India has the third largest incubator eco-system in the world, after USA and China. In 2016-17 alone, the number of incubators and start-ups grew by 40 per cent and the country is now home to 140 incubators and accelerators. Incubators and Accelerators serve to support start-ups and social enterprises to establish themselves, raise funding, set-up operational processes etc. They often call upon on established brands and companies to mentor starts up in this process.
The incubator and accelerator ecosystem abound with opportunities, cutting edge technology and innovation that can play a critical role in accelerating the socio-economic development of bottom-of-the-pyramid communities.
Facilitating company-incubator partnerships
Companies can utilise their CSR budgets to nurture and grow the start-up and social enterprise sector by funding incubators.
Schedule 7 of the Companies Act, 2013, allows for contributions or funds to be provided to technology incubators, within academic institutions approved by the Central Government. The time is ripe for these investments especially given the government’s Start-up India, Stand-up India initiative.
Despite this favourable environment, there was minimal engagement between companies and incubators through CSR. This arises, in part, from insufficient knowledge or understanding about the incubator and the incubator ecosystem, and partly because of a preference for direct interventions in causes such as education, livelihoods and sanitation.
Samhita’s partnership with Villgro, India’s foremost and oldest social enterprise incubator, and GIZ, a German aid agency, has successfully addressed this challenge, and other gaps, to enable successful corporate-incubator partnerships.
The ‘Corporate Engagement in Start-up and Social Enterprise Incubation’ project is designed to leverage financial and technical assistance of companies to help incubators and their affiliated social enterprises to improve and scale up their models, products and operations.
Samhita saw this project as an opportunity to employ our expertise of working with companies, foundations and implementation agencies, to implement new ideas, enable partnerships and nurture innovation.
Progress so far
Over the past year, Samhita, Villgro and GIZ have identified opportunities, and created forums for companies and incubators to interact, resulting in 17 corporate-incubator partnerships. Our engagement forums held in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru have seen participation by more than 40 companies. At these forums and masterclasses, companies shared their expectations of such partnerships, and incubators through capacity building workshops, learnt how to pitch to companies.
We have also launched a Marketplace for Incubators on Samhita’s GoodCSR platform that catalyses new partnerships and enables users to oversee the progress of assignments or investments. Currently we have on boarded 32 incubators and 20 companies onto the Marketplace.
CSR teams don’t always understand the role of incubators and the model of engagement with incubators under CSR. Often, the traditional CSR route with NGOs as implementation partners is perceived to be low-risk.
Through this project, we have been able to create awareness among companies about the value and potential impact of partnering with incubators. The incubator marketplace will help sustain these partnerships, as companies will be able to discover incubators and vice versa, independent of our offline and on-ground activities.
In our role as intermediaries, we have built knowledge and capacity wherever necessary. This has removed barriers faced by incubators and SEs due to shortage of resources and lack of wherewithal to reach out to companies themselves. As the project progressed, our learning enabled us to quickly adapt our course of action multiple times, based on stakeholder feedback and ecosystem needs.
Discover the benefits companies get from partnerships with incubators and social enterprises, and the different models of partnerships possible between the two, here.
Read more about the journey of this partnership in this interview with YourStory.