Running a business is not an ordinary feat, and starting an enterprise from scratch, with little investment is even more commendable. Over the last 11 years, many individuals have come together in an effort to make the city a better place. Whether it’s the environment, education, providing employment to largely ignored or misunderstood groups, these startups are defining the concept of social enterprises
Spice Foundation, Padmanaban Gopalan:
Padmanaban Gopalan founded this start-up in 2014 and now it has given rise to several sister projects like EduDharma and No Food Waste. “EduDharma has been able to fund massive scholarships for talented students from lower-income groups. We have received over a 1,000 applications this year. No Food Waste has been able to collect food that would otherwise go waste, and distribute it to the needy. Now, we are planning to build toilets for localities that are in need of proper sanitation,” says Padmanaban. With all of these mammoth projects, Spice Foundation has been able to create a better life for those who need it.
AVTAR Career Creators, Dr Saundarya Rajesh:
This Chennai-based entrepreneur is the founder-president of AVTAR Career Creators and is best known for her work in the areas of flexible working, second careers for women, and increasing women’s workforce participation in India. She was recently added to the list ‘100 Women Initiative’, an effort by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development and Facebook. She congratulated DC on its 11th anniversary, adding, “They say Chennai is conservative, they say Chennai is resistant to change, they say Chennai is old-fashioned, but my experience in having set up AVTAR here and in helping it grow to become India’s No. 1 provider of career re-entry opportunities for women, has been great.”
Paperman, Mathew Jose:
Paperman is a social venture and the brainchild of the highly entrepreneurial and environment-conscious Mathew Jose. It has reached out to hundreds of schools and lakhs of students in Chennai, educating them about recycling paper and emphasising the role a ‘paperman’ (scrap dealer) plays in recycling in India. Mathew has also made it to the Forbes’ 2016 annual list of achievers under the age of 30. Jose’s approach is different from other scrap dealers. He initiated trash funding through which people, instead of selling trash, can choose to donate it to an NGO of their choice. The funds raised through this go towards several causes.
Tula, VR Ananthoo:
If we have the ‘Khadi Spirit’ in us, then we would surround ourselves with simplicity in every walk of life,” said Mahatma Gandhi. And in Chennai, the khadi spirit runs deep for Tula, a social enterprise. Founder VR Ananthoo started it with the intention of helping cotton farmers, weavers, spinners, dyers and tailors, slowly nudging Chennaiites to accept organic cotton. This year, Tula has almost doubled its workforce, Ananthoo tells DC, and expanded to Maharashtra as well. One of their main objectives was also reviving dying handicrafts. “We are also working with people to design smaller weaving machines, an effort to further decentralise the industry,” he concludes.
Goli Soda, Sruti Harihara Subramanian:
As a retail space, Goli Soda has earned a name among Chennaiites for its eco-friendly quirk. Every shelf in the store is adorned with a variety of lifestyle products and décor — all upcycled, environment-friendly and locally sourced! Started by entrepreneur Sruti Harihara Subramanian, Goli Soda propagates conscious living through workshops and waste management sessions. “The greatest challenge was to make people understand and become more sensitive to the environment,” says Sruti. This year, they are going online and working to reintroduce leaf composting to urban homes.
(Compiled by Anupama Subramanian, Devika Gowri and Kaavya Pillai)