Have you ever wondered about the possible middle ground between profit-driven enterprises and social services? Or what incentives do these enterprises have in case they decide to work on social problems that are diverse, recurring, and effort-intensive? The world is passing through a phase where economic inequalities increase even with the increasing accessibility of technologies among enterprises. The technological advances aim to make lives more manageable; however, the existing Entrepreneurial setup and Governments couldn't ensure that the benefits seep down to the people at the lowest level. As a result, a new form of entrepreneurship: Socio-Entrepreneurship, has emerged to tackle the existing problems and bridge the widening gaps.
What is Socio-Entrepreneurship?
Socio-Entrepreneurship is a novel practice carried out by an entrepreneur, a group of individuals, or a startup to develop and fund solutions that helps in addressing social problems. Unlike NGOs and non-profit organizations, a social enterprise may or may not be profit-making, depending on its business model. However, social enterprises can be profitable as the problems they are tackling are present across different regions and sectors. Their solutions are often scalable, which reduces the costs over time. We were fortunate to contact Mr. Moinak Ghosh, a third-year undergraduate student at IIT Kharagpur, a part of the team that won Gold in SILICON LABS' SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP CHALLENGE at Inter IIT Tech Meet 10.0. The event was organized in the High Prep Category. It was based on developing an end-to-end IoT- based solution in various focus areas.
Delving deeper into the Event Preparations
According to Moinak, this edition of the Socio-entrepreneurship event was unique. It incorporated IoT ( Internet of Things ) to develop an operating tech-based solution within a month. IoT is the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. It can be broadly categorized into the end node (sensors), gateway (data transmission mechanism), and the cloud, where the data is received and is further processed as per the requirement. A high prep event spans around 30 days and out of which the team devoted 6 to 7 days solely to brainstorming against the usual 3 to 4 days. The problem statement allowed the participants to decide the area of application. In this particular case, the team decided during brainstorming to work on the logistical / transportation aspect as it has applications in diverse sectors. The deliverables for the event included a mid-evaluation report which contains a working prototype of the solution and a presentation on the final day. The team worked tirelessly over the next two weeks to develop the operable prototype and submitted the same during mid-evaluation. After that, the team prepared for the final presentation, comprising of 15 min presentation round followed by a 5 min QnA round.
Understanding the Pain Points
Pain points are specific problems current or prospective customers face in the marketplace. Therefore, to understand the pain points, the team analyzed the stakeholder. In the case of logistics, the major stakeholders were the truck drivers responsible for delivering tonnes of cargo every day for companies involved in packing and moving, transportation, and other activities. Most of the time, the trucks carry heavy loads over long distances. As a result, the truck drivers have to drive continuously to deliver the goods on time which comes at the cost of their sleep. To meet the fast-paced deadlines of the companies, the drivers often have to drive in unforgiving heat and uneven roads, which adds up to their fatigue. At the end of the company, it is not always possible to trace the vehicle and its goods.
Furthermore, poor cellular networks on these roads often result in delayed communication with the driver, which can be critical in times of an emergency. Statistics suggest that driver drowsiness solely results in 37% of the accidental deaths on roads. These are some of the pain points commonly observed in a developing country like India and require immediate attention.
Moving towards Solution Prototype
Contemplating a working solution was a difficult task. It took nearly a week for the team to finalize the pain points they would address. Each day, the team members came up with one or two pain points and their probable solutions, which the team thoroughly discussed in the team meetings. In this way, the team could finalize the pain points to be addressed in the solution. Since a high prep event lasted for nearly a month and the team had to submit deliverables for mid evaluation within two weeks, the team was further bifurcated into two sub-teams- the business and the technical teams that worked parallelly on the solution. The technical aspect revolved around creating the IoT-based working prototype within two weeks while the business team worked on the product's financial characteristics and the business model. The technical team didn't focus on creating something from scratch but instead on innovating upon the existing technologies and using them as per requirements. The team modified the sensors used by the group to serve specific functions like monitoring displacement of axles, alignment of wheels, engine health, tire pressure, etc. They even used visual sensors to live relay the driver's eyeball movements to monitor drowsiness levels. Since cellular connectivity is unreliable at times, the team decided to go for nascent technologies like LoRaWAN ( Low Powered Wide Area Network ) for the gateway, which helps overcome the above challenge. However, a downside is that the rate of data transfer is lesser than that of cellular connection. This method relays data like GPS coordinates and sensor data to the cloud, where it is appropriately processed and reflected on a mobile app. If a sensor detects something is wrong, it raises the alarm in the driver's dashboard and informs the fleet owner if the driver misses the same. The particular solution was deployed and tested on trucks and truck drivers 2-3 days before the mid-evaluation. The solution made ample use of open source tools alongside nascent technologies, which affected its optimization but was inevitable considering the lack of time at disposal.
The Road Ahead
The presentation, the prototype, and the groundwork impressed the judges, which was reflected in IIT Kharagpur bagging the Gold medal in this event. Events like this encourage the country's bright minds to align their entrepreneurial goals with social good. Moinak recommends that one should keep their eyes and ears open while thinking about the issues. He further suggests that taking part in hackathons, business planning competitions, and analyzing startups' pitch decks would help a person to do well in such competitions. With the rise of startup culture in developing countries like India, we can safely expect that the avenues of socio-entrepreneurship will continue to attract more opportunities with immense potential for growth in regions suffering from inequalities.