Be! Fund: Investing in Young Entrepreneurs


Dhanalakshmi’s Tiffin Service

Dhanalakshmi is 32 years old and lives in Kumaraswamy in Bangalore which is surrounded by many education institutions and industrial areas where migrant students and labourers flow in from different parts of the state for education and work. Dhanalakshmi knew the problems that students and migrant workers from middle and low income groups living in shared rooms were going through to access good quality, hygienically prepared food at an affordable cost. To bridge this gap, Dhanalakshmi started a tiffin service and a food center a year ago which has been providing affordable, hygienic and healthy home-cooked meals to migrant students and migrant laborers. Dhanalakshmi has been constantly flooded with requests to cater to more customers from students as well as other bachelors and construction labors since her food is tasty, healthy and hygienic at the same time it is affordable i.e. Rs.25-30 less than the small hotels.

Dhanalakshmi has been planning to scale up but has not been able to save enough for expansion due to low margins which is a result of having to do everything by hand such as cutting vegetables and making chapatis. She was turned down by banks due to lack of collateral / security. Dhanalakshmi heard about Be! on TV and decided to apply. Dhanalakshmi passed three rounds of interviews and will be expanding her business starting September 2012.

Dhanalakshmi’s business is expected to create an impact Women Employment: The business creates two jobs for women from the same community with a good salary and excellent working conditions. Heath: The tiffin service directly improves the nutrition intake and food quality for 30 migrant students from low income communities. The food centre will cater hygienic food to more than 30 daily wage workers and at an affordable price. Education: The business provides healthy, hygienic, homemade foods to college students at affordable price so they can complete their education without being in debt, or at a health risk.

Yellawwa’s Pickles

Yellawwa is 20 years old and lives in a village called Budhiyal in Badami Town, North Karnataka. Badami Taluk is included in the list of “Most Backward” taluk of Bagalkot districts and is home to many people from the Dalit community known as “Madigas” which is one of the most marginalized and discriminated groups in India. Yellawwa belongs to the Madiga community. This community has been traditionally occupied in making leather but has now lost their primary source of livelihood due to uncertain rules on making leather. Absence of alternative sources of income, forces young men and women to migrate to other states for work. Girls from this community have poor access to education and are often at risk of entering child labor, bonded labor, trafficking.

Yellawwa knows how to make chutneys and pickles, she has completed a training in “Food Processing and Packaging Technology” sponsored by The National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, New Delhi. After the training, Yellawwa decided to start her own business to change the way things were in her community. She knew that starting a business will help her and other women in her community to become economically independent.

Yellawwa approached a local Grameen bank and micro-finance organization for a loan but was not able to get through because she is very young, and does not have any collateral or security. Yellawwa heard about the Be! Fund through a movie screening and decided to apply for an investment to scale up her current business. She has passed three rounds of interviews and is expected to expand in September 2012.

The major impact of Yellawwa’s business is that she will be creating jobs for three more women from her community - she knows as a woman she can do it, and she wants to be a role model for other women in her community. 



Be! Fund is India's first risk capital fund for young people who live in poverty.

Our big Be! Movies just aired on national television in India. Each story is about a young entrepeneur who lives in poverty and one day decides to solve a problem by building a business. Every movie is a Bollywood epic, 22 minutes long and at the end we ask, "Do you have a business idea that solves a problem where you live? If so, please call the Be! Fund." Our movies aired on STAR and we received over 68,000 calls from young people who live in poverty and have business ideas to solve local social problems. There are still 200 young people going through the selection process, but the first round is in: please find their hero stories in the attached report, we hope you like reading their stories.

Be! Fund



Be! Fund is India’s first risk-capital fund for young people, ages 18-29, living in poverty to pioneer businesses that solve problems they face in their lives. From water to waste, energy to shelter, we believe that young people have enterprise solutions to the problems they face; they have just never been given the chance to solve them.


We believe that young women in particular have the potential to create jobs for other women and transform their communities. That’s why more than half our investments are in women’s businesses.

And that’s why we have partnered with NGOs that work specifically with women to arrange Be! Movie screenings and encourage women to become entrepreneurs. We are also running radio plays featuring stories of women entrepreneurs on several radio stations during their “women’s programming hour,” asking them to submit their ideas to the Be! Fund for investment.


Yet we also recognize that poor young women face many challenges in starting businesses. From limited education opportunities, to household and childcare responsibilities, to unsupported families and lack of confidence, the odds are stacked against them.


Matilda Pereira, Be! Fund Bangalore Manager, says “It is very difficult to find women entrepreneurs below the age of twenty-nine. Often young women will call with business ideas, but their parents or husbands will not allow them to attend the first round interview. If the woman is unmarried, their families say ‘she won’t be able to continue the business once she gets married.’ If she’s married, they say, ‘she won’t be able to continue the business once she has children.’”


Matilda adds, “But we have more success with women who are in their thirties. For example, Archana [Be! Fund entrepreneur] has been married for seven years so she has more power in her family, which would not have been the case if she were newly married.” 


Archana is one woman entrepreneur we are funding. She is starting a business of recycling areca leaves into tableware that will replace harmful plastic and she plans to eventually employ six low-income women.


Sharada is another Be! entrepreneur. She is starting a sanitary napkin making unit that will provide low-cost napkins that will solve health problems and allow thousands of women to work and go to school. She will hire two other young women to help her.

It is women like Archana and Sharada, who are beating the odds, to create jobs and solve problems in their communities.


We are going to tell Archana’s story and Sharada’s story on TV and in books that go into schools to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs—so that young girls, sitting in classrooms in Bihar, who have never been asked, “What business will you start when you grow up?” will finally have real hero entrepreneurs they can look up to. 



Be! media on TV & radio and movie screenings organised by the Be! Fund team continued to encourage young people to apply to the Be! Fund.

This round of the media campaign was focused on women, to encourage young women to pioneer their own businesses for social change and submit their ideas to the Be! Fund.

As a result more young women applied to the Be! Fund, eight women are going through the three level selection process. Business plans for each of their ideas have been made and will be presented to the Investment Committe next m

In September, Be! Fund invested in four entrepreneurs in Karnataka in South India to start their own businesses to solve a problem where they live. For the second round – Be! media was aired on TV & radio and movie screenings were organized by the Be! Fund team to encourage young people to apply to the Be! Fund.

This round of the media campaign was focused on women, to encourage young women to pioneer their own businesses for social change and submit their ideas to the Be! Fund.

As a result more young women applied to the Be! Fund, eight women are going through the three level selection process. Business plans for each of their ideas have been made and will be presented to the Investment Committee next month when a decision on investing in them will be made. 

Two young men have also submitted their business ideas and are going through the selection process and will be presented to the Investment Committee.

Some of the businesses that Be! Fund will consider investing in are – 

  • Lakshmi’s Recycled Paper Bag Business
  • Mageshwari’s Solar Lights for Homes
  • Chandrakala’s Skills Training Business
  • Jayanti’s Candle Business to provide Employment to Women
  • Violet’s Play School

Two young men have also submitted their business ideas and are going through the selection process and will be presented to the Investment Committee.


Be! Fund pilot was launched in Bangalore in June 2011 with a multimedia campaign of radio episodes, posters and a Muppet show aired for 30 days on local cable channels. The campaign reached over 400,000 people and each media piece asked young people to submit their enterprise idea for change to the Be! Fund by postcard, text or just call. We received over 2,000 phone class and 150 text messages, four entrepreneurs made it through the selection process to be funded. This experience demonstrates how important it is to cast the net as widely as possible, in order to source strong candidates, and that mass media is critical to this process.

At this stage, Be! did not tailor its campaign specifically towards women but  in the next round, we would like the opportunity build on our experience to bring more women into the pipeline.

Our pilot demonstrated that young people were very capable of coming up with a business idea which both worked financially, and solved a problem in their community.

Four entrepreneurs were invested in after being through three levels of interviews, site visits and review by a 10 member Investment Committee – including self made entrepreneurs, development professionals and financial experts. 

Muniraju’s Plastic Recycling Business

Muniraju lives in a village in Anekal, rural Bangalore, with his wife and mother. Muniraju has seen the problem of plastic waste disposal all around him. His plan is to collect waste door to door, pick it up from the streets and buy it from scrap dealers. He will sort and recycle the waste into plastic chips. The plastic is reused rather than dirty the surroundings.

Radhakrishna’s Village Transport Business

Radhakrishna lives in Nagamangala village in Kolar district. Most people in his village are farmers. He has observed that the biggest problem for the farmers is taking their produce to the market. The village has no market. The nearest market is 15 km away. There are big markets beyond this, but transport is expensive and erratic. Farmers often leave their produce to rot.  Radhakrishna wants to run a low-cost and on-time transportation service that allows farmers to get to new markets

Rajesh’s Urban Farming & Rainwater Harvesting Business

Rajesh lives in Kurubarahalli, a suburban area in Bangalore. He says that everything around him is grey. Everyone is building, building, building... they are taking away the green and with the green goes the water. Rajesh has designed a business which will put green on the top of houses and save water. Rajesh wants to build urban farms and rainwater harvesting systems.

Shankar’s Garment Business Employing People with Disabilities

Shankar had polio as a child and is now unable to walk. Shankar has the skills to work in a garment factory.  However, he is paid 50% less than his colleagues’. He finds it difficult to operate machines, which are situated in different places around the factory.  Shankar knows, that if the machines were better positioned, his disability would not affect his productivity. Without an enabling environment, Shankar and other disabled workers are perceived to be less productive by employers, who take advantage of this, to pay less. Shankar has a business idea to solve his problem.  He wants to set up an easily accessible garment workshop. All his employees will be disabled. They will produce just as much and everyone will be paid well. 



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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