While we hear more and more stories of Indian entrepreneurial success on the global stage, there are still large areas of the country that seem a world away from hotbeds of tech entrepreneurship like Bangalore. On January 18th, Villgro, a Chennai-based social enterprise incubator, announced the shortlisted incubators for the Department for International Development (DfID)’s INVENT programme, supporting social ventures in India’s low-income states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal) through capacity-building for incubators and the creation of a viable for-profit social venture pipeline for impact investment.
Over the last year, we have been collaborating with DfID to understand the landscape of social venture support in India and to identify exciting new models of support. We have also been exploring how DfID and other support organisations alike could make their support more effective. In particular, we have been taking a close look at India’s lower-income states, where support is comparatively scarce, and entrepreneurial ecosystems a lot less well developed.
Building on Nesta’s Good Incubation report, we draw on case studies to highlight strategies for good incubation in challenging environments, away from metropolises like New Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai. Our report offers advice to incubation managers and other ecosystem players, covering areas from designing effective social incubation programmes, to skills needed by a manager and its team, or tried and tested strategies to face obstacles like access to finance, markets or retaining staff.
Some of our recommendations to DfID and similar organisations include:
Helping incubators to develop better support offers by encouraging peer learning and collaboration. Research has shown there is real appetite for peer learning among Indian incubators. Initiatives could include supporting incubators in low-income states link to existing networks and build their regional social enterprise networks, or facilitating the dissemination of tools and resources for incubator managers.
Working with incubators to establish a more sophisticated set of impact and success metrics for incubation in low-income states. There is a real need to establish metrics able to capture a wider range of incubation outcomes for social enterprises and entrepreneurs, as well as to support incubators to use them to shape and adapt programmes in real time. Metrics should increasingly reflect the ecosystem-building role incubators play and the social impact they achieve.
Beyond incubation, there is a wider role of government partnerships in improving the ecosystem for social enterprise. Bilateral funders and NGOs can work with local and national governments to help them exploit the full range of ways they could support social entrepreneurship, far beyond the supply of capital, including through regulation, taxation and demand-side interventions to grow public markets for social enterprise.
Next on our agenda is the organisation of an event in New Delhi on February 22nd and 23rd, bringing together representatives of the Indian incubation community, along with UK and international organisations, to encourage peer-learning, experience-sharing, networking and building international collaboration for good incubation. We hope our recommendations will speak to incubation communities worldwide, and that India’s experience will inspire other low-income countries around the world facing similar challenges.
You can download our report here.