Acara: The Sequel

Acara: the Sequel

After a student takes a course from IonE’s Acara program for budding social entrepreneurs, then what? Do the lessons learned get filed away with old exams and term papers – or do they take on a life of their own?

Of course, each student’s story is different. But for many, Acara turns out to be a springboard to new ideas, opportunities and adventures. Below is a short, informal update on some of the teams and ventures that were part of the Acara program during 2012. Whatever the path, it’s clear that their experience in the Acara program gives them a solid foundation for future endeavors.

Aahar. This venture in Orissa, India, promoting vegetable farming for subsistence and low-income families had a successful pilot in the past six months. Ramani Nayak is finishing up his degree at TISS in Mumbai and will pick up the venture when he graduates.

ACWUS. Salomi Nautiyal and Shruti Syal are focusing on setting up ACWUS as a legal entity and framing a road map for community mobilization at the pilot site (Anna Nagar, near Indraprastha metro station in New Delhi). They will be bringing CURE India on board as a consultants. Salomi is also helping with an Acara course in New Delhi this winter.

Bayer. This entrepreneur-based system in India, is going well. One products, a solar dryer, has now received orders. The other, a cold storage system, is undergoing customer and field evaluations.

Blue Food. Eric Svingen, Kathryn Klarich, Nimisha Shah and Anshu Singh spent the summer in New Delhi working on Blue Food. They validated some of their basic assumptions and also the difficulty of working with mobile vendors. Eric and Kathryn came back to the University of Minnesota for classes in Fall 2012 and are now planning on next steps. Eric has decided to pursue a Ph.D. and is in India working his Blue Food ideas into a water-based focus.

CaddisFly. Sam Rajkumar has incorporated a company called Ternup and the Caddisfly low-cost water sensor will be its first product. The team has approximately $20K USD in funding from the World Bank and it’s full steam ahead.

ChaloBEST. This venture with Johnson Chetty to digitize the Mumbai transport system schedule and make it available via text messaging is active and in active fundraising mode.

Chequamengon Wood Heat Cooperative. Alex Strachota has taken this idea into his graduate work at the University of Minnesota.

Eat for EquityEat for Equity (E4E) is a monthly community meal to raise funds and build community for nonprofit causes. Emily Torgrimson graduated in May and is working as fulltime executive director. E4E now has official chapters in Minneapolis, Portland, Ozarks, Madison and Boston and has held events in Stamford, Chicago, Washington D.C., Phoenix, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. These locations are expected to become chapters in 2013.

ILAB-E. This renewable energy R&D venture with Vinayak Manmadkar is now being incubated at the Venture Center-NCL Innovation in Pune, India.

MyRain. CEO Steele Lorenz is living in Madurai, India and running MyRain. MyRain is establishing a retail system for drip irrigation and other services for smaller farmers in southern India. Sri Latha Ganti is an active partner based in Minnesota.

Rot2Roti. The basic idea was validated in fieldwork in New Delhi. Entrepreneur Zach McGill is now working on Perk Health.

In addition to those making progress on ventures begun through Acara, several former Acara employees/apprentices or students are now working with social or seed ventures funds, or other educational and policy organizations, leveraging their experiences to a larger impact.

Apurv Agrawal works for Orios Venture Partners and 91springboard in New Delhi.

Brian Bell is now a program manager with Acara.

Arun Patre manages the SELCO Incubation Center in Bangalore.

Mark Lundgren is director of environmental programs at the Environmental Initiative in Minneapolis.

Raman Shrivastava does strategic outreach for Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) in Bangalore/New Delhi.

Sarabjeet Singh works for Seed Fund in Bangalore.

Sreevidya Gowda works for Mlinda Foundation in Kolkata.

A number of students have used their experience and lessons from Acara as a springboard into other ventures.

Perk Health. Zach McGill founded and is running Perk Health, a Minnesota company that helps mid-sized companies manage health care costs.

Tuloko. Duane Johnson is co-founder of Tuloko, a mobile computing-based venture to help black-owned businesses. In August Tuloco won the Minnesota Cup Social Entrepreneur of the Year award and a $20K first prize.

Upstream Technologies. AJ Schwidder is now CEO of this start up spun out of the University of Minnesota using technology developed by Prof. John Gulliver for stormwater management. Kurt McIntire is working with AJ on this startup.

Vivek Tewary. Vivek is working full time on a venture providing book services in schools in India.

Acara Impact Venture Reviews brings together members from the Acara advisory board and other select individuals to review new or aspiring entrepreneurs working on social or environmental issues. In addition to MyRain and Tuloco above, two others included:

RowBot. This venture, co-founded by former University of Minnesota researcher Kent Cavender-Bares, is developing an autonomous fertilizer application system to reduce fertilizer runoff and improve yields in U.S. farm fields. Acara has provided contacts to customers and helping with social value proposition measurements.

Katrina Mitchell. A University of Minnesota School of Public Policy graduate, Katrina is working on developing a communications portal for organizations working around the world that work with municipal solid waste workers (sometimes referred to as ragpickers).

And the adventure continues! Acara will hold its annual Acara Challenge competition for new social venture projects February 8 in the Twin Cities. To learn more or to connect with any of the ventures or entrepreneurs mentioned here, contact Fred Rose.

Photo of irrigation project in India by Steele Lorenz courtesy of MyRain.