Be! Fund: Investing in Young Entrepreneurs

by Be Trust
That's great packaging for Navnath's candles

I sold out each and every packet of candles last Diwali, people were excited to see the amazing packaging”, says Navnath, 31 year old entrepreneur who runs a candle-making enterprise in a small village, Falgun Gavhan in Maharashtra. With donations from you, we have designed, printed and delivered packaging materials, visiting cards, brochures, brand tags, banners and accounts books for many of our 67 entrepreneurs across India.

That’s what we do at Be! Fund – we go beyond investment. And since we partner with the magical Going to School, we often inspire their art teams to solve our entrepreneurs’ marketing challenges. For us, it’s not just about new ideas and enterprises, it is about what it takes to run a small scale problem solving enterprise in a low-income community – your market is different, who you want to reach is different, and the problem you want to solve is different. So, it needs different packaging. It needs bright colours in urban slums and recyclable marketing materials in villages. We’ve been in business for three years and what have we learned? Everyone, no matter how small or big, if you’re an entrepreneur you need to market your product or service. You need to get in touch with the right people at the right time (communication, clarity, being on time) and you have to do it the right way (keep in mind, the right way changes according to where you are).

We know that messages driven by design can go far. It is after all, all about great design. And young people running enterprises in the most challenging environments need great design (don’t we all?). We visited our entrepreneurs, listened to them, mapped their enterprises, and made notes of everything that signifies their products and services. That was the head-start for our designers. Auto-rickshaws, coconuts, flowers, bamboo trees > to create funky trademark designs.

Then we went back to our entrepreneurs to deliver. And their responses are why I’m writing this report. Bhanuprakash, has a small nursery that grows saplings for more than 200 farmers in his village. He manages multiple customers and sellers from different parts of the state. His phone number is a must for all his clients to have. He could not reach out to many of them personally and now that he has a business card, people can call him any time they need. This is what his friend who inspired him for this business said, “Great! You started with me but now you have become a big businessman it seems!

Poornima, 27, a young entrepreneur, a mother of two, faced difficulty in getting to reach out to more customers telling them about her amazing quality product and prices. He had her husband’s help but it was difficult to be present everywhere across 20 villages physically. We printed some cool flyers for her silk net enterprise. She ran it through local vendors and customers. It is hard for her to believe that she has more customers for silk nets than ever before, more than what she can even handle.

Then there’s Obliraj, our youngest entrepreneur, who weaves and sells silk sarees in Bangalore. He never thought about getting a visiting card or a board for his enterprise. When we asked about his brand name, his response was, “What should I call my enterprise?” We shrugged back “What about your name?” He was delighted and proud, showing his new business card to his father, “It’s Obliraj Silks, dad.”

Yes, marketing is the key to a successful enterprise. Especially if it’s in your name.

"You have become a big businessman it seems!"
"You have become a big businessman it seems!"
Bhanuprakash's business card
Dad, that
Dad, that's my label- Obliraj Silks
Poornima's silk net enterpise


Kalpana drives her tractor
Kalpana drives her tractor

Women and girls driving change

Road trip. That’s what did last winter. We decided we needed to meet and see every one of the young entrepreneurs we’ve supported. We knew they were role models for kids, we just now, needed to know how.

One day, they went to Yavatmal and discovered something that everything was a little bit upside down (in a good way). There seemed to be women driving everywhere.

Kalpana, runs her tractor enterpsie. She drives a red tractor, while just around the corner, Savita drives a school bus to take girls to school. Both women are the new league of women entrepneurs who are engaged in enterprises where they drive a vehicle. 

Why? Both have taken responsibility for the work that men were not considering yet. Kalpana realized her farmer friends were in trouble because there was only one tractor. During harvest season, this meant crops could not be harvested fast enough to make it to market. So Kalpana decided she’d learn how to drive a tractor. She made a plan for getting a tractor. And now she’s helping all the farmers where she lives.

Meanwhile, Savita was looking after her children, her brother's children, and she was worried about the girls. They all went to school 5 km away but the bus service was erratic, sometimes when it was overloaded the bus would leave kids to walk home alone, through the forest. Savita would not put up with it. She too learned how to drive. She made a plan for a school bus service. And today she takes 12 girls to school, back and forth, two school trips a day.

We were so excited by meeting two new women drivers that we thought about it a little more deeply.

Why do hundreds of thousands of girls bicycle to school and then once they finish school, they stop cycling? We met another entrepreneur who is in the business of driving, Sriram and he said, “Women can do anything and everything. Of course, they can drive vehicles too. The men would generally not let the women take up the responsibilities that men had because they are scared that they will lose out on their worth. Men have their ego to maintain their powers over social systems.” .

Kalpana’s Tractor

Before, farmers were tilling their fields manually, spending four days for work that can now be finished in one hour. Kalpana’s services are on time, cheaper than the competitor’s from the other village and have a special offer of allowing paying in installments. The farmers are happy with her services. And the women think that Kalpana is a superwoman, “I had thought that she would not be able to drive the tractor. It is such a big vehicle and how can a woman drive wearing a saree. I am amazed that she did it”, Renukabai observed, she’s Kalpana’s neighbour.

Savita’s School Bus

Savita, the sole earning member in her family works hard to sustain a family of eight – and those eight are her mother-in-law and seven children! Savita is not new to stirring things up, she’s well known for working for the empowerment of women, before we met her, she’s already organised a group rally to shut down the wine shop and worked with the women to save money in a self help group. She wanted to do something which would help everyone and most importantly girls. Everyone was taking the bus from her village in the forest to reach to the school five kilometers away. Children would walk one kilometer to the bus stop and then wait or miss the bus which was never on time. Parents would not allow the girls to go to school because it was not safe.

Now 12 girls from her village go to school in Bittergaon and dream of going to college too. “I am so satisfied now, my daughter is with Savita and I know she is safe”, says Kavita Bhimte whose daughter travels in Savita’s school bus.

Women drivers can change the world

We know Kalpana’s and Savita’s story will inspire more girls and women to take the challenge and start driving their own vehicles to bridge the gap of accessibility for women. This is a key indicator for the changing values in our society by learning the skills of taking initiative and breaking the rules.

Here’s the preview of their graphic novel going to print, to be released in our 2015

Savita driving her school van
Savita driving her school van
New Book for 2015
New Book for 2015




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.



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Organization Information

Be Trust

Location: New Delhi, Delhi - India
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Ruchi Aggarwal
New Delhi, Delhi India
$221 raised of $95,000 goal
6 donations
$94,779 to go
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