Indian social enterprises make headway at SIF’s YSE Global Programme 2021
The three winning teams talk about their entrepreneurial journey as well as their inspiration.
The YSE Global Programme by Singapore International Foundation, now in its 12th year, aims to inspire, equip, and enable youths from around the globe to scale up their social enterprises in Singapore and beyond. Three teams from India, selected from a total of 41 teams, have been shortlisted and are one step away from winning.
Here’s what the leaders of the enterprises – Gurudatt Rao (CEO and Co-Founder) and Bhavin Ingle (CTO and Co-Founder) of Zargun ES, Vidhya Y (Co-Founder) and Anshumaan Agrawal (Sales and Marketing Head) of Vembi Technologies and Sandeep Kumar (RnD, Research Scientist) of Kanpur Flowercycling Pvt. Ltd (Phool) have to share about their journey as entrepreneurs.
Briefly share with us what your social enterprise idea is about
Zargun ES - Zargun ES is a social enterprise focused on solving challenges for players in the Waste Management domain by providing cost-effective and efficient solutions that automate monitoring and segregating of solid waste (dry and wet) for subsequent monetization. Through our work, we aim to generate an impact to lower Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and increase Employment Opportunities.
Vembi Technologies - The biggest challenge in India faced by the visually challenged community is the low availability and the inadequate access to braille books, primarily due to the non-availability of braille content. To address this critical challenge, social enterprise Vembi offers the Hexis-Antara solution which combines a refreshable Braille Display with an accessible content management platform to convert content in any Indian language to Braille on demand.
KFPL - Kanpur Flowercycling (KFPL) is a social enterprise that invests methods to convert temple waste into biodegradable packaging and bio-leathers. The production of this Fleather is ultra-sustainable, built on the principles of biomimicry and cyclicity.
What inspired you to take up this initiative, and how did you come up with the idea?
Zargun ES – Our core team came together to work on this initiative for the waste management domain after volunteering for beach and river cleanup activities in Mumbai. These helped us understand the quantum of waste that is being generated through unchecked production and consumption.
Vembi Technologies - Co-founder of Vembi Technologies Vidhya Y has been visually impaired since birth and has experienced challenges in her educational journey due to lack of content in braille. Our market research showed that the existing Refreshable Braille displays were complex to use and expensive as well which led to the idea of creating an affordable means to provide classroom content in braille to teachers and students on demand.
KFPL - KFPL started with the inspiration of the “Clean Ganga project”, wherein we tried to prevent the dumping of temple flowers into the Ganga River. During that project, we observed a thick fibrous mat growing on an unused pile of flowers which was formed by the vegetative stage of mushroom - mycelia, that holds and binds the material together. We decided to use this property and convert them into sheets.
What aspects of the product that you introduce would excite the curiosity of the customers?
Zargun ES - We would like to introduce segregation with the potential monetary value display for the separated waste. This will lead to impact which can be best stated - Sensitization to the prospect of “Waste to Wealth”
Vembi Technologies - Hexis-Antara solution is a unique offering that comprises a braille reader and a platform to convert any content in braille on demand. The responsive nature of the Hexis-Antara solution allows users to read as well as make choices to create their personalized reading experiences.
KFPL - At KFPL, we are committed to innovate products that have a positive impact on the environment as well as the society through products handcrafted by women devoid of toxic chemicals.
What were the most difficult hurdles you experienced so far while building your product?
Zargun ES - As a hard tech-based startup, upfront cost and development costs are high which lowers the threshold for iterations. Another challenge we faced is convincing people of the need for the solution, as they are heavily dependent on manually operated approaches for decades.
Vembi Technologies – We have faced several challenges like handling the lack of awareness and appreciation about the need for assistive technologies while catering to the needs of a price-sensitive market in the Global South for assistive technologies.
KFPL - The biggest challenge we had to face at the early stage was to convince temple authorities to get the offered sacred flower. In this drive, we were required to build a team of like-minded people who were ready to dedicate time to restore the environmental condition.
How has the pandemic affected your social enterprise/plans so far? How do you intend to move forward in the current climate?
Zargun ES - We did face the brunt of the Covid-19 as we had to suddenly move to remote work (WFH) without access to our lab equipment in March 2020. Despite this, we frugally innovative ways to work around the pitfalls by developing systems for verification and were able to roll out our devices in less than a year. Going forward, we will focus on the execution as we have already streamlined WFH, Logistics, and End-user delivery.
Vembi Technologies - The timelines of manufacturing Hexis was impacted negatively due to the inability to import raw materials; our original plan of reaching out to schools in the academic year 2020-21 was also vastly disrupted. However, we utilized this time by improvising on the hardware design, new feature development on Hexis and developing the Antara platform.
KFPL - Since KFPL is dependent on daily courier services for our product sales, our business was heavily affected by COVID-19 when the Government imposed a lockdown. Our business slowly and steadily regained its pace when courier services came into function.
How has YSE benefitted your enterprise?
Zargun ES - The YSE program was our first foray into an international event which was especially useful in providing guidance in business mentoring, impact assessment, networking and storytelling which are crucial skills needed when establishing a social enterprise.
Vembi Technologies - As young social entrepreneurs, YSE Global 2021 has provided us with the necessary exposure we required to confidently present our solutions to experts and peers. The structured approach of learning hands-on and scientific methodologies helped us to assess our current financial condition and subsequently plan our future activities while mitigating the perceived risks.
KFPL - We learned business presentation strategy with a mentor provided by the YSE team. The mentor not only helped us rectify the issues in the presentation but also assisted in refining the narration of our story.
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