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5 Young Entrepreneurs Who’ve Broken Notions Around What A Successful Startup Looks Like

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India is riding high on a strong wave of entrepreneurship that has captured the imagination of the country’s young generation. Inspired by the success stories of Sachin Bansal’s Flipkart and Ritesh Agarwal’s Oyo Rooms, among many others, the young graduates are shedding their inhibitions and cultivating risk-taking capacities required to establish and nurture a start-up. As a result, over the past few years, several small businesses have emerged. Thriving on uniqueness in their ideas and freshness in their approach, these businesses are providing solutions to fundamental problems like getting a taxi-cab at a reasonable price or securing livelihoods of farmers.

Here’s a list of a few unique startups that are redefining sustainable business in the country:

1. Afforestt

An industrial engineer-turned-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma started Afforestt in 2011 with an aim to create self-sustainable dense forests into urban landscapes in India. Sharma conceived the idea to increase country’s forest coverage while assisting Japanese botanist and ecologist, Akira Miyawaki, to cultivate a forest at the Toyota plant, where he used to work. Starting from scratch in Uttarakhand, Afforestt has successfully created around 118 forests in 40 cities across nine different countries. Around 33 of these 118 forests have been created in India alone.

Afforestt is an end-to-end service provider which looks into multiple aspects of creating a sustainable forest. The company specialises in conducting soil survey, managing labours, on-site consulting, project extensions, and various other elements required to execute Miyawaki’s afforestation method. Sharma now plans to launch a monitored crowdsourced software to encourage people to feed their native plantation species in the tool.

2. Vat Vrikshya

Vikash Das left his highly successful career with IBM to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship amongst tribal women, who never have been able to harness their talent. In 2014, he laid the foundation of Vat Vrikshya, a grassroots initiative aimed at creating alternative means of earning for tribal communities. Starting under a Banyan Tree with only one woman, in four years Vat Vrikshya has grown workforce to 2500 women artisans and has boosted their business by 350%.
With a team of 72 passionate social workers, Vat Vrikshya has provided business training to almost 18,000 tribal women and helped them to lead a dignified life as breadwinners of the family. Apart from providing business training, Vat Vrikshya is actively involved in need assessments, market linkages, and awareness generation towards government schemes. Besides turning tribal women into entrepreneurs, the organisation has also been successful in bringing positive behavioural changes in the community. According to Das, school dropout rate has come down to 32% from 95%, and linkage with the banking system has pulled women out of financial vulnerabilities associated with local moneylenders. Vat Vrikshya now plans to expand to the Andhra Pradesh and northeast.

3. Binbag

India is struggling to manage its three million tonnes of e-waste generated every year. Most of the recycling happens in informal sector posing several environmental hazards and life-risks to the labours involved in the process. Releasing this challenge and seeing it is an opportunity to fill the gap, Achitra Borgohain, a former employee of IL&FS, launched an e-waste startup BinBag in 2015. Bengaluru-based BinBag uses technology to bridge the demand and supply gap between waste generators and the processors.
Within 18 months of its existence, BinBag serviced over 3,000 customers. The company focuses on large corporates, Small- to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), and households. Thereby, targeting maximum of the e-waste generated in Bengaluru, the IT hub of the country. The company has already created a lot of buzz in the city and is reaping benefits in terms of increased client base and revenues. The company posted around Rs. 1.15 crore in the previous fiscal and is confident to double its revenues in this fiscal year. Furthermore, the company plans to boost its business by launching an App. According to Borgohain, the App will enable the users to upload the details and photos of e-waste, which in turn will help the company to quickly and properly pick up the waste.

4. MyCrop

Traditionally, the country has been an agrarian society, and in spite of the boom of the service sector post-liberalisation, agriculture continues to employ around 50% of India’s workforce. However, the heavy dependence on the climatic conditions has made farming unsustainable. The loss of groundwater, uncertain rains, and poor market support has seen people abandoning the sector. To increase the viability of farming, an engineer-turned-entrepreneur Deepak Pareek launched MyCrop Technologies in 2017. Gujarat-based MyCrop uses Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Blockchain, and Cloud computing to provide a comprehensive plan, from sowing to harvest, to increase the farm productivity.

The company employs around 35 Farm Mitras, who collect the essential data about crop cultivation. The collected data then is used to advise farmers what to grow and when. The company is currently providing services in 32 villages across the country and plans to generate over $20,000 revenues in the current fiscal. The company claims that in its first season it helped in increasing the productivity by 30%.

5. Innov8

The rise of start-ups and work-from-home culture has led to the phenomenal growth of coworking spaces in the country, especially in Tier 1 cities. The skyrocketing prices of commercial spaces have discouraged many companies from investing heavily in the physical office space. As a result, there has been an increased demand for coworking spaces. This is why Ritesh Malik who was studying medical decided to launch Innov8 in 2015. Tapping onto to the rising market of coworking spaces, Malik’s Innov8 rose sharply from just one centre at New Delhi’s Connaught Place (CP) in 2015 to nine bustling centres spread across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chandigarh in 2018.

The company has over 190 companies onboard and boasts of around 95% occupancy rate. The company has developed an active community of over 4,000 members and is planning to acquire 15,000 members by 2019.

Shubhendu Sharma and Ritesh Malik will talk about entrepreneurship at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit which will be held on September 1 and 2. While Malik will share the multi-million story of Innov8, Sharma will tell us how to grow a forest at the cost of an iPhone. To attend, apply here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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