in February 2014, Mrida (Sanskrit for Soil)– a social business, seeks to build
sustainable and scalable, financially viable business models aimed at holistic
rural development. So far, Mrida has worked on a variety of initiatives with
individuals, village level entrepreneurs, self-help-groups, rural communities,
and Corporate entities.
projects on-ground, many of these projects in remote, difficult to access areas
and with underserved communities. Mrida projects provide energy access,
facilitate education, are an important tool for women empowerment, facilitate
livelihood opportunities, better agricultural yields, etc. These projects have
shown for the large part, how mentoring, entrepreneurship and education can
make a tangible, holistic difference. This has already made a significant dent
in, and impacted the lives of thousands of people in villages and hamlets
spread across that States of MP, UP, J&K, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
to work only with underserved rural communities, which have by and large been
forgotten and neglected even as the rest of the country progresses. The focus is on sustainable development, as
opposed to grants or charity.
an exclusive interview with Startup Terminal; Arun Nagpal, Co-Founder & Director, Mrida
Group shares more insights about his venture and future goals.
|Arun Nagpal, Co-Founder & Director, Mrida Group|
What inspired you to make your mark in the field of entrepreneurship?
Nagpal: After having
spent over 28 years in the corporate sector and at a stage when
I still had about 10 years of active working life ahead of me, I
believe that it was a natural progression to wanting to make a difference
and possibly giving back something to the society.
roots in the fact that some of my early childhood memories involved
traveling with my father, (who was a Horticulturist with the Govt. of
Maharashtra) to villages and farms throughout the State. He passed away 4
years ago, and remained till the very end, very passionate about rural
development. He also believed in that a bottoms up approach was the key to
the country’s development. In many ways, I seek to carry forward his legacy
on energy access in rural areas of India, and was struck by how a large chunk
of Indians lived in remote villages, with no electricity, and also in many
other ways, completely left out of the development strides that the rest of the
country was taking. I also had occasion to see how just basic energy access –
be it in the form of solar lanterns, solar micro grids, or solar LED street
lights, had the power to transform, to bring light, literally and figuratively,
into people’s lives.
to make a difference. It began with Energy access and its potential to
transform and moved on to the fact that agricultural interventions are the
key to development in an agrarian society like India. We firmly
believe that Energy access and agricultural interventions can be used
as effective tools for holistic development. The plan was to create a self-sustaining,
profitable business that had at its core, social, environmental and economic
upliftment at the Base of the Pyramid in Rural India. From another
perspective, the objective was to bring in the same rigor, business principles,
and the financial discipline of the corporate world, as learnt from the many
years that Mrida’s co-founders spent there, into the development sector.
This essentially, was what motivated me to co-create Mrida with 2
friends & like minded ex colleagues.
When did you start your venture? Please tell us little bit about your venture.
(Sanskrit for ‘Soil’) was set up a Social Business Venture that seeks to build
sustainable and scalable business models aimed at holistic rural development
and economic as well as social upliftment at the Base of the Pyramid
(BOP). I along with two friends and ex-colleagues, Gurveen Sood
and Manoj Khanna, set up Mrida in 2014.
years ago in 2000 (at Oriflame) and remained in touch thereafter. When
the ‘entrepreneur bug’ bit, we decided to come together again and take the
to do something that was socially and environmentally relevant, something that
would impact the lives of the underserved rural poor, and something that would
create win-win situations across the value chain. It was also agreed
that the holistic approach would be a key distinguishing factor of the
businesses to be set up.
small and marginal farmers, encouraging them to cultivate plants and herbs
which could be processed by Mrida, converted into a range of health and
wellness related products which could be branded and sold to customers – either
as extracts of plants and herbs to B2B consumers, or as finished products directly
to end consumers, thereby achieving the objective of creating win-win
situations across the board.
models, interlinked and synergistic with each other, with the
common motive of upliftment of remote rural areas and transformation of
lives at the Base of the Pyramid (BOP). These include
Renergy & Development: seeks
to provide energy access to the remote areas by setting up Solar Micro Grids in
the villages through Village Level Entrepreneurs, Self Help Groups, and CSR
initiatives. Mrida Renergy provides the off grid population with access to
energy, and works with local communities on how this access can be used as a
tool for sustainable and holistic rural development.
Green & Organics: supports
cultivation and collection of high value crops, plants and herbs, and value
addition to provide income enhancement opportunities. A modern, well equipped
processing unit in Umbergaon, Gujarat completes the loop to make extracts of
plants and herbs as per good manufacturing practices, which are then sold
to B2B customers.
by the Earth), Mrida seeks to build market linkages between small and marginal
farmers and rural artisans, and the end consumer. Currently comprising a range
of millet and amaranth based healthy multi-grain flours and mixes, cookies and
healthy snacks, with several others on the anvil products from the heart
of rural India, this effort would help create employment in these remote
rural establishments and act as a much required means of promoting local skill
sets and earning sustainable livelihoods.
What business opportunities do you see particularly in social sector?
Nagpal: More than 200
million people in India and over 1.2 billion globally lack
access to energy today, and depend primarily on kerosene for their lighting
requirement. Energy access is known to be a tool for development – key
development initiatives such as education, livelihoods, women’s empowerment,
and so on can be facilitated using energy access.
economy, it is unlikely that holistic development of rural India can become a
reality without involvement in agriculture.
agricultural interventions became logical starting points for the Mrida
sequence and flow of events prompted the move towards social entrepreneurship,
in a similar way, (holistic) rural development logically emerged as a focus
area for the business.
How has been your entrepreneurship journey so far?
Nagpal: Mrida has
initiated some interesting projects aimed at establishing proof of concept in
remote rural areas in the Indian States of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh,
Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and Madhya Pradesh – the initial response and
results have been quite encouraging.
would be to set up more such working models of energy access and agriculture
related interventions leading to sustainable development inmultiple villages/hamlets
in different parts of the country.
business houses in India like Infrastructure Leasing& Financial Services
Ltd. (IL&FS), Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., Reliance Industries Ltd. and
Rio Tinto India for integrated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
solar micro grids, 200+ Solar Street Lights, 8 E-Hubs, E-Rickshaws,
agricultural initiatives and so on have been instrumental in providing
opportunities for rural upliftment and sustainable livelihoods to underserved
individuals and communities in different parts of the country. It is estimated
that over 3000 lives in remoterural communities have been
illuminated, skills imparted to about 500, more than 40 tons of
CO2 emissions reduced through 000’s of liters of reduced consumption of
unhealthy, unsafe kerosene, and more than 19,000 lives impacted through our
efforts so far – a source of great joy and pride.
Greens at Umbergaon in Gujarat is fully operational and supplies a range of
plant-based extracts such as Aloe Vera, Noni, Shatavari, Ashwagandha,
Vijayasar, Amla and so on to B2B customers in different parts of the country.
The plan is to develop our own range of health and wellness related branded
products over time, feeding into the Earthspired brand.
a nominal topline of Rs. 30 lakhs across the different businesses, which
increased to Rs. 2 crores during 2015-16 with operating losses of about Rs. 30
lakhs. The total staff strength, including the team at the Head Office, field
staff at project sites, and manpower at the extraction unit, numbers 33,
including the 3 promoters.
with a turnover of in excess of Rs. 5 crores, and significantly, making a
nominal cash profit as a Group – thereby signaling not only sustainable social
impact, but financial viability, and through this, the ability to scale as
well. The Greens (extraction) business will make profits and will also be able
to recover part of the earlier years’ losses. The Renergy (energy access
and holistic development) and Earthspired businesses are similarly expected to
pick up steam and start making cash profits progressively over the course of
the next 2 years. At this pace of growth, all businesses are expected to be in
the green, become self sustainable, and generate returns from 2019-20 onwards.
As an entrepreneur, what challenges do you face in your day to day professional
life, if any?
credibility with the target audience and convincing them to be a part of the
change and gaining their trust presented some challenges, particularly with
regard to the time it takes to build such credibility.
scenario was and still is that after successfully implementing so many
projects, to instill the feeling into the village folks that they have to be
part of this journey and they should be equal partner in this initiative. Today
the scenario where subsidies have often been generous it is sometimes very
difficult to convince them that ‘nothing comes free’, and that some commitment
– financial as well as engagement/effort-wise, must come from the beneficiaries
thought process that the entire team follows, is that ‘There are no problems –
only challenges. And as Social Entrepreneurs, our role is to convert challenges
How big is your team? Are you planning to hire more?
Nagpal: The total
staff strength, including the team at the Head Office, field staff at project
sites, manpower at the extraction unit, and promoters, numbers 33. We are
immensely proud of the fact that Mrida today draws strength from a bunch of
young, self motivated and passionate individuals and professionals who are
playing an increasingly important and critical role in our Social
What are your future plans?
Nagpal: We are
working on the concept of 50-500-5000. As a self-funded operation, the 50 odd
interventions undertaken so far in different parts of the country were to
demonstrate proof of concept on the ground, ability to scale, and a path
towards financial viability for Mrida in the process. We would now like to tap
the market for funding into Mrida, so that we have the resources to scale up
our initiatives to the next level(s) – 500 in the next two years, and 5000 in
the two thereafter. In terms of the lives impacted, we aim to progressively
increase the numbers from 20k to 100k, and then to a million, and beyond.
demonstrated proof of concept in an ‘open source’ mode, we also hope to
motivate more individuals and organizations to engage in similar
activities/initiatives/businesses, and create a movement for change – a
movement towards sustainable and scalable, holistic rural development and
upliftment of lives at the Base of the Pyramid.
spread our wings in other parts of the world – working with underserved
communities on the one hand, and expanding market linkages to overseas
customers on the other – in the EU Region, the US, and elsewhere.
forward to, and exciting times ahead.
|In pic- A Mrida project|