The story of how BootUp UnLtd, a first of its kind incubation boot camp, co-created by PadUp Ventures and UnLtd India came to be, what it entails, and what it hopes to achieve.
What started as a quest for access to an enhanced mentor pool for social entrepreneurs, grew to knowledge sharing, and led to an active partnership for UnLtd India’s core support offering, it’s Incubation program.
Excerpts from conversations with Anshu Bhartia, CEO, UnLtd India, Pankaj Thakar, Founder, PadUp Ventures & Rajat Jain, Founder, PadUp Ventures
Early in 2020 Anshu Bhartia, CEO, UnLtd India was introduced to the Founders of PadUp Ventures, Rajat Jain and Pankaj Thakar. One immediate takeaway was leveraging PadUp’s 100+ pool of mentors across sectors and domains. PadUp’s program enables start-up entrepreneurs to transform through a deep, well-designed and structured education, mentoring and monitoring process by experienced mentors.
Anshu was also quick to notice the tremendous value of PadUp’s BootUp program and how it could be leveraged for the Social Impact space. “Social entrepreneurs need coaching, access to experts, connections and opportunities, at the right time, which most incubators provide ” she says. “However, the entrepreneurial and organization foundation building through a structured curriculum and assignment based learning that PadUp Ventures was providing to for-profit entrepreneurs, could be a gamechanger.”
During the first meeting with Anshu, inspired by UnLtd India’s work, PadUp Founders Rajat and Pankaj, both felt deeply inclined towards being part of what they called ‘creating direct social impact’.
“We are already creating impact by creating employment opportunities, and UnLtd India is doing the same thing. The only difference is that UnLtd India is doing it in the social sector and we are doing it in the market-driven sector. We saw that there was an alignment there.” In conversations across the next few months what clearly emerged was “…a need for a program for social entrepreneurs to go through a structured process of discovering the new and latent needs they need to fulfil, or problems they want to solve, so they can reach the funders and generate those resources to create the desired impact,” says Pankaj.
“The potential of a partnership to help social enterprises and NGOs was immense.”
“Our goal is nation-building,” Rajat adds. “The objective has always been to help young entrepreneurs build a business and become successful. That’s been the core at the heart of PadUp. Over the last few years we have created some great quality programs. “One area we did not have expertise in is social impact startups. UnLtd India’s work in the sector, the brand, portfolio, the leadership, the opportunities they provide, all of it fills a gap in our broad strategy”.
Against this backdrop of alignment and shared opportunity, “the potential of a partnership to help social enterprises and NGOs was immense,” says Anshu. “We had the bandwidth, so we offered our services,” Pankaj adds.
And thus was born BootUp UnLtd? Well, not quite. Pankaj and Rajat had never worked with social enterprises and NGOs before. After months of extensive research, studying different programs at international institutions including Stanford and MIT, having gone through some of these programs himself, and pulling from his thirty years of experience, Pankaj designed the BootUp UnLtd program.
BootUp UnLtd is an amalgamated program of PadUp’s proprietary program, BootUp, developed over several years – and UnLtd India’s sector understanding. This 12-week program aims to nurture and support social entrepreneurs in UnLtd India’s July’21 cohort, and forms the first part of its nine-month incubation program.
“It’s a scientific, structured, well-defined program, customized to the Indian environment, further customized to the social sector, and even further customized for UnLtd India.”
It’s a program that will enable the current cohort to validate, revalidate, recalibrate their entire offering to their beneficiaries in light of the new environment, where the beneficiaries and funders’ needs may have changed, more so post-COVID-19. It’s a scientific, structured, well-defined program, customized to the Indian environment, further customized to the social sector, with UnLtd India’s 13 years experience, customized for UnLtd India.
“It still is a program which validates an idea and takes it to investment or funding,” says Rajat, “The fundamentals are the same”, explains Pankaj, addressing how BootUp UnLtd has been customized for UnLtd India. “People have to solve real problems, solve them with innovation, demonstrate value propositions, and conduct primary market research. But, for-profit entrepreneurship is market-driven, while social entrepreneurship is cause-driven. We have customized the program to look at the impact scenario, not the market scenario, where profit is not the motive, social impact is the motive.”
“UnLtd India’s coaches act as the common thread till the end of the program”
UnLtd India is known for its 1:1 customized support, which will continue to be the core of their support model. BootUp UnLtd, an invaluable addition, is a webinar-style model with content shared about a concept, followed by an assignment that requires application of the topic. Super Mentors help understand the assignment, guiding the social entrepreneurs, acting as a bridge between how it gets adapted and contextualized to them.
“The biggest value proposition of the Bootup UnLtd program is the validation of their idea, at whatever stage it may be. And with BootUp UnLtd, they can do it in three months instead of three years!” says Rajat.
With BootUp UnLtd on its maiden run this year, what do Anshu, Pankaj and Rajat most look forward to, and hope to accomplish? Their responses reveal their commitment to creating social impact and personal ideals, as well as broader organizational visions fulfilled.
“Personally, it will be satisfying to see critical problems being solved,” says Pankaj. “As an organization, we can create a bigger impact. If we neglect the social sector, then we’re only focusing a fraction of the entrepreneurial world. We want to cover the whole spectrum. Giving back to the ecosystem and nation building can only be accomplished when we are involved in the social sector,” he adds.
“We are looking forward to learning and growing a lot ourselves. The whole customization process has been a transfer of learning from UnLtd India to us as has the research we have done to create the program. PadUp will be focusing on a segment that we had not focused on before. India is a large and complex market. There exist several Indias within one India. If we can contribute to even the smallest of innovations, we would again contribute to our goal of nation-building. We also look forward to a longer and deeper relationship with UnLtd India, and a more integrated future,” says Rajat.
“Personally, entrepreneurs in the social impact space have to compete for the same limited resources that for-profits do. Hence, to be true to our promise of creating impact, everything should be at par including access to knowledge resources and support to grow and scale,” says Anshu.
She adds, “The BootUp UnLtd program could become fundamental to getting the same kind of resources to a social enterprise or NGO –so they can build and grow just as rapidly, and are equipped with the same tools they can go back to, to build up at every pivot in their journey.”
“To be true to our promise of creating impact, everything should be at par with for-profits, including access to knowledge, resources, and support to grow and scale.”
It is now mid-2021. What began as an introduction, a conversation and grew into association has now evolved into this partnership, and a revamped incubation program. There has been a lot of learning and sharing, preparing and planning, discussing and refining. For UnLtd India’s July ‘21 cohort of thirty-three social entrepreneurs, it is now time for validation and recalibration. It is now time for BootUp UnLtd.