- Young and bright:Vilas Gade came to collect me from Aurangabad city on a chilly winter morning, in the back of the car he explained our plan for the day: we’d go to his village, his friend’s manufacturing site, a potential site he has selected for his own business and yes, he’d tell me more about why he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
- Skills: Our first stop was at the manufacturing site KRS Enterprises, about 10-15 kms from the city. Vilas has a friend whose interlocking bricks business has been his inspiration. Excitedly Vilas introduced me to the site and talked me through every step. The amount of fly ash used, the proportion of cement and the quantity of stone dust that is required to manufacture the bricks. He showed me the mixer, the dye (mould) that is used to give shape to the bricks and then which the bricks should be lifted to ensure that they do not break in the process.
- Good advisors:We asked Mr. Shinde, the supervisor, if he’d mentor Vilas as he sets up his business, so he can help him trouble-shoot. Mr. Shinde said YES.
- Supportive family:Next, we went to Vilas’ home in a village. At tea with Vilas’ parents I asked them “Why are you supporting your son to take a risk to become an entrepreneur?” Vilas’ parents are farmers, the had to cut corners to have him educated and they are proud to see their son so motivated and driven: they support him in his choice to be an entrepreneur. This is not common, usually parents want their sons and daughters to get jobs. I made a point to ask them more about it – their belief in Vilas’ idea and their support for Vilas to take a risk is the source of one of our stories for children in our schools program. We needed to know why some parents are supportive, and how to inspire more to be.
- Community support, need: Next we went on a village walk. Vilas’ village has 400 people and most of them are very poor., from lower castes and it’s cut off from the highway, high up in the hills. There is no gram panchayat in the village since the population is below 500 and its administration is being handled by another village. Consequently, development here has been slow. The village has only 1 government school, run by the state government, up to class 5. Vilas himself has studied in this school as a child. The school for class VI-VIII is located in a village 5 km away. Also, the school for classes XI-X is located in another village, which is also about 5 km from Vilas’ village. Vilas proudly shared the story of his struggle as a student when he walked to each of these schools each day to continue his education. He also claimed that in class XI and XII, there were about 17 children who made it to the school but only 2 boys managed to pass the exams, one of them was Vilas. Overall education of the villagers remains low. The main source of income in the village is agriculture. The area is rain dependent and water is scarce through the year. The only well in the village has dried up and people walk long distances to fetch water. Most people cannot afford tankers.
- Researched demand, has first customers: I was convinced Vilas’ village was poor and that they needed young entrepreneurs and new enterprises, so next we went to visits builders and contractors who are potential buyers for Vilas’ bricks. One of them even has an upcoming housing project and said he would like to experiment with interlocking bricks if Vilas sets up his business. Regular bricks are labour intensive and require clay which is fast becoming a scarce resource. On the way, Vilas even showed us a house which was in the process of being built with regular bricks. Once they heard about the benefits of interlocking bricks, they opted to complete their construction using interlocking bricks! It was reassuring to find a growing demand for Vilas’ product.
- Aggressive Marketing:After my visit, I realised Vilas would have to work a great deal on his marketing plan and we’d have to explore the size of the market in his village and beyond, the number of jobs he’d create as well as the number of people who would benefit from interlocking bricks. However, Vilas has realized early on that he would certainly need to market his product strongly to create a demand for a new product like his own. He has sought help from Be! Fund and asked to be introduced to an architect. He believes a good architect can assist him to convince potential buyers who are builders and contractors. He will not only tell them about the benefits to the environment in the use of interlocking bricks, but a buyer will be persuaded by being informed of its probable benefits for the construction process. Most importantly, he will let them know that the cost of construction is likely to go down by 30-50%.
- Vilas has been on the lookout for any information regarding business management and interlocking bricks ever since he decided to be an entrepreneur. He has now found a new company to supply to him the machinery at a lower rate. They even provide training on how the machinery is used! After the site visit, we’re particularly excited about his project and we can’t wait to see him get started.
Next week: Cows! Cows! Cows! Site Visit for Ujwal’s Dairy Business