Entrepreneurs share insights on building Social Startups – The Social Enterprise Summit Bangalore


We’ve all heard about Grameen Bank, d.light and Warby Parker, few of the well known enterprises that are addressing important social needs with an approach that has the potential to be efficient, effective and financially sustainable. A social enterprise is an organization or an initiative that aims to tackle social problems, improve communities, and address pressing environmental issues with innovative ideas. The rise of “impact investing” and “conscious consumerism” is reflective of social enterprise’s development as a field, as are the growing number of social entrepreneurs and government initiatives.

What does it take to build a social enterprise? In what way are social enterprises different from other businesses?What traits do investors look for while investing in a social enterprise?Headstart collaborated with Villgro to organize the Social Enterprise Summit in Bangalore on 21st Nov 2015, to answer these and many other questions related to the social enterprise space. It was an all-day event converging multiple initiatives of Headstart and Villgro.

The day began with the Socent edition of Startup Saturday Bangalore, hosted at the Riviera Cafeteria in IBM, Embassy Golf Links Business Park. The summit also had the below events  happening simultaneously at the other venues inside the IBM campus.

Unconvention|L Pitch- A competition providing budding entrepreneurs with an opportunity to present their idea for a for-profit business with social impact, to a panel of experts comprising Villgro mentors, successful social entrepreneurs, social incubators and seed investors

Headstart Clubs – Socent Edition

Headstart Co-Founder Search- Socent Special

Reinventing Spaces – A design thinking challenge by Workbench Projects for social enterprises

Startup Saturday Bangalore- Socent Edition



After an introductory talk by Sandeep from Headstart and Ullas Marar from Villgro, and a brief introduction of the audience that included a mix of aspiring entrepreneurs, startup owners, engineers and students, the Startup Saturday event proceeded to the first session of the day.

Sanjay Anandaram, Entrepreneur, Investor, and Advisor at iSpirt spoke about “The Need to be Entrepreneurial”. “For social enterprises, the main reason for existing is to create social impact, while using the profits to achieve that goal. Otherwise, a social enterprise runs by the same rules as a commercial enterprise,” he said clarifying the meaning of social businesses.


 Here are some of the valuable insights from his talk:

  • Have a specific purpose for your social enterprise and a vision and goal to reach it, otherwise it is easy to get lost in the higher order of things

  • Get people who share the same vision and are willing to make sacrifices in order to reach it.

  • Patience is a needed virtue to run a Social enterprise, as things take longer to materialize

  • Process needs to be prioritized. Enterprise should be independent of an individual

  • Have 100% stake in a 1cr company (or) 1% stake in a 100cr company? Every entrepreneur has to make this choice

  • Understand the problem. Ask yourself – Is there a problem? Are we actually solving the problem?

  • Be as cynical about your product as possible. Keep challenging yourself to make better products


After Sanjay’s insightful talk about social entrepreneurship, Kavitha Nehemiah shared the story of her social startup Artoo. Kavitha spoke about her serendipitous startup journey and how she met her co-founder, Sameer Segal at Ujjivan, a microfinance services company where she worked in 2008. While working at Ujjvan, Sameer discovered a huge gap in data between what goes on in the field with the customers and what the head office knows. He came up with the business idea of a hardware which field agents could use for data entry. Upon presenting the idea to the team at Ujjivan, they were told that their product could be used only if they had a proper company, and that’s how Artoo was born. After the massive microfinance crisis in 2010, which put an end to their plans, Kavitha went on to do her MBA in US, and Sameer worked on some ad-hoc projects. In 2012, after graduating, Kavitha wanted to be an investor. However, she soon realized that she would enjoy the role of being on the field and getting things done more. During a job interview, one of the investors she was talking to asked her if she was interested to work for Artoo, a company which they were trying to fund. Kavitha then re-connected with Sameer and began working on Artoo again. After going through Villgro’s incubation program, and getting a seed investment from them, Artoo went on to get Series A funding from Accion Venture Labs and Rianta Capital’s Artha initiative. Kavitha ended her inspiring talk by stating the importance of having a strong core team, where everyone’s motivated to work towards the shared goal, and deal with the hurdles that are inevitable in the startup journey. As magical as it sounds, her story left the message that if we really want something, we can make it happen, provided we persist long enough.


After a small networking break and with everyone energized from the quick caffeine boost, the event proceeded to the next talk, “The Tight-Rope walk of Socents” by Madan Padaki, Co-founder – Head Held High. “There is nothing called as a social enterprise. Every enterprise needs to be social to sustain,” said Madan. “It’s just more conscious about the social cause and works towards generating more than just economical value.” Madan also stated the importance of having inner balance. He asked the people in the audience to close their eyes for 20 secs, and think about the last 20secs before their death. “What do you think about? What do you feel when you look back at your life?”he asked, inviting people to share their experience with the exercise. The answers ranged from ‘couldn’t spend time with family’ to ‘couldn’t reach my goals’. He pointed out that one does not ask -’‘what about my company’s valuation’, ‘how will i return my investor’s money’ or questions such as these in the last 20 secs of their life. “We worry too much about these insignificant things and make them seem more important than they are. If we are clear about what our objectives, goals and visions are as an organisation, nothing else matters. Metrics, valuations and scale are just part of the journey towards reaching the vision,” Madan ended his talk with the message -’Be true to yourself and be happy and conscious of the current moment’.


Following Madan’s talk was the first panel discussion of the day on the topic “Hiring and Retaining Talent – The Holy Grail for Social Enterprises”. The Panel discussion was moderated by Reema Suryanarayanan, HR Consultant and Villgro mentor and featured speakers: Sameer Segal, Founder & CEO – Artoo; Ganesh Rengaswamy, Co-founder – Quona Capital; Hardika Shah, Founder & CEO – Kinara Capital. Below are a few insights shared by the speakers:

  • On Hiring and retaining talent in a social enterprise

    • Let them experience first hand what make a social enterprise, and how it stands out from other kinds of enterprises.

    • People need to realize that a social enterprise is not just a romantic indulgence. It is real and can be a potential career choice.

    • Just hiring for skill will not sustain. Alignment of values is important and that is what helps in retaining.

  • Experience, Skills, or Entrepreneurial zeal?

    • Preference varies with job role

    • Senior level positions generally requires people with experience in varied sectors

  • On Founder’s syndrome

    • Everyone has some unique value to bring to the table. Being open to thoughts and ideas from people around helps

    • You need to be able to handle criticism and use it as a feedback to learn and improve.

    • The role of a founder evolves as the company grows

  • Retaining culture and relationships as the organization grows

    • Culture need not be same from top to bottom in an organization. It can differ at various levels, but values and vision as a whole need to be same

    • Recruitment plays a big role in deciding the culture of any organization. If the amount of people who don’t fit are more than the ones that are aligned to the culture, then there can be reversal in the culture. So making sure the right fit joins is crucial.


The panel discussion was followed by the lunch, which was sponsored by Kaulige Foods, pioneering to re-introduce Millet as a mainstream food grain by conducting awareness workshops, offering catering services and distributing millets. The break also gave people a chance to check out the startup stalls. Bluebook, Doctor’s Circle, Swachh Map, Wise puppet animations, and Bode Animation being some of the startups that had their stalls at the event venue.

P. R. Ganapathy, President(India) – Villgro was up next with a talk on “The power of Social Entrepreneurship”.  He explained what a social enterprise is, by telling the stories of few social enterprise startups(Desicrew, Sub-k) and the kind of impact they had on various lives. Some of the insights he shared are:

  • Social Enterprises are for-profit companies with the intention to make a social impact.

  • They are mission-driven organizations. If a particular change in the organization dilutes the mission and the values it holds, but is good economically for the business, a social enterprise wouldn’t choose to go with that change, unlike a commercial enterprise.

  • Social enterprises depend on funding for resources, and hence can attract better talent, and can scale larger than a NGO

  • To get good ideas for starting a social enterprise, we should immerse ourselves in the community and try to understand the problems real-time.

This was followed by a session by Rama Kannan, Coach and Mentor at Villgro. Rama started her talk with a quote by Reid Hoffman which states that, “An Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plan on the way down.” She talked about the need of entrepreneurs to don multiple hats and engage in product ideation, business execution, team building, fundraising etc  to successfully run a business. “Since founders can’t know it all, mentors are needed to guide them. A mentor can motivate and support the founder, can help with strategy & execution and can also help in gaining relevant contacts,” Rama explained. “While searching for a mentor, one should look for previous industry experience, functional expertise, general management skills, and business networks,” she added. A mentor can be found via personal networks, social networks like LinkedIn, events like Startup Saturday and good incubator programs like the one offered by Villgro.”

Following Rama’s session was another talk by Madan Padaki about “How changemakers can drive global action against poverty?” Madan gave a quick intro on GAP(Global Action on Poverty), a global platform to alleviate poverty through thought and action. GAP conducts a combination of workshops, cluster discussions and one-to-one interactions, where all participants (mentors, changemakers and catalysts) can unite in enquiry to discover the determinants of lasting change. He played a small teaser video which showed clippings of a previous GAP event. The talk ended with an invite to attend GAP 2016 which will be happening from 20th – 23rd February 2016 at the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.


This was followed by a second panel discussion conducted by the WE initiative of Headstart, which focuses on Women Entrepreneurs. Moderator for the panel was Malini Gowrishankar, Founder of F5 Escapes and WE Initiative Lead @Headstart. Panel speakers consisted of Ihitashri Shandilya, Founder – MithilaSmita and Acumen Fellow; Devi Murthy, Founder – KamalKisan; and Uthara Narayanan, Chief Changemaker – BuzzIndia. The discussion started with Malini introducing all the speakers, and then asking the speakers to shed some light on what they do and how it all happened. Below are some of the insights shared during the discussion:

  • Working in rural areas allows a change of pace. It works as a nice getaway from the humdrum of the city

  • What can encourage more women to be entrepreneurs?

    • Flexibility at work

  • On maintaining work life balance

    • Organize, plan and maintain a symmetry between both

    • Support from family and friends can help one strike the balance

    • It’s all about work & life integration. Just going with the flow. If we do not categorize something as ‘part of work’ and ‘not part of work’, it is all part of life.

  • Advice for women entrepreneurs

    • All answers come from within. Slow down. Spend more time with yourself.


Next up was the last panel discussion of the day on “The Big Funding Decision”. Moderator for this panel was Kavita Rajagopalan, Investment Manager – Villgro. Panel speakers were Mukund BS, Co-Founder – ReNewIT; Anil Misquith, Operating Partner – Samhita Social Ventures; Madan Padaki, Co-Founder – Head Held High; Tahira Dosani, Director – Accion Venture lab. Some of the views shared during the discussion were:

  • Bootstrapping helped us in focusing more on understanding the problem and not just on scaling

  • An investor will be a partner in the company, with a say in what happens. So, we need to think about what other value they can bring to the table other than just money. If they do, then finding out if they would be willing to lend it when needed, is important.

  • Getting funding is a two way process. Entrepreneurs need to like, understand and see value in investors as much as the investors need to see value in the entrepreneurs

  • Start thinking and planning for fund raising long before actually doing it.

  • It is better to not go for funding, when it is not needed. Only go for the raise when the time is right and the enterprise is ready for it.

This was followed by the most awaited part of the event – the announcement of the winner of the Unconvention|L Pitch. All of the six finalists – Savitha Sridharan(Orora Global), Nitesh Kumar(Peco Labs), Dr Sai Siva Gorthi(IISc), Manas Nanda(Harvest Wild), Sankalp Jain(Swasti Health Resource Centre), and Sukant Kar( Brain-Work Knowledge Group) gathered on the dais and pitched their ideas in a few lines. Sankalp Jain from Swasti Health Resource Centre was announced as the winner of the Unconvention|L Pitch 2015-16 Bangalore. His pitch was about a point of care technology (www.i-calQ.com) that uses smartphone, lens attachment, and an inexpensive single-use test strip to measure the level of hormone TSH in the body and help diagnose hypothyroidism. He won Rs. 1.5 lakh cash prize and a chance to be incubated by Villgro and receive Rs 65 lakh funding, hands-on mentoring, talent support and access to investor networks.


The Startup Saturday event ended with a networking session, giving all attendees an opportunity to interact with each other, and relish some mouth-watering snacks sponsored by Indy Hop.

Headstart Clubs – Socent Edition

The Headstart Clubs initiative, an invite only meet-up where experienced entrepreneurs and domain experts mentor and guide 4-5 select startups in a focused, closed door mentoring session, hosted 3 clubs sessions in the Socent edition. The sessions allowed social entrepreneurs to gain insights on customer acquisition, and get general mentoring on areas such as targeting the right audience, hiring, approaching investors, funding, and product building. One important takeaway which was shared by one of the mentors at the session was: ‘Entrepreneurs must completely immerse themselves in the problem and the ecosystem around the problem which they are trying to solve.”

A special thanks to our mentors: KC Bhushan, Senior Adviser at Villgro; KL Mukesh , Senior Adviser at Villgro and Karthik Padmanabhan, Executive at IBM, Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, who offered their valuable time and shared their words of wisdom to mentor the next wave of change-makers.

Headstart Cofounder Search – Socent Special

Headstart’s Co-founder Search initiative – Socent Special was organized for the early stage startups in the social enterprise space. The event had on-spot registration and was attended by 30 people. The founders of the participating startups gave brief introduction about themselves, the stage of their startups and information about the co-founder requirement. The co-founders interested to join the startups also gave brief introduction about their professional experience and their interests. This was followed by an inspiring talk by Amit Singh, Co-founder – Wow Labz and Headstart Network Foundation, on the entrepreneurial journey and co-founder relationship. The event ended with a speed dating session where each of the founders met the prospective co-founders to evaluate their interest. The startups found this to be an effective platform to find co-founders, and plan to take forward the discussions they had with the co-founders they connected with.

On the whole the Social Enterprise Summit was a huge success. A big thank you to the spirited audience who attended and participated actively in the event; and to our event partners: Villgro, IBM Bluemix, Wow Labz, Workbench Projects, Samhita Social Ventures, iSpirt, TLabs, Ashoka, UnLtd India, Wadhwani Foundation, NEN and Yourstory, amongst others, for their generous support and contribution.

About Headstart Bangalore:

Established in the year 2008 with the vision to ‘Change the World through Entrepreneurship’, Headstart Network Foundation (headstart.in) is the largest network of early stage startups in India. A non-profit, volunteer-driven organization, HeadStart Bangalore facilitates entrepreneurial learning, hiring and peer mentoring amongst the startups and addresses their issues through various initiatives such as: Startup Saturday Bangalore, Headstart Clubs, Headstart Higher, Headstart Cofounder Search Program and Headstart Inturn.

Want to volunteer for the Headstart Content team? You can email us with your interest at swati.ramnath[at]headstart.in

Written by Monica Movva; Edited by Swati Ramnath

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