Archives for category: Entrepreneurship

The Acara Challenge 2011 results are out! Four teams of student social entrepreneurs have been chosen to receive Acara scholarships of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute in India to advance their business: TextRA, Sewasan, Swach and Ankur Initiative.

Over the last semester, as part of the Acara Challenge 2011, 21 teams involving about 175 students from 12 participating universities in the U.S., India and Mexico worked to develop business ideas to tackle global challenges of food and water security. For this they received a lot of support from their professors, industry mentors and international university partners. Of these 21 teams, eight were chosen to present at the Acara Challenge Finals this Monday, May 16, 2011 at the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota.

At the Acara Challenge Finals, these eight teams pitched their business idea to a panel of judges composed of domain experts, investors, and business and nonprofit leaders. The judges then selected the teams to receive the Acara scholarships. While all eight teams have great ideas and potential to have a large impact, four teams were selected to receive a grant of $5,000 and tuition for the Acara Summer Institute, a business accelerator to be held in June-July 2011 in Bangalore, India.

Here is a summary of the four teams:


A partnership of the University of Minnesota and TERI, this team has developed TextRA, a network that will instantly deliver key information on food and water availability at various locations to the hands of malnourished and resource-deprived individuals, saving them precious time and energy.

Sewasan, another UMN-TERI team, is a community-directed cooperative that will create and maintain toilet facilities in urban slums and charge residents to use them, either on a pay-per-use basis or through a monthly subscription fee. The presence of these facilities will decrease the spread of food- and water-borne illnesses, increase quality of life, and provide employment opportunities for local residents.

Students at Cornell and the K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management in Mumbai created Swach to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the midday meal audit process in schools. Swach would provide testing kits and the communication infrastructure to test for food quality issues and report them to authorities, allowing time-strapped government auditors to focus where they are most needed.

The Ankur Initiative
The Ankur Initiative, a collaborative effort between students at Duke and the India Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, aims to combat water stress in parts of rural India by selling affordable polytunnels – lightweight plastic miniature greenhouses – to subsistence farmers in order to reduce water loss and increase crop yields.

We wish the teams success with their ventures. To read more about the program and all the student plans, check out Acara’s website.

Stay tuned for more about these teams’ progress at the Summer Institute and beyond!

Last week, I attended ‘Unconvention‘, a conference by Villgro, a rural business incubator based in Chennai. The conference saw entrepreneurs, investors and incubation firms coming together to discuss key strategies to start businesses and raise investments in the BoP space. With participation from representatives from Acumen Fund, NSTEDB, Ashoka, Aavishkar, Monitor’s Inclusive Markets Division, IFMR, and various successful entrepreneurs, the discussions were pretty interesting.

The conference began with a panel discussion on the future of social entrepreneurship. Discussions on innovation and impact investing followed. On one hand,Joe Madiath from GramVikas spoke about markets not being the panacea of all evils, on the other hand Ashish from Monitor spoke about the importance of scaling up. Joe’s advice for social entrepreneurs: ‘If you have passion in your belly and compassion in your heart, you are in the right place to start a social venture.’ Investor session saw VentureEast and Acumen stressing the importance of unit economics.

Day 1 ended with an award ceremony where the winners of the Wantrapreneur 2010 competition were announced. Grassroutes, one of my favourite social enterprises, won the award in the start-up category and Shradha Sharma, Founder,, won the best journalist award.  The conference ended with ‘My Story Sessions’ by entrepreneurs – Saloni Malhotra from DesiCrew Solutions, Madhabananda Ray from MASUTA Producers Company Ltd., and Svati Boghle from Sustaintech India Pvt. Ltd.

It was exciting to see so many new ventures coming up in the socent space and so many exciting discussions happening around energy, water, agriculture and livelihood. As Acara, I think we can help create a strong eco-system here, given our interactions with students, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and corporations. We can be pipeline partners for early stage investors, innovation partners for companies who want to build new products and services in emerging technology areas, field partners for non-profits who need more hands, and research partners for universities who need more students to focus on innovative methods to solve community challenges. If you are interested in partnering with us, do write to me on