Encouraging innovative social impact entrepreneurship

Eminent scientist Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, known for his excellence achieved through astute scientific temperament, often refers to a unique mantra for success in social impact innovations. The Padma awardee firmly believes in achieving “more from less for more”. I interacted with Dr Mashelkar several times in his hometown Pune and while often discussing this mantra, I always yearned to experience it first-hand.

To my surprise, my homecoming to Kashmir in 2015 helped me come across the entrepreneurial and startup mindset, which to a great extent echoes similar sentiment as that of Dr Mashelkar. It is here in Kashmir’s start-up eco-system that I got to experience youth achieving “more from less for more”. More recently, there could not have been a better day to experience the above mantra, than at a platform where young and aspiring entrepreneurs of the Valley spoke their heart-out during a day-long competition held at JKEDI.

Usually, my journey to cover any public event is either a drive in my own car or an arranged pick-up drop facility from the event organisers. This time around, as I was scheduled to cover “Smart JK Hackathon” and “Entrepreneurial World Cup” events at JK Entrepreneurship Development Institute, Pampore, I decided to bring in some innovation into my journey. Hitching a ride with three young entrepreneurs Ubair, Asim and Zaid from Srinagar to Pampore was an enriching experience to start a day that marked beginning of pitching of ideas by bright startups and innovators in two different competitions that would win them prize money of Rs 6 lakhs (Smart JK Hackathon) and participation on a national and international level (Entrepreneurial World Cup). It was the expected traffic jams on the national highway that provided a vent to the business partner trio of Ubair, Asim and Zaid who was scheduled to pitch their startup idea at the Srinagar edition of the entrepreneurial world cup. Shah Ubair who originally belongs to apple town Shopian and has launched a digital startup platform ‘efruitmandi’ last year says the acceptability to e-commerce and the advent of technology is a major factor in Kashmir’s startup ecosystem.

“For so many days in the last several months, climatic and other factors have played a dampener for fruit export especially apple from the valley. We are also venturing into cold storage at Lassipora as we need many of these,” said Ubair. Exuding quite a confidence, the young trio was sure of impressing the judges at the entrepreneurial world cup event with their pitch. “Ours is an innovative and technology-driven concept which will provide a boost to fruit trading online connecting farmers directly to the market by eliminating the intermediaries,” says Ubair. “Let’s hope we get to convey the point to judges.” On reaching the JKEDI premises, a festive look that wore the campus welcomed us with entrepreneurship and innovation being the buzz word for the day. The occasion was to launch “Smart JK Hackathon”, a one-and-half-month long competition to scout innovative digital solutions in six problems areas including handicrafts and handloom, tourism, smart city, solid waste management, agriculture, and horticulture.

The second event for the day was local edition “Entrepreneurial World Cup” where several startups were competing to make pitch of their business idea in order to qualify for a national-level competition. While as an expected norm, arrival of the chief guest at the event was a delayed one at this event too. But as the formal proceedings for the day took 1.5 hours to begin, nothing could stop the entrepreneurial and innovative brainstorming and networking which was seen at its best. The experts, who were to take the role of judges for the Entrepreneurial World Cup had travelled from Delhi and Hyderabad, were thoroughly impressed by efforts of Kashmir’s startups. “I wanted to have a conversation that would open me up to the startup ecosystem of the Valley. To come across so many young and bright startups is a refreshing sight,” said Ramarko Sengupta, one of the judges and editor of Yourstory.

Like Sengupta, Ramanan Ramanathan, mission director of Atal Innovation Mission of the Niti Aayog was also spell-bound after hearing young entrepreneurs of the Valley who narrated their entrepreneurial journeys. Muheet Mehraj, founder of e-commerce venture Kashmir Box was among the speakers at the event who brought to fore the frequent internet shutdowns and uncertainty in the Valley proving to be a challenge for startups in the Valley.

From Shah Ubair’s ‘efruitmandi’ to Muheet Mehraj’s Kashmir Box, the message from Kashmir’s startup ecosystem to guests and judges at the event was loud and clear. “We are here to achieve more from less for more”.  While innovator Waseem Nadaf qualified for the national level competition of the Entrepreneurial World Cup with his novel innovations that can be used for social impact entrepreneurship, the Hackathon has sought ideas from students and innovators for next one-and-half-month to win handsome prize money.

The Hackathon which is a competition held under J&Ks Startup Policy is expected to bring to the table some unique digital solutions seeking smart innovative digital solutions for enhancing agro-allied business models and creating smart supply chains from production to marketing. In the tourism sector, Hackathon is seeking app-based solutions to offer a seamless experience to tourists. Similarly, in solid waste management, the Hackathon has sought innovative digital solutions for the management of waste across the value chain. The mantra to success for competing in the hackathon will be to provide ideas that are not just practically viable but in the long run prove to be commercially viable. One must not forget that innovation and entrepreneurship in Kashmir continue to co-exist among hurdles- logistical, situation-based and ones arising out of difficulties in ease of doing business.

Here is wishing all the Hackathon contenders all the best and reminding them that “more from less for more” is a tried and tested mantra. Let your novel ideas make Kashmir a better place to live.