Archive | February, 2009

login into unitedprosperity.org with your google or yahoo ID

25 Feb

Today, we have launched the next release of our website. The cool feature added are:

As was mentioned earlier, anyone can now login into our site with their Google, Yahoo or any other open ID credentials. Once the e-mail is entered after sign-in, you will be registered with unitedprosperity.org. This saves the hassle of needing to remember one more user-id and password !! Google, Yahoo, Blogger or any other openID identifier can be used to login.

Also, we have added a cool feature to our site, where you can visually see the locations of the entrepreneus and social guarantors on a map!!

Social Enterprise Panel and Digital Vision Showcase at Stanford University

24 Feb

This Sunday, we attended the ‘Social Enterprise Panel and Digital Vision Showcase’ at Stanford. The event was a part of the Entrepreneurship week at Stanford and we were invited by our advisor, Neerja Raman, to showcase United Prosperity.  The event consisted of a panel discussion followed by showcase of several new interesting social enterprises. The panelists had interesting things to say about the challenges of starting a social enterprise and I agree with several of their conclusions.

 

We had several enthusiastic visitors for the poster presentation and it was a great opportunity to explain United Prosperity’s unique guarantee model. I had the pleasure of meeting David Geilhufe, Philanthropy Program Manager at NetSuite (one of our supporters), as well as Gaurav Gupta, who is building a facebook application for us. It was also great to re-connect with an old friend of mine, Shankar Raman, who is an enthusiastic champion for United Prosperity.

 

 

David Geilhufe

David Geilhufe

Gaurav Gupta

Gaurav Gupta

 

 

Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Shubha, Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Shubha, Bhalchander and Chiradeep

One of the interesting presentations was by Driptech, a venture started by a recently graduated Stanford MBA and a few students from the Engineering School. Most drip irrigation systems are fairly expensive and are not viable for small and marginal farmers.  Driptech has pioneered a drip irrigation system for $20. Since most land holdings in countries like India tend to be small, I think this product has immense potential. The challenge is going to be to make the system available to millions of small farmers.Also check out pictures of the other poster presentations. 

Poverty, collaboration and patience

11 Feb

Ever since I started working on United Prosperity, I have learned that progress in a startup happens in spurts. One is often faced with what seems like an insurmountable problem. You keep trying various things – nothing seems to work. Nobody seems interested in what you are doing or if they are slightly interested they have other priorities. And then one day suddenly someone decides to help and lo and behold, things start moving. The seemingly insurmountable problem now transforms into a doable task which then gets done with relative ease. This has been the consistent pattern with all the big milestones we have had like Cognizant helping us with the software development; UC Berkeley, Hanson Bridgett and OMM helping us with the legal work or HDFC Bank in India agreeing to partner with us.

 

I met Jonathan Lewis, CEO of Microcredit Enterprises a few days back at Davis and it was a great opportunity to bounce ideas and take advice on solving the seemingly insurmountable problems.  ‘It took us 3.5 years to get a bank to start working with us’, he said.  That gave me a perspective of the level of patience needed to overcome these startup obstacles. In our case, we approached a few banks in India and gave an overview of our guarantee in November 2007. However things picked up a little momentum only in May 2008 when we contacted HDFC Bank, India. Since then we have been closely working with them and are at the final stages of finalizing the legal agreement.

 

Another aspect which has struck me since I started working on United Prosperity has been that many of today’s complex problems like poverty or cures to tropical diseases tend to be outside or on the periphery of market forces and players. However, getting the necessary resources to solve complex problems like poverty requires the immense support and collaboration of mainstream market forces and institutions. They have the resources and expertise to solve different parts of the problem. E.g. we would not have come to where we are today without the support of Cognizant in building the software or the various legal teams who have helped us.

 

I got to discuss this with Jonathan Lewis. He was quick to highlight the importance of collaboration. ‘The current financial crisis is going to require an unprecedented level of collaboration’ he said. He is even putting together a forum called the Opportunity Collaboration where people working on poverty alleviation in various capacities can forge new alliances. Check it out.

 

Overall it has made me realize that combating poverty requires immense collaboration, which further requires patience. And for startups dealing with the seemingly insurmountable problems which come up from time to time, the value of collaboration and patience can never be underestimated.

 

And yes, we are all eagerly looking forward to sign the agreement with HDFC Bank in the next few weeks, so that we can launch soon.