With terms like patient capital, double bottom line, and social impact being thrown around, one immediately realizes that this is no ordinary business plan competition. Beginning with nearly 100 applicants, the field has been narrowed down to 16; this is the final round of Wantrapreneur, the social business plan competition at Villgro’s annual innovation and social entrepreneurship conference, Unconvention.
Putting last minute preparations on their presentations and going over carefully crafted rhetoric in their heads, the contestants await their turn to present to the panel of investors from reputable impact investment firms like Gray Ghost Ventures, Acumen Fund, Aavishkaar, and more. Inherently gaining valuable media exposure, the entrepreneurs are competing for a cash prize of up to 10 lakh Rupees as well as recognition when the winner is announced at the Villgro Awards ceremony this weekend.
Seemingly as diverse as India, the competition features enterprises operating all across the country and representing a multitude of different sectors including energy, dairy, and healthcare. During lunch, I was able to speak with the 22 year old co-founder of Gram Power, which is an enterprise based in Jaipur that is creating access to affordable energy through solar micro-grid systems in villages. What began as a pet project his sophomore year at the University of California at Berkley, now has Yashraj Khaitan setting up a pilot program throughout his home state of Rajasthan and looking for seed capital. The technology they have developed uses household level distributed storage and power management units to provide pre-paid power directly to villagers’ homes from nearby solar modules. According to Yashraj, using pre-paid cards allows villagers to purchase the amount of power they need when they need it and “enables them to use their disposable income instead of their savings.” With government subsidies and the decreasing cost of photovoltaic cells, Gram Power’s innovative approach to rural electrification is sure to impact some of the 2.6 billion people globally who do not have access to reliable electricity.
After watching many of the entrepreneurs present, I came to realize that there is no recipe and there are no boundaries for a social enterprise. One by one, each finalist presented a different story, a different structure, a different plan, and, most importantly, a different staggering statistic that they were destined to change.
Lance Casey is a 2011 Villgro Fellow, whose interest in social innovation became a passion in 2009 after working with a microfinance institution in Bangladesh. Working with Promethean Power Systems in Pune, he is overseeing the implementation of the pilot program for their Rapid Milk Chiller at the village level.