Be! Fund 2013 media outreach begins with a Bang!

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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.

Could Mum entrepreneurs be good for kids?

Jayanthi with Shalini, Geeta and Nandini – her daughters

Starting a business is not easy. It’s even harder if someone has invested in your idea because you’ve got a lot to prove. The pressure is on, and the world is watching. Often businesses take longer than anyone would hope to turn a profit, they take up all of your waking hours (and even dream time), you become obsessed, driven, impossible, and certainly not laid back. What if you are a mother too? Is it possible for women to do both, or do they still have to choose?

Be! Fund commits to make 50% of its investments in women. While that may be easy to say, it’s not so easy to achieve. Women are far less likely to self-elect, come forward, have an idea, think they can be entrepreneurs – than men – when it comes to deciding if a husband or a wife should work, well you know the answer. In the chance that women do come forward and decide to work, to set up a new business, they will always be pulled by other pressures, family, society, pressures that expect them to defer their business operations to another level of value.

We travelled to meet and catch up with our women entrepreneurs to try to understand it better. Are our ‘good’ businesses good or bad for kids?

Jaynathi’s candle business uses recycled wax from churches to make candles to light her slum with no electricity – she has created three jobs for women. For her eldest daughter, Nadhini 20, she’s an inspiration. Nadhini says “After seeing mother run her own business and improve the lives of people where we live, I too started a Saree business to help pay for my son’s medical treatments – because I could see we could do both, look after our families and work.”

Nandini sorting through the sarees that she will later sell

But it is not just the older ‘of working age’ kids who are inspired. Jayanthi’s eight year old daughter Shalini loves her mother’s candle business. When she noticed that people were throwing away used clay pots, she collected 50 of them and gave it to her mother. And in no time, broken clay pots were transformed into candles that could light a room for eight hours!

Shalini shies away from us as Jayanthi talks about her

Archana, who makes eco-friendly Areca leaf plates, has excited Rakshita, her eight year old daughter. So much so that Rakshita follows Archana everywhere she goes: “I want to be like Mom when I grow up”. And in turn, Archana says she works because she wants to show Rakshita that women can do both – run a business and take care of the family.

Archana with her eight year old daughter Rakshita who barely leaves her mother’s sight

Gowramma’s company makes immunity boosting nutrition supplements for people living with health challenges. Her 14 year old son, Mithun has already become a part of the business by managing her accounts, so he knows she’s doing well. “I am very happy to see mother running her own business. I am very proud that other women in the community look up to her. When I grow up, I want to be become a scientist and do something good for the world.”

Mithun becomes accountant for his mom

Our women entrepreneurs admit that they are pulled by raising their children, managing their homes and being entrepreneurs. They struggle, there is no such thing as either or, or a balance. When their mothers-in-law are put in hospital, they have to go. When their husbands are sick, they have to look after them. When there is not enough money for their children’s education, shoes, food, they are the ones who know. But there is something to be said for entrepreneurial smiles that each woman entrepreneur answered to each of our challenging questions: you always need a reason to run a business, perhaps for our mum entrepreneurs, there is no better reason than making the world a better place for their children…

Making light

There is a light that never goes out.

In the slum board quarters of Sadaramangala, Whitefield, Bengaluru life is not easy, the roads are unpaved, electricity comes and goes because it’s an unauthorized colony. Jayanthi knew there was a problem of light and that a candle business, with candles made locally and sold locally, would mean she could sell candles at a cheaper price to people in her community that needed them the most.
Jayanthi learned how to make candles and tried to start her business, but she could not find finance to begin. Then one day a Be! Movie was screened in her slum and she called us. Jayanthi made it through the selection process and had a great first day of work: there was an all-day power cut so she made candles through the night, but besides the bright spark beginning, she’s established a long-term sustainable candle business, with an innovation – she’s recycling wax.

Used church candles resurrect to light up Sadaramangala, Whitefield, Bengaluru

Where do you get recycled wax?
Professor Ramesh stepped in with good advice: churches.
Wax costs Rs 2,500 in the market, and from churches, leftover candle wax is much less and exactly the same quality. So using this wax Jayanthi is able to finally make a profit.
Families in Jayanthi’s slum often use 100 candles a month and struggle to make those payments, Jayanthi’s candles cost Rs. 2 less than the others in the market and burn for over 6 hours, so to date she’s sold over 6,000 candles to light up her community. This means children can study at night, women can work and everyone feels happier about their savings. With Diwali coming soon, she’s got an order for decorative candles and Jayanthi is enjoying the journey.

The candle shop busy at work

“I went to the bank for a loan to make candles they said because we lived in a slum we couldn’t get a loan. We didn’t say a word, we just came away and I gave up trying… I spoke to Be! Fund and asked them for help, and they helped me,” Jayanthi remembers.
Jayanthi has created jobs for three women in her community—Geetha, Nagalakshmi and Nandini, who previously had to travel over 10 km to work as housemaids. Jayanthi has also recently taken on three more women as trainees. She is a role model entrepreneur in her community by proving that she can create her own business and solve a problem for everyone. “When the electricity goes off, it’s a big problem for school children. They buy my candles for less and they are able to study. They have a brighter future.”

The electricity connection at Jayanthi’s house

That said, realistically, candles are not the long-term solution for the children of Sadaramangala and Jayanthi is already thinking about what next: as an un-authourized colony what else is a long term solution for light? Solar? Biogas? Stay tuned until the new round of lights go on

The answer lies with the Bees!

Honey bees – The world’s most efficient pollination agents

You may want to swat a bee when you seen one but they do more than just give a nasty little sting. Honey bees are responsible for at least 30 percent of the world crop production and account for 80% of all insect pollination, but 460 kms east of Mumbai in Vidharba, a region famous for its cotton cultivation they are nowhere to be found.

Vidarbha has suffered from drought conditions for the last 15 years and high debt rates have caused many farmers to see no hope and devastatingly, end their lives. Even after government intervention crop productivity has been much lower than the national average of 5 quintals per acre.

A cotton field in Vidarbha, a region where only 4% of the land is irrigated 

So, can bees work their pollination magic to help this region’s declining crop yields? 19 year old, agriculture student, Tushar thinks they can. And he has a business plan to prove it. He had watched a documentary on beekeeping (apiculture) on Discovery channel and it occurred to him that a bee keeping business could increase the crop yields for farmers in his village and he could make profits selling the honey extract.

“A bee-keeping business which will increase crop yields for farmers and enable me to sell the honey produced by the bees” – Tushar

He went looking for capital to fund his venture. A venture he believed could solve his community’s problem. But banks would not loan him the money as he had no collateral left to pledge.

Tushar called us after watching one of the Be! Movies – our Bollywood inspired movies about young entrepreneurs who solve problems by building a business. After two long interviews, we visited Tushar in his village and put his idea to test and assess whether it’s risk capital he needs.

We met a number of farmers and found that they liked Tushar’s idea. 46 of them had given him confirmed orders. Ashok Daiya, a cotton and soy bean farmer with 20 acres of land said “by installing the bee boxes, I will use less pesticides and my pesticide cost will go down by 50%”

Tushar explains the benefits of honey bees to a cotton farmer

But bee keeping is not as easy at it sounds. Honey bees are under threat globally. A condition called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is causing bee populations to plummet to alarming levels.  Scientists are still not sure of its occurrence and say factors such as erratic whether, mites, malnutrition, stress and fungi are to blame. According to Natural Resources Defense Council in United States alone, more than 25 percent of the managed honey bee population has disappeared since 1990

There is no doubt that Tushar’s beekeeping business will have an impact in his village in the short term. But with honey bees at risk globally and causes of their mysterious disappearance still not certain, he will need to be ready to tackle any curveball the business throws at him if he is to succeed in the long run. Risks come in many shapes and forms.

Ronak@befundindia.com

 

The wildlife of plastic bottles: Muniraju’s Plastico bags a contract to clean up Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore

Muniraju, Founder, Plastico

Just 10 months after launching his waste recycling plastic business, Muniraju has successfully signed an agreement with Bannerghatta National Park and the Nature & Wildlife Conservation Committee to collect 500 kg of plastic bottles every two months. These plastic bottles, which are left by tourists in the forest reserve present great danger to the wildlife in the park, and are now the fuel for Muniraju’s growing business. The deal will also increase Plastico’s profits by 30% and comes as a huge boost to Muniraju and his employees who have recycled more than 50 tons of plastic bottles to date.

But it was not always this way…

Working for Fedex, Muniraju noticed the huge amount of plastic waste tossed everywhere but in the trash bins.  This frustrated him. He researched for a year to find a solution and realized that there was a business opportunity to this problem. But it wasn’t an easy start. Muniraju faced a common challenge that many face wanting to start a business: capital.  He was denied funding by multiple private banks due to lack of collateral.

Plastico: Recycling at your doorstep

One day, while watching television Muniraju saw the Be! Fund Muppet Movie – a short film about Be! Fund aired on a local cable channel and decided to apply. Since the launch of Muniraju’s recycling business, Plastico, in October 2011, he has made an inspiring impact in his community—recycling five tons of plastic bottles each month and cleaning up his local environment Anekal, Rural Bangalore.

To spread awareness about recycling plastic waste and market his business, Muniraju came up with the slogan “Recycle. Its good business”, printed them on flyers and distributed them in his neighborhood. It soon became a catch phrase and helped him set up partnerships with 10 local bars, 10 restaurants and five hospitals to pick up their plastic waste.

“Recylce. Its good business” – Muniraju

Muniraju’s business isn’t just cleaning up the environment, his business is also making a difference in the lives of people in his community through the eight jobs his business has generated. He currently employs two men as waste collectors—Narasimhappa, who is married and has two working sons, and Narenda, who is unmarried and lives with his parents. Narasimhappa and Narenda each visit 100 households everyday to collect bottles for Muniraju’s business.

Muniraju also employs five women, all of who were previously unemployed—Mamatha, Shivamma, Gundamma, Basamma, and Kamalamma. Each of these women uses their new income to support their families in big and meaningful ways. After all, collectively these women take care of five husbands, three boys studying between 6th and 12th standard, two girls studying in 6th and 8thstandard four working boys, as well as two daughter-in-laws. With this many people to look after, their incomes from Muniraju’s business are invaluable to supporting their children’s education, improving their family’s health and supplementing their family’s other daily requirements, setting their families up to live better, healthier, and more productive lives

The people behind Plastico’s success

You can learn more about this inspiring story, from Muniraju and his team in this short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5nhlL2McDM . To check out his full business plan, check out his profile here: http://www.befundindia.com/muniraju.html.

 

Be! Fund Mumbai: Murphy’s Law & three different kinds of glue

Shut down: rain and national holidays, but Be! Fund opened for business in the maximum city and the call out is creating just a little bit of steam in the late monsoon.

In search of Mumbai’s young entrepreneurs, we released our Be! Movies. These movies tell stories of young heroes who solve local problems and are aired on local cable channels. We’re receiving calls everyday with great ideas, but we’re getting restless so we went further, on foot, into Mumbai’s slums with posters, postcards, and community movie screenings to find the youngest entrepreneurs who can change everything for everyone. Were they there? They had to be. This was Mumbai, where everyone comes to be an entrepreneur.

Be! Fund in action at a community meeting

Of course new journeys are never smooth, but as ours was particularly bumpy, we thought it may be Murphy’s Law (or just how we look at it): when we went into communities people thought we were selling something, they slammed doors, we ran awkwardly into people doing their laundry, or people with a toothbrush stuck in their mouth, not exactly the right time to ask if they or someone they know, is an entrepreneur. We screened movies and there were power cuts, the power came back on and the rain came down.

The good news is we learned a lot.

After each day in the field we took steps to make our campaign better. We now partner with local organizations in areas we visit so that we are not misunderstood for sales people selling washing powder. We also go well equipped with three different kinds of adhesive tapes because the posters just don’t stick; the walls are too rugged, sometimes they are made of soft cardboards sheets which are moist because of the rains, and rest of the time there are rickety aluminum sheets. To solve our technical crisis, we hired a projector wallah: Sajid, whose key skill is patience with our madness, we now consider him part of our team.

Sajid, our projector wallah takes a breather. You can also see him holding two different glues used to stick posters

Sajid, our projector wallah takes a breather. He also holds two of the different glues used to stick posters

In the past one week, we have focused our efforts on the area near our office in the western suburb of Santacruz and across the harbor line of the Mumbai local train. We started by visiting the areas of Golibar which has around 140 households. We then took it up a notch and visited larger areas of Mankurd which has around 575 households and Govandi with almost 730 homes.

It was my first time visiting the slums of any kind let alone the first time in Mumbai (and I’m from Mumbai!). The slums have an ecosystem of their own; it is like a village within a city. In an instance from the confines of my cozy apartment I found myself warped into another world where basic needs of living turn into luxuries. No running water, scant lighting, terrible sanitation, and garbage everywhere. It was like looking at the insides of something beautiful sliced open to bare all its guts.  According to the 2011 census, 62% of Mumbai lives in slums. That is a huge number! With 13 million people it is the country’s most populous city and unlike Delhi where slums are confined to specific pockets of the city, the slums in Mumbai are integrated into every neighborhood. Young entrepreneurs are all around us, we just have to go out to meet them.

 

In search of young entrepreneurs

I’m excited to be able to say we now have 15 potential entrepreneurs that we have started working with. The ideas are as diverse as the people who have proposed them. Asif, age 23, came to Mumbai at a young age working part time and trying to complete his studies. He is already operating a Support School which targets young people in his community and he wants to expand to two more areas. Tarannum, age 28, wants to set up a fair price shop that would fill the gap in the supply chain and provide groceries cheaper and on credit. We have Vinayak, who is 32 and wants to solve the sanitation and energy problems by converting human waste into fuel.

Watch this blog to stay updated for everything that goes on at Be! Fund. Our next post is a call from Bangalore, where the Be! Fund began. Also, check us out on Facebook to know more about what we do – and if you know of a young entrepreneur who wants to start a business to solve a problem where you live, well you know what to do, call us.

Until next time

Ronak@befundindia.com