Kavita Rajagopalan | September 25, 2014

An imperfect recipe: What Villgro looks for in new companies

Every day, the incubation team at Villgro is reading applications from entrepreneurs who are eager to set up businesses that will impact the poor in India. At business plan competitions and through our partners, we are constantly introduced to and interact with social enterprises at various stages of their evolution from an idea into a sustainable, saleable model.

So, here’s a sneak peek into what we look for in social enterprises that we incubate.

Have you identified a critical problem?
Often we encounter budding social entrepreneurs who haven’t spent enough time on the ground before they develop a solution. Two of the most frequently asked questions at the Villgro office are how much time have you spent understanding the problem you are trying to solve and more importantly, is this even a real problem for your customer? As an entrepreneur it is critical that you have enough information to be able to answer these questions. The only way you can do this convincingly is if you have spent enough time on the ground really talking to a variety of stakeholders. Nothing beats time spent on the ground, so go out there, immerse yourself in the context in which you want to work and be open to learning along the way.

Nothing beats time spent on the ground, so immerse yourself

Is your solution innovative?
Before you come to us, ask yourself what is the customer’s pain point that you are solving? More importantly, if you weren’t in the market, how are people generally dealing with the problems you are solving? This is really where your innovation comes in – whether you are innovating on the product, service or business model, there needs to be something that differentiates you from everyone else, and this is what we are looking for.

How are you equipped to do this?
Whether you are a single entrepreneur working on building a social enterprise or a team that has come together to create a social enterprise, we want to know more about you. What makes you best equipped to do this work? What knowledge or skills have you developed along the way that will help you do this work better and more efficiently? What motivates you – why is building a social enterprise really important to you? Help us understand some of these things, because we know that no matter how good the idea or deep the problem, without a strong entrepreneur or team, the enterprise won’t even get off the ground.

Finally, is impact at the centre of your work?
No matter what solution you are developing, we will only work with entrepreneurs and enterprises that are driven by a commitment to alleviating some of the pains and struggles of the poor in India. You can do this in a variety of ways: by creating low-cost medical devices that make healthcare more affordable for the poor; by delivering educational services to rural poor in innovative ways; by providing energy solutions; by selling agricultural equipment to businesses that will then improve monthly incomes for farmers. You can sell directly to your beneficiaries and have direct impact, or you can deliver your product or service to organizations that will then benefit the poor. It doesn’t matter how you do it, what matters is that your enterprise is significantly impacting the lives of the poor in a sustainable manner.

There is no perfect and guaranteed recipe for a successful social enterprise. We know that. This is why we will read every application, talk to as many of you as we can so that we can support more and more innovative enterprises. But it is important that you understand better the work that Villgro does, so that you can receive the best possible support from us. So go on, read our website for more information, provide us with as much information as you can, and help us believe that your idea is worth supporting.

Good luck! We hope to hear from some of you soon.