Today was our first day in the Villgro office. I admit to being a bit nervous. Guns (nickname of the Villgro president, PR Ganapathy) and Heera were so open and friendly with us yesterday at the workshop, I was expecting a let-down in the office with people who didn’t want to talk to outsiders. I mean, think about it. Our role is kind of to look at what they are doing as a business and tell them how to do it better. I’ve dealt with some defensive customers in the US before in similar situations. How would Villgro team members respond to a group of outsiders who have never worked with incubators, even worse, a group of foreigners?
Once again, I was worried for nothing (story of my life). We met several members of the team, all of whom went out of their way to make us feel welcome. They spent a lot of time with us, answered all of our many questions, and patiently taught us how social enterprise incubation works. It isn’t just handing out money to people with an idea. They invest an incredible amount of time screening applicants, making sure that the funds that have been entrusted to them are wisely invested. They guide the potential incubatee through the idea phase into prototyping if needed. There is a lot of due diligence involved, with only 1-2% of applicants making it to the incubation phase. And Villgro’s time investment doesn’t end there. They provide business expertise to these start-ups to make sure that the enterprise has a better chance of success. They don’t want to hand funds over and hope for the best. They desire to make every accepted organization a success. There are processes for grants and equities and things I hear on the business news channels but never understood until now. See, growth already!
We worked with Kativa, who leads the Education line of business. I was wrong about their focus being solely on rural social enterprise. Villgro started with rural organizations, and have expanded into urban social enterprise. The Education projects are specifically targeted for urban youth. As a former teacher, it was very easy for me to get excited about the inroads they are making. Kativa is brilliant, holding a master’s in education from Harvard. That is the type of people they employ: forward thinkers from top schools and companies. It makes it even more impressive that they are willing and even wanting to listen to us!
Several of the employees were worried about what we would eat for lunch. They said that the dining area downstairs would probably make us sick, so they wanted to order out for us. When they food arrived, they hurried and set it out in the conference room before we even knew the food had arrived. They even had fancy plates and real silverware for us. It was very cute when one lady came in and set aside two of the dishes, saying they were uncooked and might upset our Western stomachs. We were all too happy to take their advice.
Tomorrow, we get to attend a proposal review meeting in the morning and then watch Kativa speak at a conference in the afternoon. Can’t wait!