raigad districts and Satara. Maharashtra, we sincerely hope you are listening and we’re waiting for your calls!

Ashwin Shikhare hard at work!


Good news from Mumbai: entrepreneurs are everywhere

The festive season at Be! Fund Mumbai kicked off with back to back Gateway 2 interviews with our bright, young entrepreneurs.

Tushar and Vilas pose for a photo; they also happen to be classmates from school!

The interview panel was ready: Mr. Arun Kumar Waghchoure, a serial start-up entrepreneur who has co-founded ventures such as Tigri Innovation Pvt. Ltd, Rocket Sales Weekends, Weekly Review Service and is also a visiting faculty at B-schools in Mumbai. Mr. Shalabh Sahai, a co-founder of iVolunteer and is an expert in human resources for the rural and social development sector and Professor Anant Amdekar, a practicing company secretary, financial analyst and a faculty at B-schools as well.

Vilas explains the interlocking bricks’ technology

The interviews were a super success. Each panelist was positive, supportive, enthusiastic and used their exceptional experience to help our entrepreneurs build better plans. In fact,  once upon a time, Mr. Shalabh was student at IRMA, in Anand Gujarat and was involved with reviving two cooperatives in Uttar Pradesh. His presence on the panel left 21 year-old, Ujjwal to face the challenge of defending his business idea: to provide pure, unadulterated milk in Buldhana district. Ujjwal’s idea is to set up retail outlets to sell milk and use the animal waste to produce biogas and fertilizer.

Ujjwal’s exciting interview was followed by questions directed at Vilas, age 25 from Aurangabad. Vilas would like to make interlocking bricks by recycling the coal ash (waste from coal thermal plans and stone dust). Vilas proudly proclaimed that even though these bricks are unknown to most people, they can actually reduce the housing construction cost by about 30-50%.

Ujwal discusses the problem of milk adulteration

We also had Prasanjeet, age 30, a blind physiotherapist from Yavatmal. He currently provides treatment by offering home visits to patients. He believes that a clinic in the village can allow him to increase his outreach, provide treatment at a low cost and in the process, be a role a model for other visually challenged people in the community.  Tanaji, from Kolhapur also presented his idea – he wants to make compost from the agricultural waste in his village for organic fertilizers are nature-friendly and help to get better yield.

Prasanjeet converses with Mr. Shalabh Sahai, co founder iVolunteer

Last but not least, it was Tushar that bedazzled the panelists. 22 year-old Tushar, a resident of Buldhana has been fascinated with honey bees, ever since he saw a documentary about bees as a teenager on Discovery Channel. He has pursued his fascination by opting to earn a graduation degree in Agriculture. Tushar would like to lay out boxes for bee keeping in fields, which can help farmers to increase their yield, given that they act as pollinating agents. The honey produced can be sold for medicinal use. Perhaps, the best moment in the day was when Mr. Anant asked him, “Aap ek dabba laga kar shuru kyon nahin kar lete?” (“Why don’t you start by putting out one box?). Tushar promptly responded, “Ek dabba laga kar business shuru ho sakta tha, toh maine kab ka laga liya hota!” (“If my business could be started by merely putting out one box, I would have done it years ago!”)

You may think that six hours of incessant questioning and probing of business ideas would tire out the panelists; but the reality was the contrary. The panelists were confronted by varying business plans from varying sectors that kept their minds racing and our passionate entrepreneurs kept them quizzing for loopholes and possible pitfalls in their seemingly foolproof business plans.

We were inspired. Maharashtra – our entrepreneurs are amazing.

Mr. Arun Waghchoure highlights the nuances of business management

Follow us in 2013 as we find and invest in young women entrepreneurs in Maharashtra.