Emerging Entrepreneurs

Awakening the entrepreneurial spirit of Bharat

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on February 19, 2018

Madan Padaki, Founder and CEO, Rubanbridge Pvt. Ltd   -  N Ramakrishnan

Rubanbridge provides a platform for rural entrepreneurs to connect with consumers

It was thanks to his involvement with a non-profit organisation, Head Held High, that Madan Padaki hit upon the idea for his second entrepreneurial venture, this one in the social space. Head Held High trains and transforms illiterate village youth into an English-speaking and computer literate ones. But then Madan realised that these people were moving to cities in search of jobs, earning so little that there was hardly any money for them to send back to their family or for their own sustenance.

Madan, 45, an engineer and an MBA who had worked in the IT industry, including selling software in Japan before turning an entrepreneur with his first venture in 2000, realised that jobs had to be created in villages, both to prevent migration and remove rural poverty.

His first venture, MeritTrac, a skills assessment company, that he started in 2000 was sold to the Manipal group. He believed a village BPO would help provide rural jobs, but realised after running one for three years that the business was not scalable.

Technology platform

That is when he wondered how village youths can be hooked on to a technology platform and products and services delivered in rural areas. Madan says rural people like to have the same products and services that those in urban areas take for granted. They do not mind paying for it, but a lack of knowledge hindered their decision-making. He hit upon the idea of 1Bridge, a brand under his social venture Rubanbridge Pvt Ltd. “If we can create youth as entrepreneurs in the village and provide them a platform by which they can deliver a variety of valuable services in the village, then the village benefits and the entrepreneur benefits. And, I, as a social enterprise, make money,” says Madan.

1Bridge works on the assumption that there is a huge aspiration among the rural population for better quality goods and services and that there is unlimited youth potential in the villages waiting to be tapped. Third, says Madan, there is far more entrepreneurial spirit in rural areas than in urban areas, despite the adverse conditions. Rural people are far more resilient and their survival instincts are higher. 1Bridge brings together the entrepreneurial spirit of the youth in villages, the aspirations of the rural population and a technology platform.

1Bridge, says Madan, has roped in young entrepreneurs in villages it works in and tells the villagers that this entrepreneur is their go-to person for anything they want. It has covered about 1,500 villages. If someone in a village wants to buy, say, a two-wheeler, they will approach this young entrepreneur. There are, according to Madan, issues in a village person buying a two-wheeler. One, he or she has to go to the nearest major town or district headquarters to see various two-wheeler models in different showrooms. Then, there is the issue of intimidation, as most village folk find it daunting to visit a large dealer. Third, the villager is not sure if the prices quoted are genuine. “What we realise as an opportunity was what if we create an entrepreneur in every village as a trusted adviser and told the customer, he is your go-to person. Anything you want, you ask this guy,” says Madan.

According to him, 1Bridge is the bridge between rural and urban. “If we build a bridge that has an entrepreneur, a technology platform and a brand, then I can pipe anything. I can send in products. I can do healthcare. We have done healthcare. We have done eye care using the same model. I can do agri-services. We are now doing financial services,” he says.

Business strategy

1Bridge gets its income from the brands that are selling products or services through it. A two-wheeler manufacturer that gets a lead through 1Bridge will pay for it. 1Bridge does not charge customers anything even though they are willing to pay for the services. Each of 1Bridge’s entrepreneurs carries a virtual reality (VR) headset. So, with the headset on, a customer in a village can get a real experience of being in a two-wheeler showroom. 1Bridge is now present in Karnataka. It also runs a large distribution network. “We run one of the largest distribution networks, last mile delivery for e-commerce players. We deliver about 350,000 packets a month across 30 districts in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha,” says Madan. 1Bridge has raised funding from over 30 angel investors. The who’s who of angel investors are “my investors,” says Madan. It also raised $500,000 from Dutch investment fund ICCO Investments and is looking to raise a “couple of million dollars.” The money will be used to build a strong technology platform and train the village entrepreneurs. By this year-end, it hopes to have perfected the model in Karnataka and then cover 200-250 districts in the South, West and Central India in three years, with 100 entrepreneurs per district.

Published on February 19, 2018

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