Manav Subodh - Aiming to create a billion jobs with rural accelerator programs.

Anjana Rajguru

 

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Manav Subodh, Co-Founder, 1M1B (A Million for A Billion) and  Director, International Development, Berkeley Innovation Acceleration Group and Berkeley Executive Education, UC Berkeley, has had a glorious record in entrepreneurship. He steered into entrepreneurship while he was the Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation Director at Intel. He says “I was working in over 30 countries with makers, innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and scientists to get their ideas and technologies to the market. I was also working with some of the best global universities, Silicon Valley experts and entrepreneurship gurus to enhance entrepreneurship education and get ideas of these innovators to market faster. I was managing this initiative with almost $10 million budget given to me by Intel Corporation and Intel Foundation. Every year, I needed to show the impact and report numbers before the next budget cycle. I did have some very fancy corporate figures like number of people empowered/influenced /reached etc., but I had very low numbers to report on number of people who actually started their business or commercialized their technologies or the number of jobs that got created. I kept on convincing my leadership team on the need to continue investing in startups and entrepreneurs. But within me, I knew that I was just surviving in my very high profile job. Many young people who were part of my programs, underwent all the nice entrepreneurship education and Silicon Valley exposure trip, but never really started their business. They landed up getting great jobs in large companies. And that’s when this question started nagging me-  what if this education and resources are available to people in villages and young people in rural areas? I felt it was my responsibility to now make this education available to people with limited choices and those who lived far away from the cities. Young people in rural settings, waiting for opportunities were my prime interest”.

 

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Manav with sister and co-founder Swati.

Going to the grassroots.

Manav shares “I took about 10 days time off from my work at Intel and went on a village trip to Uttarakhand and UP to figure how I could plant the seed of entrepreneurship there. I met and spoke to many villagers and towards the end of the trip, there was a major breakthrough. In one of the villages in U.P, a group of women and girls got together to talk to me on entrepreneurship opportunities in their villages and what they could start. The seating arrangement was very typical – in the front row sat the elderly women, behind them were middle aged women, the young ones and in the last row were really young girls who were hiding and were absolutely quiet. After I did my interactions with the front rows, I asked the girls in the last row what they would like to start if they got an opportunity but there was pin drop silence. This continued. That’s when I said I wouldn’t leave the village till the back row spoke. That’s when a hand went up. A ten-year-old asked if she could start a Teddy bear store as she grew up without them but would want her younger brother and other kids in the village to have the “privilege” of playing with them. Recalling this incident still gives me goosebumps as we take even small things like teddies for granted. This young girl was my motivation to start my enterprise.  I just cannot recall the village where I met her and don’t know how to find her but nevertheless, her words have stuck with me and keep motivating me”.

“I started contemplating how I could empower and enable a million such girls and boys who would solve a very specific problem in their villages, establish a conscious enterprise, take care of themselves, their families, give jobs and drive a billion people out of poverty. In short, can 1 million entrepreneurs drive 1 billion people out of poverty? 1M1B. This is when I started thinking about 1M1B”.

Manav came back to the office and shared his thoughts on 1M1B with his manager and decided to quit Intel in the coming months to pursue his dreams.  His sister Swati, a scientist and a healthcare expert too joined him as a co-founder. Soon his friend, Ritu Singh, a content expert, joined in along with some others. They began working on executing the vision of 1M1B.

About 1M1B.

1M1B, A Million for A Billion, is a leadership, entrepreneurship and a jobs creation initiative aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). 1M1B creates jobs, builds conscious enterprises and undertakes income enhancement initiatives for indigenous and under-served communities by engaging urban leaders and startups. 1M1B has worked in the Caribbean, Ghana, India, Vietnam and USA.

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The Govt of AP- UC Berkeley Smart Village project.

In early 2016, I met a team from the Garwood Center for Open Innovation, Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, in a smart city conference in Vishakhapatnam. I spoke to them about my passion for villages and started speaking of smart villages instead of smart cities. I shared some results out of the village accelerator model I was already piloting in the villages of Uttrakhand. Soon we created a Smart Villages program for the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP). I was appointed as the Garwood Innovation Fellow and the Smart Village Director, working with UC Berkeley. We took the model to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu, the honorable Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and he agreed to support the project on smart villages and asked us to create a prototype. I quickly established a team in a village called Mori and soon we started working on multiple projects which were fraught with problems. After many setbacks, a couple of projects finally worked, and one of them was the village accelerator. In a short span of 4 months, we created 7 entrepreneurs in the villages and 16 jobs. This was the big aha moment which I had not experienced in my Intel job. After this, I got an opportunity to showcase this model at the United Nations in New York and even got their support to scale. I then took this model to the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Tata Trusts who extended the partnership. It was phenomenal. In April 2017 (in 4 months) we were no all set to scale this across India! The village accelerator got branded as ‘Startup Gurukool’ “.

Startup Gurukool.

Startup Gurukool is a rural accelerator; same city style accelerator that you will find in Silicon Valley, but customized for people in the villages. It gives entrepreneurship education to people in the villages who want to establish their businesses and also gives future entrepreneurs in the villages access to finance and match makes them by getting them funding from banks and government schemes. It also provides last mile as a service to social entrepreneurs from the cities, who want to accelerate their products and services to people in the villages but don’t know how to do the same as language, culture, and understanding of the local ecosystem become a challenge. Manav elaborates on the working “This is done by pairing the social entrepreneurs with a trained person from the village, who as an independent contractor, works with the startups. This tag team then co-creates the last mile business models using a unique customer discovery process thus, creating self-sustainable enterprises and jobs”.

In one of the biggest partnerships between 1M1B, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, the Tata Trusts and UN Habitat, the Startup Gurukool was recently launched in the State of Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand, in India. Soon this model will also be launched in Vietnam and the United States of America.

Inspirations.

My inspiration is my maternal grandfather with whom I spent a lot of time. He passed away long ago but his leadership style, fearlessness, boldness and his ability to take a stance for his family is something I deeply admired.

Future plans.

Manav  says “I will continue doing things that matter and inspire me to make a difference in people’s lives. I see Startup Gurukool  being scaled to thousands of villages across India and even to the rest of the world very soon. I want to create an Oscars style event for social entrepreneurs at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. I believe real heroes from the villages need a global platform to talk, share their stories, inspire others, influence policies and get recognized”.

Conquering challenges.

Manav says “Leaving a well paying corporate job when you are 39 years is difficult. I have been fortunate to get a lot of support from my wife Priya,  family and friends, all through my career. This has been a major factor in shaping who I am today”.