Be! Fund: Investing in Young Entrepreneurs



Kanthraju holds a Diploma in mechanical engineering and worked in Bangalore for two years in a spares company. Kanthraju has two brothers who moved out of the family to cities after marriage. Kanthraju started working in a company called Namratha Oil Company and took care of agricultural activities simultaneously. He worked in the oil factory in the production and marketing department.

After identifying the problem in his village where small farmers were out of the benefit bracket from selling to oil companies, he did market research, built a business plan and started looking out for investment. Kanthraju tried for an investment in Grameen bank, Syndicate bank and Karnataka bank, but was turned down since he lacked security or collateral. Kanthraju heard about Be! Fund on Radio and decided to apply for an investment. 

Nagaraj, 27 years


Nagaraj has completed Grade 10 and is blind. He worked in a vegetable shop for three years. He got married and moved to his own village, where he wife fell sick and he had to travel far two to three times a week to get vegetables. Sadly, his wife passed away, and he knew the problem of a lack of fresh produce was not just a problem he faced, his whole community faced it and he wanted to solve it for everyone.

Nagaraj conducted four months of research to back up his idea: Nagaraj wants supply vegetables to his community by going to market for everyone once in two days, and storing vegetables in clay solar powered fridges of a 20kg capacity. Nagaraj’s community does not have electricity, North Karnataka registers temperatures as high as 350 C and he realized solar is the right technology to provide his community with fresh vegetables each day. He made a business plan and approached three banks located in Koppal, but he was denied an investment. He heard about Be! Fund on Radio and decided to apply for an investment to start a fresh vegetable delivery system for the rural poor in his community and help them access fresh vegetables and save time and money.

Poornima, 28 years

Poornima has studied until Grade 11. She is married and has two children, age 9 and 2. Her elder son is studying in a Government school. Her husband works as a tailor and their collective income together is less than Rs.7, 000. 

Poornima lives in Kanakapura city which is surrounded by over 1,500 silk farmers in a 5km radius. Farmers require Bamboo trays to grow silk worms and silk worm mounts, called “Chandrike” in Kannada. The silk worms and cocoons often get eaten by large red ants which affect the production of silk farmers. If the silk worms are not protected with nets, the silk worms cannot survive. As per the statistics from the Central Silk Board, around 10,000 worms are affected by these ants per batch resulting in a loss of rupees Rs. 4,000 for silk farmers.

Rajendra Ganapathy Hegde, 35 years


Rajendra studied until Grade 10 and is currently working as an Areca nut farmer on his father’s agricultural land. Rajendra lives in a joint family of seven members with his wife and eight year old daughter. The family has a small landholding jointly owned by his father and uncle on which the family carries out areca farming. Their total family income from Areca farming is less than Rs.100, 000 per annum. 

Rajendra lives in a village called Kanagoda in Sirsi Taluk, Karnataka. There are more than 2,000 families living in this village and their main occupation is agriculture. The average income of the households in the village is around Rs.8-10,000 per month. Access to firewood or LPG gas for cooking is a huge problem in this village. Since this is a hilly region, there is no door to door supply of LPG to the houses due to the bad roads. If people want to access LPG they need to hire a car and access their LPG supply. Since there is no regular supply of electricity, they are unable to use induction stoves. Sirsi receives rain for almost six months of the year, so solar cookers have not been a big success. 95% of families cook in traditional open cook stoves using firewood. 

C.Savithri, 23 years


Savithri is 23 and lives in a resettled slum board colony in Sadaramangala, Whitefield, Bangalore. She has studied up to Grade 12 and has worked as an accountant for 2.5 years with Lakshmi Enterprises and with Barclays. She lives with her husband, two children and in-laws in a small sheet house. Her daughters are four and one year old. Since they have not yet started going to school, Savithri stays at home to take care of them. Her in-laws work as daily wage workers and her husband works as a local cable television technician and earns Rs.7, 000 per month. 

In this context, most households in the community cannot get an LPG (cooking gas) connection since gas agencies often refuse to provide connections since supplying refills means travelling a long distance and it’s not worth because the small profit the company would make from servicing this community. Also, since most all of these communities live below poverty line and possess a BPL (below poverty line) card, acquiring a gas connection would be cancellation of the card by the government agencies resulting in the loss of affordable food supply they receive from Government ration shops. So, all households use firewood or kerosene for cooking. Depending on the size of the family, each household uses 15-18 litres of kerosene a month. Kerosene is mostly bought from the black market at Rs.60 per litre which means families spend Rs.900-1,100 on kerosene each month. Apart from its high cost, kerosene is not easily available, there are often shortages and it comes with related health risks.

Shankarappa Deshappa Chawahanna, 24 years 


Shankarappa is the eldest in the family and has five siblings, two sisters and three brothers. Both his parents are construction daily labourers. His family is originally from Ilkal village in Bagalkot and now moved to Udupi looking for employment. Shankar’s income per month from Solar light rental is Rs.2, 000 and his total family income is less than Rs.8, 000 per month.

Shankarappa lives in a migrant community in Beedingudde, in Udupi district where there are 120 houses that are makeshift tents with plastic covers and do not have electricity. The only source of light at night is kerosene lamps. Shankarappa’s community constitutes of landless poor who mostly belong to lower castes, and very poor regions of North Karnataka. People here work as construction workers and earn between Rs.100-150 per day. As they are migrant workers, they do not possess Public Distribution System (PDS) Cards and so are forced to buy kerosene at higher than market prices. They purchase kerosene at Rs.80 per litre from the black market. One family needs two litres of kerosene per week and spends almost Rs.700 on kerosene in a month just for lighting. 

Sharanamma Balappa Kariya , 27 years 

Sharanamma lives with her husband ‘Babu’, who is a construction worker and her three children. Her daughter Savitha is studying in Grade 7 kodihalli government school and her sons are studying in Grade 7 and 9 in a government school in Bangalore. Sharavanamma is working as a house maid and contributing to her family income. Savitha’s total family income is between Rs.7-8,000 per month.

Sharanamma lives in a migrant workers community in Kodihalli, she pays a monthly rent of Rs.700. Her community consists of more than 150 families and they are mostly labourers at construction sites. The source of lighting is one of the main concerns of her community. There is a government school nearby which gives free education and there are more than 120 children studying there. Sharanamma was bothered by the lack of light for her children to be able to study as well as other children in her community. At the moment, Sharanamma works as a housemaid and always wanted to start her own business. Sharanamma do not have a bank account so she was not given loan by any formal financial institution. Also, the rate of interest in cooperative banks was very high. So she could not borrow from them. Sharanamma approached Be! Fund for an investment for solar lights and wants to light up 30 homes in her community by renting out solar lights on a daily basis. 

Sunitha Bai, 29 years 


Sunitha studied until Grade 10. She has two daughters. Her husband cannot work, due to a stroke. Sunitha works to support her family. Sunitha heard about Mushroom cultivation through Radio. She heard a program sponsored by the Horticulture Department of Mysore announcing free mushroom cultivation courses. Sunitha researched more with friends, family and shops about the demand and supply deficit in the market. She went to the Mysore Horticulture Department for a one month course and started her own business with investment from her mother and brother. Sunitha started her business four years back with an investment of Rs.10, 000. She currently caters to HOPCOMS and six hotels but the demand for Mushrooms is very high. She is currently producing mushrooms in her house in a 10 x 10 room which allows her to produce only 50 kg per month which is just enough to carry out her business and take care of some household expenses. Her earnings during year 2012 were around Rs.40, 000 per annum. 

Sunitha has more demand than she can handle which is (500kg per month versus 50kg per month she is currently producing) for the organic mushrooms she grows. As they are organic, they are of high quality and do not make people sick unlike the new GMO seeds that produce fast but often cause food poisoning. If she can expand her enterprise to match this demand she’ll be able to create five jobs for women who are currently unemployed. 



Prabhakar's Pump Fixing Enterprise

We just had our first Investment Committee meeting in Mumbai, Maharashtra and four new entrepreneurs have passed the test to receive risk capital and begin their businesses.

Prabhakar is our youngest entrepreneur, he's only 21, and has been fixing farmers' water pump motors since he was very young. Prabhakhar's idea was to set up shop in his village and help over 3,400 farmers to fix their vital water pumps - at the moment, for most repairs, everyone has to travel over 20km away. This means farmers lose 10 days of key farming time and without water, their crops, such as grapes, are destroyed. A local workshop with the right tools and machines will mean that farmers will get a local, one day solution, half price. We've included Prabhakar's photo in this update.

Tushar wants to be a beekeeper, inspired by a documentary he saw on the Discovery Channel, he learned all about beekeeping, studied it in agricultural college and is ready to begin with 25 boxes of bees to boost the bio-diversity of the local farmland and create pure honey for sale (there's a huge demand!).

Poonam's village has faced a drought for many years, and as a result, the local leather industry which requires a lot of water, has shut down. However, the local religious tourism industry has grown. Poonam used to make recycled paper plates and bowls, and she's seen an opportunity doing the same for 'sweet boxes'. When people go to visit a shrine or temple, they take an offering of a box of sweets. Poonam has done her research, right now sweet shops get sweet boxes from over 30km away, they are often late, expensive and not bespoke. Poonam will now make sweet boxes in her village, that will be cheaper, always available (i.e. never late) and with the printing or names the shop owners would like. She'll also create jobs for 10 women who are currently unemployed.

Navnath lives in a tribal community that faces two problems, day-night electricity cuts and pervasive unemployment. Navnath has been making candles for some time now, and the demand is more than he can handle alone. He wants to buy a lot of moulds, train a lot of women and supply a lot of candles to everyone who needs them - and a lower price than anyone else, and all the time (there are often no candles in the market).


We've just had a great Investment Commitee meeting where nine young entrepreneurs from BOP communities are receiving investment for their new businesses to solve problems where they live.

Neelankatesh is a beekeeper. What's different about his enterprise, is that he looks after wild bees and his honey is so pure it can be used for medicinal, ayurvedic purposes. He's already got 5 boxes of bees, an investment from Be! Fund will allow him to extend to 75 boxes of bees, pollinating the farmers' fields in his wide, wild village.

Rama is known as the spice lady. She rides her own scooter delivering fresh spices house to house and to small restaurants where she lives. You see, often spices for low-income communities are adulterated with things that just should not be there - sawdust, charcoal, even cow dung. Rama's pure fresh spices reach the poorest people at RS 50 less than other competitors, who often mix their spices with other things.

Lakshmi lives in a village where everyone is a silk worm farmer. When it's time to harvest the silk, farmers go far away to rent the bamboo silk worm mounts they need. Lakshmi's plan is to rent out 400 mounts, clean them with hairbrushes when they return and rent them out again. She'll hire five women and the village leader says "It's a good business for women"

Ravi is only 19 and almost our youngest entrepreneur (except for Yellawa who is just a few months younger). Ravi's plan is to drive a school bus to take lots of little kids to school. They can't get to school at the moment because it's just too far away. Ravi will be driving 80 children every day to school and playing musical lessons on the sound system.

Invest in a young entrepreneur in India today, they're changing the world.




January 2, 2012

Written by: Anna-Lisa Bowans 

As we wrap up 2012, we at Be! Fund are taking a few moments to reflect on all the work that our team and our entrepreneurs have achieved over the year. This year, we invested in 12 new entrepreneurs, including 9 women. Each of these women entrepreneurs came to us with a solid business idea that would solve a problem in her community and the daring to board the entrepreneurial roller coaster to success. 

And really, 2012 has been an overwhelming success for our women entrepreneurs. Yellawa has now taken her specialty pickle business to scale and has created three jobs for young women from her Dalit community. She is a role model for local women proving that even the youngest can run their own successful and innovative businesses. Kavitha is an expert at making Jowar rotis (staple bread in North Karnataka). These rotis are in high demand in her area and she is supplying them to many hotels. Kavitha employs four women from the Dalit and Devadasi communities—empowering women from communities so bound by caste that women are rarely allowed to work outside their homes. Each woman earns Rs. 2,500 per month ($50) that they use to support the education and health of their families. Mageshwari harnesses the sun’s power to bring light to homes of her community and is a constant innovator—always developing products to meet the needs and pocketbooks of her customers. Her community faces constant power cuts, but now over 750 children study in tuition centers in 5 KGF villages every night by 60 solar lights made by Mageshwari. Mageshwari’s business has also helped more than 100 homes light up at night with solar energy. 

As an early stage entrepreneur, there will certainly be challenges along the path to building a sustainable business. Jayanthi, who creates beautiful candles from recycled church wax, lives in a slum with contaminated water often making her daughters and mother fall sick. Lakshmi, who makes recycled paper bags, has had to take time off from her business to help her family through some legal troubles. Our women entrepreneurs constantly inspire us not because they don’t face challenges because they are able to build successful business in spite of them.  

The stories of the positive impact of these businesses go on and on. This year’s women entrepreneurs span the age group from 20 to 35 years old; they received investments ranging from $560- $3,200; they live in urban slums and rural villages. Each business is unique to the woman running it and the community where she lives and the people she serves. But all of our women entrepreneurs have one thing in common—the commitment to establishing and running innovative businesses to solve problems in the communities where they live. 


Starting a business is not easy. It’s even harder if someone has invested in your idea because you’ve got a lot to prove. The pressure is on, and the world is watching. Often businesses take longer than anyone would hope to turn a profit, they take up all of your waking hours (and even dream time), you become obsessed, driven, impossible, and certainly not laid back. What if you are a mother too? Is it possible for women to do both, or do they still have to choose?

Be! Fund commits to make 50% of its investments in women. While that may be easy to say, it’s not so easy to achieve. Women are far less likely to self-elect, come forward, have an idea, think they can be entrepreneurs – than men – when it comes to deciding if a husband or a wife should work, well you know the answer. In the chance that women do come forward and decide to work, to set up a new business, they will always be pulled by other pressures, family, society, pressures that expect them to defer their business operations to another level of value.

We travelled to meet and catch up with our women entrepreneurs to try to understand it better. Are our ‘good’ businesses good or bad for kids?

Jaynathi’s candle business uses recycled wax from churches to make candles to light her slum with no electricity – she has created three jobs for women. For her eldest daughter, Nadhini 20, she’s an inspiration. Nadhini says “After seeing mother run her own business and improve the lives of people where we live, I too started a Saree business to help pay for my son’s medical treatments – because I could see we could do both, look after our families and work.”


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Be Trust

New Delhi, Delhi, India

Project Leader

Taposh Roy Chowdhry

New Delhi, Delhi India

Where is this project located?

Map of Be! Fund: Investing in Young Entrepreneurs