The Indus Entrepreneurs

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Since arriving in Bangalore almost four weeks ago, I have attended two events at the offices of The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TiE. The first was three weeks ago, a panel discussion on scaling social enterprises. Neelam, my host, was one of two panelists, speaking about her Mother Earth success story. The other panelist was from Vaatsalya, one of the leaders in affordable healthcare in rural India.

20130705_170452Yesterday evening, I attended another TiE event, a Pitching to Mentor Panel session. It was a closed door session, but a TiE staff member was nice enough to let me linger in the hallways an harass… I mean, chat with… the entrepreneurs before and after their pitch session. I met 6 entrepreneurs working across sectors, in affordable education, solar technology, IT, and mobile market linkage. Two notable enterprises were Lumos, solar powered gear, and ScrapeHere, an innovative eCommerce enterprise that is ostensibly not Pinterest. Good luck to all!

Pondicherry, Auroville, and Unlimited Tamil Nadu

This past weekend, I took the 10-hour train Friday night from Bangalore to Pondicherry, to visit the coastal town with its French colonial past, and also to visit some pioneering social entrepreneurs from Unlimited Tamil Nadu, in the universal alternative-living enclave of Auroville.

20130720_092936Saturday and Sunday I spent touring Pondicherry. I strolled along the Bay of Bengal, examined geologic specimens from all 28 Indian states at the Pondicherry Museum, soaked in the sights and

20130721_094053_Richtone(HDR) sounds at the Grand Bazaar, and hung out in the evenings on the guest house terrace with a raucous group of retirees from Bretagne in France. On Saturday I also went to Auroville for the first time and visited the Matrimandar, the gleaming spherical center of the


Aurovillian utopia. I was pleasantly surprised to speak more French than English, with the combination of my Parisian-couple-run guest house, and majority-French volunteer cohort at Unlimited.

Monday and Tuesday I spent in Auroville with

20130720_151413_Richtone(HDR)the Unlimited Tamil Nadu team, and several of their entrepreneurs. In Auroville, I also visited a spirulina farm (and brought home some tasty spirulina balls!), organic farm attended by an international bunch of tanned WOOFers, the 20130722_113015Center for Scientific Research and the Earth Institute (which promotes natural and appropriate building materials and clean energy). I zipped around Auroville on a combination of scooters, motorcycles, and auto rickshaws, and also slugged a bit on foot for a few long hours. Tuesday evening was spent at the home of Gijs, the Unltd TN founder. Gijs made a wonderful soup of Aurovillian vegetables and sliced Auroville bread while the Dutch girls and I 20130722_135841spent a good 45 minutes grating a massive beet for the salad, and chatting about their farming experience in the universal city. With our hands died perfectly magenta, we ate happily and discussed the Unltd business plan with several of the French volunteers.


The Unlimited Tamil Nadu incubatees were a diverse group of

entrepreneurs, tackling social challenges from public health to sustainable food chains, and


from waste reduction to market linkages for garmentproducer groups. One notable entrepreneur I met was Jessamijn, of EcoFemme. We chatted for a half an hour in her small, colorful Auroville office about the washable sanitary napkins she was producing with SHGs in rural villages. While EcoFemme is sold to


mostly online and export markets in the US and Europe currently, the pads are produced in rural India. She has a team doing some research in villages, and may start sales aimed at Indian markets in the near future.


Jaaganauts & Human Centered Design

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 12.47.07 PMAlong with another FMScout, Hannah, and my host’s son, we have formed a group to complete the IDEO Human Centered Design course. Week one was full of insights, as we were tasked to designScreen Shot 2013-07-26 at 12.46.53 PM safer, more pleasant commutes for our teammates. Our team, the Jagganauts, met at a trendy co-working space, Jaaga, in the center Bangalore to begin the journey. Jaaga’s open 

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architecture, low cost membership, and hip café (serving the best lemon tea of my life) made it my new favorite co-working space. I look forward to continuing the course with the group in the weeks ahead.

Idiom & Spring Health

20130702_184727_Richtone(HDR)Harnessing the power of design and design thinking in crafting business models and scaling social enterprises is foundation of Impact Edge, the incubator/accelerator program being launched by my host and summer boss, Jacob. Jacob founded Idiom Design, the premier design and consulting firm in India, which works with diverse clients across sectors. Some notable projects include business schools in Bangalore, the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and some of the largest Indian retail outlets such as Big Bazaar and Hometown. We visited Idiom for a Spring Health meeting early in July.

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As a serial entrepreneur, another one of Jacob’s ventures along with visionary Paul Polak, is Spring Health, a clean drinking water distribution company, revolutionizing the way BoP customers and entrepreneurs are engaged in rural Orissa.  They work in around 50 villages currently, with the ultimate goal of providing safe, affordable drinking water to 2 million customers in 10,000 villages.

Industree Crafts & Mother Earth

20130702_174708_Richtone(HDR)My host, Neelam Chibber, is the founder and director of Industree Crafts, and its retail brand, Mother Earth. Industree Crafts organizes and trains groups of artisans into producer SHGs (or Self Help Groups). Traditionally, SHGs across India bring women together for group saving, banking, and lending purposes. Industree Crafts recognizes the enormous value of these SHGs, as members are typically responsible, proactive, motivated, and community-oriented. What Industree does is set up its own SHGs for the purpose of producing Industree-designed artisanal products and handicrafts, using primarily natural fibers. These products arethen sold via the retail brand Mother Earth at their boutiques in Bangalore, Mysore, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and to various export channels (like Ikea and TJ Maxx). 20130702_174455_Richtone(HDR)

Industree Crafts is a hybrid social enterprise. Two channels support the development and training for the producer groups: the for-profit retail arm Mother Earth creates a reliable supply chain and order flow; and the non-profit Industree Crafts Foundation, which uses grant dollars to further support training and setting up of producer SHGs.

When I first arrived in Bangalore, I toured the main office of Mother Earth, met some of the women producers who were completing a training in tailoring, and felt the buzz of energy and designers whisked beautiful ‘tops’ and natural fibers table settings around the office.


I had the opportunity to visit two of the producer SHGs in Bangalore last on Wednesday July 17th with Neelam, and met around 25 women between the ages of 18 and 70 who were part of the groups. They were hard at work in their workshops in the city periphery, using natural fibers like sital pati  and textiles designed by Neelam and her team to craft home décor goods for the Mother Earth stores. Neelam’s role that morning was to emphasize the importance of electing a woman group member as a team leader. Many of the SHGs have men leaders who are not members of the group, because the

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 11.43.17 AMleader role includes going to markets, bartering with producers, and organizing production flows. Some of these duties conflict with traditional roles of women in certain societies, but roles continue to be transformed and women are taking on more responsibility within the groups.

HUBbub on the Journey to Bangalore

On the way to Bangalore, I stopped in Dubai for a quick 20 hours. This diversion was beneficial for two reasons: it shaved about a thousand dollars off my fare, and it also gave me the opportunity to meet with a HUB Dubai co-founder, Habib, over a sweet tea at the Shakespeare Café, and check out their new space which will be built out, occupied, and abuzz with energy come September.

20130630_105938My interest in these co-working spaces comes from my personal curiosities about shared space, third places, and built environment planning. But it also came from my new Bangalore boss/host, Jacob, who had mentioned his interest in launching or being part of a co-working space in Bangalore.Having toured the gorgeous HUB Seattle prior to my trip, I was excited to see the model in its Emirati form.

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In the air-conditioned café before my 1pm flight, Habib told me that the HUB Dubai already has around 20 pre-opening members, and members and partners have been active participants in the Dubai’s annual Social Entrepreneurship Week. He explained one member’s start-up which transforms humidity from the airinto purified drinking water (and somewhat affordably!).


Habib also explained that social enterprise is a tricky subject in the UAE, noting that the word social almost always implies government, and the thwarting of entrepreneurial endeavors. Although he has a strong cohort of partners and members lined up, Habib said another challenge will be working with Dubai’s transient population of residents – 80% of Dubai’s population are ex pats in flux! 

20130630_110146The HUB Dubai’s beautiful space is located in the Souk al Bahar. In the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building on earth, the Souk is an overtly luxurious commercial and business plaza, that retains some of the charm of the Arab world in its design. Habib 


excitedly showed me around the space, and pointed out the grassy patios opening out from the office that will be perfect for evening get togethers. I hope to be back soon, and wish Habib and the HUB Dubai team a stellar September launch.