The zeal with which startups look to disrupt markets and turn into unicorns is well known. But there's another band of startups who aim to change the world in a different way, at times taking the help of disruptive technologies. Social entrepreneurs do not look at solving a consumer pain point and maximising the profit, but aim to alter lives irreversibly, by helping the underprivileged learn a life skill or assisting the differently-abled find a soul mate. As Techcircle Startup 2016 kicks off in Bangalore on Thursday, we look at four social ventures which are trying to make a difference.
A road less travelled
Vandana Suri hit upon the idea of having an all-women cab service in 2014, after the Uber rape case in Delhi. "In the media coverage of the incident, the victim said that it could have been avoided if there had been a woman driver," says Suri. This led to the genesis of TaxShe Services Pvt Ltd.
The idea had its naysayers who said very few women would opt for such an unconventional career, and the brave ones who dared to get behind the wheel would be intimidated by male drivers. But today, TaxShe has 25 women drivers on board and plans to add 35-40 more in the next 12 months. While most of the women drivers come from distressed households with low levels of education, many middle-class women, especially college students, are also veering around to the idea of becoming a cab driver and earning some extra money.
These drivers, called Roos (short for kangaroo, an animal known for its protective attitude towards its young), earn around Rs 20,000 a month. Many of the Roos have also progressed to become professional trainers themselves. These trainers help women who may find it difficult to drive at night or drive on a highway. The startup is now launching TaxShe Huddle, a cab-pooling service for school children and working women in Bangalore.
As of now, Suri's five cars make up the TaxShe fleet, but she is looking at angel investments to help her expand operations.
An equal opportunity for love Inclov claims to be the world's first matchmaking app for people with disabilities. The startup, founded by Kalyani Khona and Shankar Srinivasan, claims to have 2500 users, with 350 matches made since its inception three months back. "Two Inclov couples are also getting married in May this year, and they had met within 10 days of using the app," says Khona, co-founder, Inclov.
The Inclov app has several aids integrated into it to make it accessible to the differently-abled. It features textual descriptions of images and talkback for the visually challenged, video call feature to facilitate sign language, customised screens for those with limited mobility, and are experimenting with ways to help those with cerebral palsy.
"Inclov started as a boutique matchmaking agency called Wanted Umbrella, but we had to make it an algorithm-based venture as the demand was so high," she says. The app is targeting a market of 600 million people globally, who would be willing to pay a price for these services, according to her.
Inclov Technologies Pvt Ltd, which runs the app, plans to launch a premium version next year. It had previously raised funds through crowd-funding platform Wishberry. Khona has also been selected for the Rajeev Circle Fellowship, launched by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Asha Jadeja Motwani, and will be travelling to Silicon Valley next month to explore opportunities for her startup.
A nudge in the right direction
When Atul Satija started The/Nudge Foundation in July 2015, the aim was to pull people out of poverty by making them employable. Thus started the first of the Gurukuls, a residential school for underprivileged men and women where they are taught livelihood skills, life skills and also to read and write.
Today, it has two Gurukuls running in Bangalore, one for men and another for women, where it offers a four-month training programme aptly called Programme in Life Management (PLM), with plans to open three more Gurukuls in the next three to four months.
Satija's long term aim: To get one million people out of poverty.
The former InMobi chief revenue officer's work has caught the attention of investors. Former Infosys co-founder and UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani gave it $200,000 as seed fund. Subsequently it raised funds from Great Wall Club, InMobi and Paytm. Satija, himself, has put in $200,000.
The funds have been mainly utilised for running the Gurukuls, says Saurabh Adeeb, head of operations and partnerships, The/Nudge Foundation.
The foundation has also got several reputed names on its board of advisors: Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder, TeamLease Services; Kiran Karnik, former president, Nasscom; Arun Seth, former chairman, BT and Alcatel-Lucent; Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder, Paytm; Dr Devi Shetty, chairman, Narayana Health; Naveen Tewari, founder, InMobi; among others.
As The/Nudge attempts to make its students financially independent, it has itself adopted a sustainable model.
The programme expenses are partly supported by an educational loan that its students repay and partly by the funds generated through CSR partners, foundations and individual grants. "We also intend to build a franchisee model that can allow us to scale, so that other non-profits can join the movement and multiply the impact together," says Adeeb.
Lighting up rural lives For rural artisans looking to sell handicrafts, handloom products and ethnic food items to a wider customer base, Lal10.com has been a beacon of hope. Founded by Maneet Gohil and Sanchit Govil in July 2015, the startup helps more than 1800 artisans from 20 states get not just the right price for their products, but also consumer insights and design inputs. It then reaches out to consumers via the wholesale and retail platforms under its own brand.
Lal10.com, run by Bhagwan Dass Retail Pvt. Ltd, has three concurrent business models â€“- a business-to-consumer model where it directly sells goods sourced from artisans to its customers through its e-commerce website, a business-to-business platform where it sells products in bulk to retailers and corporates and also a customer-to-customer platform where Indian housewives settled abroad can generate income by selling their products in their local communities.
"Technology can weed out the problems that traditional artisans encounter in marketing their products," says Gohil. "We want to eradicate the role of the middleman and provide value to artisans by connecting them to designers as well as customers with the help of technology."
Lal10 claims to be clocking an average gross merchandise value of Rs 2.4 lakh per month from online as well as offline sales. It now plans to target overseas customers for the products on its platform. Bootstrapped as of now, it aims to raise seed investment to fund its expansion plans. As Gohil says, Lal10's ultimate aim is to create rural entrepreneurs across the country.