Why are you excited about the social enterprise space?
By combining profit and social impact, the social enterprise sector allows professionally run organizations to take up some of the most complex challenges that society faces. Unlike non-profits, these organisations are able to bring in efficiency, scale, customer satisfaction and ongoing support to their solutions.
What is your background?
I am an electronics engineer by training. I spent 14 years in the IT/Tech sector and, later, six years with a social enterprise in the renewable energy sector. I had an opportunity to study in Oxford University as part of a mid-career Fellowship offered by the British government in collaboration with Rolls Royce. Soon after my return, I became a senior advisor at Villgro.
What has been the biggest learning in your career that you would pass on to budding entrepreneurs?
I believe that however good your idea is, it has to be backed up by excellent execution. Attention to detail is, in my view, one of the most critical factors for success.
What is your forecast for this sector and for entrepreneurs?
I believe that the social enterprise sector is in a very exciting phase. There is plenty of support available for social entrepreneurs with good ideas and a passion to implement them. This could be in the form of grants (through competitions and challenges), funding on amenable terms (through impact investors), facilities and mentoring (through incubators) and policy backing (through conducive government schemes). This is a good time to take the leap and move forward with your ideas.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
This is a sector where motivation and fulfillment are built into the job description. But never ignore the practicalities of life – like being able to take care of yourself and your near and dear ones. Ensure that you are financially stable before plunging into social entrepreneurship and/or make sure your business plan and fundraising has sufficient provision for your own well-being. Make sure to carve out enough time for family and leisure, no matter how driven and passionate you are about your work. Remember, you are running a marathon, no point getting burnt out after a short sprint.
Why do you like being a mentor?
When I analysed my strengths, I listed out the top three as: good judgement on technical and operational fronts, ability to build a comfort level with others and good communication. This led me to conclude that I would add value to budding entrepreneurs by sharing my experience in a way that they could relate to. In my stint as Senior Advisor with Villgro, I have really enjoyed working with the committed social entrepreneurs in the portfolio. I have to confess that I have learnt much more from them, than they from me!
Do you have a story or an example of mentoring that you can share?
Mentoring is not just about giving advice. It is important to walk in the shoes of the entrepreneur that you are working with. Try and understand their day-to-day tasks, issues, challenges – your advice will take on a new direction and dimension.
For example, I made it a point to stand in the stall of one of my mentees during a major trade show, and become their sales person for a day. This gave me a huge insight about what their potential customers wanted, and how the product features, messaging and price point could be tweaked.
Also watch this video with Ananth