Today, when we talk about innovation, there is an assumption that it mostly happens in larger cities. But it is important to acknowledge the fact that entrepreneurs from Tier II and III cities are giving their metro peers a run for their money by focusing on solving real problems faced by the masses.
Starting up from a rural setting might seem more difficult than venturing into the space from a metro. However, the non-metro entrepreneurs’ drive to innovate seems to combat all the challenges.
Take the story of 23-year-old Anil Pradhan. Despite studying in an English medium school, Anil was denied admission in a school in Bhopal due to his average English-speaking skills. Hence, Anil went back to his village in Odisha to solve this problem for other children. He started an innovation school called International Public School for Rural Innovation in Baral. The school not only focuses on skill development and STEM education, but is also focusing on languages including English, Odia, and Hindi.
And this is what makes rural innovators stand out, opines Viiveck Verma, Co-organiser of TEDxHyderabad.
“Rural innovators are solving real-life problems affecting the masses,” he adds.
In an interaction with YourStory, Viiveck explains how he is using TEDx’s framework to know what is happening in the global ecosystem, and using those ideas to solve local problems.
An angel investor, mentor to startups, and an ICF (International Coaching Federation) certified Coach, Viiveck as been associated with TEDxHyderabad since 2014.
“TEDx is more like a passion to bring in ideas and help develop an ecosystem to make a difference in the city,” he says.
Currently working as the Chief Strategy Officer and Head of Retail at Srinivasa Farms in Hyderabad, Viiveck dons many hats being a part of the startup ecosystem.
He is also a board member of Hyderabad Angels, an investor with 50K Ventures and Lead Angels, Founding Member of IIIT Seed Fund, mentors startups, and organises TEDxHyderabad.
“My investment is usually in two forms – financial and time. I am also a board member of a few startups but only for mentoring them,” he says.
According to Viiveck, the founder’s vision and the problem they are trying to solve is the most important factor before making any investment.
“I do not invest in a single-founder company. It personally comes across as an inability to get along with other people,” Viiveck says.
The second critical point to determine investment is the vision and the size of the vision.
“Although I am not sector-agnostic, I essentially prefer some element of tech,” he says.
Viiveck has so far invested in startups including BookMyBai, SparesHub, and KidEngage. “BookMyBai has a rural connect. They have set up centres in rural areas from where they bring in these people and help generate employment,” he adds.
Urban vs rural innovators
According to Viiveck, rural innovations are focusing on real, ground level, and basic problems in life.
“In case of urban innovation, it is largely around innovation – how do I develop a new platform for healthy living? Or a wearable device? Most of them are aggregators bringing products to your home,” Viiveck says.
In fact, as a mentor and investor, he feels the requirements of rural entrepreneurs are significantly low – both in terms of funding and mentoring.
“Aspirational requirements of rural entrepreneurs are phenomenally high. Urbanites are spoilt for choice,” he adds.
The Hyderabad picture
Interestingly, Hyderabad’s rural startups are focusing mostly around improving the ecology around them.
“Crop prediction using drone technology and artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly getting popular,” he says.
Despite the drive, rural entrepreneurs have to overcome their own set of challenges. Viiveck highlights that lack of funding awareness is the major problem.
“A lot of them do not understand the equity funding models well. Typically, they are operating from rural markets where debt is the best way of financing,” he says. Viiveck also adds that most investors are not looking at that model.
Secondly, it is the language challenge. A lot of them struggle with English, and that is a barrier to overcome if they want to reach beyond the Telugu speaking states (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). However, unlike urban areas, problems like lack of manpower do not exist in rural Hyderabad.
“We are blessed with a lot of engineers. Also, a lot of founders don’t just look for IIT or IIM graduates. They look for talent,” Viiveck says.
Platform to showcase ideas
Viiveck is also the General Secretary of SAHE (Society for Advancement of Human Endeavour). “Through SAHE, we pick ideas and try to implement and execute them in real life,” he says.
At TEDxHyderabad, the organisers get entrepreneurs and innovators from the rural parts of Hyderabad to let them showcase their innovation.
“We either bring them for the talks or allow them to showcase their innovation in the experience zone where our 3,000 attendees, usually the who’s who of the city, get to experience their invention,” Viiveck says.
Viiveck says Uber Pool, Reliance biometrics sim-card, and one of the robots by Infosys was launched at one of the TEDxHyderbad’s events.
SAHE is also responsible for launching initiatives like the Live of Lakes – The Kudikunta Restoration, Mitti – back to roots for zero farmer suicide, Universal Basic Income – a solution to inequality of income in India and encouraging rural Innovators reach the urban areas.
In fact, Padma Shri awardee Chintakindi Mallesham is also a TEDxHyderabad speaker. A traditional weaver, Mallesham has designed a mechanised version of the Asu (pre-loom activity).
In the near future, Viiveck wishes to take TEDxHyderabad beyond just from being an event to creating sustainable long-term impact, mostly through collaboration with community. He also plans to make SAHE replicable and sustainable models for social work. They also want to create projects whose impact can be measured.
“If a single credible person is supported in tough times, he can mentor hundreds like him in the future,” says Viiveck.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)