On July 20 and 21, 2017, Samhita in partnership with the U.S. Consul General Chennai and the Global India Fund, organised a TechCamp in Chennai, titled ‘Tech Tools for Startups’, for upcoming enterprises facing economical, technological and institutional impediments with the aim of empowering them through technology integration. This was the fourth TechCamp in India being implemented by Samhita; the previous events were held in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai over the past years. A cohort of over 57 social entrepreneurs from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives and 10 technology experts attended the event at Grand by GRT, Chennai.
Social entrepreneurship offers a promising pathway to earn a living, provide value to consumers and address socio-economic problems through innovative, market-driven and sustainable solutions. However, social entrepreneurs in many developing nations face numerous challenges to succeed, of which the lack of access to technological tools and the knowledge gap to use them effectively is extremely debilitating. Realising this tech crunch, the U.S. State department initiated the TechCamp platform that organises events across the world in partnership with local implementation agencies, to equip social organisations with the technology to grow and thrive.
The event provided entrepreneurs with the necessary skills and tools to improve their digital literacy, communication capacity and to realise the full potential of social media and online resources to launch and scale their businesses. In addition to technological mentorship, the participants were provided with an opportunity to formulate solutions for their on-ground problems under the guidance of the experts.
Ms. Alexis S. Wolff, Acting Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate, Chennai, welcomed the participants and experts while acknowledging the tremendous learning opportunity created by this platform.
Over the course of the day, the participants shuttled from one session to another, having intensive discussions on subjects relevant to their causes and needs. The sessions were a combination of capacity building efforts and conversations, with tech trainers covering diverse topics and demonstrating the use of technology in daily business operations, marketing and fundraising. Mr. Vivek Kumar of Qlicket, shared some insights on how to scale up a business by elucidating his start-up journey whereas Mr. Vijayaraghavan Chariar of Ekam Eco Solutions, focused on building basic entrepreneurship skills required to navigate challenges. Mr. Harish Kotra of Deep Red Ink, Mr. Vishwarath Reddy of Labyrinth and Mr. Sorav Jain of echoVME emphasised the use App/Website development, online customer analysis tools and digital marketing in operations and outreach. Mr. Nishant Pagare of Syncline Films, and Ms. Lanae Spruce of Smithsonian showcased the power of good and well-presented storytelling through their sessions on video techniques for entrepreneurs and digital storytelling through social media. Dr. Suchi Gaur of Project HOPE held a session to help enable the participants curate customised content along a theme for customers and Ms. Srishti Bakshi of CrossBow explained that meaningful partnerships were the foundation of a successful enterprise. Before the commencement of the session, a preliminary exercise termed “Speed Geeking” was conducted where the experts shared their own work and experiences with the participants.The first activity of the event involved ‘challenge tracks’ aimed at introducing the experts to the participants and assimilating the challenges faced by the fledgling entrepreneurs. The tracks were based on topics like ‘Professionalise your Digital Presence’ (Sorav Jain, Vishwarath Reddy, Dr. Suchi Gaur and Lanae Spruce), ‘Launch your Business’ (Vijayaraghavan Chariar, Harish Kotra and Shrinath V) and ‘Scale your Business’ (Vivek Kumar, Nishant Pagare and Srishti Bakshi). The participants selected a challenge track according to their business goals. Participants also had the opportunity to share the unique experiences and challenges they face while running their enterprises. This allowed the experts to gain insights on background of the participants and the enterprises they run.
The participants regrouped on the second day to identify problem statements and brainstorm and present solutions based on their learnings. As groups were encouraged to make innovative presentations, some created short skits and videos which were judged by a panel. Post the announcement of the winner, Mr. David Ballard, acting Consul General of the U.S. Consulate, Chennai, addressed the participants, experts and organisers with a vote of appreciation for making the event a grand success. He then invited the honourable Chief Guest of the event Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, ex-CEO of Cognizant who praised the platform for providing the opportunity for peer interaction and mentorship.
On completion of the TechCamp, some common problems were identified among NGOs/Social Enterprises, which are connected to global networks of technologists, sponsors and digital volunteers interested in helping implement solutions. A follow-on grant was announced for all participants for funding up to $5,000.
Word from the Participants:
“I come from a very low income neighbourhood in Sri Lanka and when Samhita called me to Chennai I did not even have a passport. However, meeting successful people at TechCamp from a similar background as mine has renewed my faith in the power of ideas. I long to go back home and use the learnings that I received here in my enterprise”- Joseph Vaz, Participant
“I have been working in the social space for women’s empowerment in the rural sector. I have always wanted to do something about the dearth of funds in my sector. Mr. Srinath’s session really helped me understand CSR funding and methods to approach the funders.” – M Ramani, Participant
“I run a non-profit organisation in Nepal that caters to the nutritional need of the mothers. Being from a non-tech background, it (TechCamp) was a completely new experience. I had no idea technology can help my NGO. Now that I do, thanks to TechCamp Chennai, I can use it to grow my NGO and create an impact in my country.”– Bonita Sharma, Participant