Sustainable and Safe Enterprises

June 29, 2020

In May and June 2020, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai organized a series of webinars on social enterprise in the areas of urban sustainability and safety. These webinar-based symposia were conceptualized to provide market access and knowhow to the startups selected for the Urban Works Innovation Challenge 2019-2020.

In a symposium on Technology and Waste Management in Urban India held on May 26th, expert speakers included Mani Vajipey, Co-founder and CEO of Banyan Nation and alumnus of the Columbia Business School, Wilma Rodrigues, Founder and CEO, and Arun Murugesh, Regional Director of Saahas Zero Waste, and Professor Amita Bhide, Dean of the School of Habitat Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Urban Works winning startup, Swapeco, presented their app-based solution for scrap recycling. 

Mr Vajipey introduced the opportunities for budding entrepreneurs in recycling, followed with an explanation of his innovation of converting used plastic into pellets and what makes it a successful business model. Mr Murugesh explained how tech is an enabler in waste management and how Saahas leverages tech to create transparency and efficiency during waste sorting. Ms. Rodrigues and Professor Bhide spoke of the value of informal workers in the recycling ecosystem and how it is important to design systems that are inclusive. These presentations culminated in an engaging discussion where Swapeco drew prominent insights on best practices to follow while running a waste management venture. Along the way, Swapeco built lasting connections with the speakers that would serve them well going forward.

The second symposium, Technology and Water Management in Urban India, was held on June 15th with expert panelists Abilash Haridass, Co-founder of WeGOT Utility Solutions, Swapnil Shrivastav, CEO and Co-Founder of Uravu Labs, and Dr. Rakesh Kumar, Director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Urban Works winning startup, Agua, presented their offering for smart water management in urban buildings and automation of sewage treatment units. 

Mr Haridass put the problem into perspective with his insights on water demand in urban India and the savings that can be obtained through tech-enabled reduction in water requirement by using sensors. Mr Shrivastav spoke of various business models in the water sector, while Dr Kumar provided insight into the regulatory system in India relevant for young startups. Dr Kumar also illustrated the need for risk analysis and operations and maintenance mapping while undergoing automation of water assets. These talks resulted in stimulating an engaging discussion between the speakers and Agua, where the latter gained a solid understanding of the market space in this sector.

The third symposium, Technology and Organization Management in Urban India, was held on June 23rd with expert panelists Rahul Bajpai, Head of Human Resources at CoWrks and Deepayan Sensharma, Director of Human Resources at Marsh & McLennan Companies. Innerhour, one of the three Urban Works awardees, presented their mental health and well-being app and explained their process in solving mental health issues at the workplace, especially during COVID-19. 

Mr Bajpai addressed both mental health and prevention of sexual harassment (PoSH) at work, while elaborating on the evolved role of human resources in an organization. Mr. Sensharma spoke of the opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship in organization management by citing unresolved issues such as skewed gender ratio in upper management and absence of dialogue inside companies on the issue of mental health. Mr Sensharma unpacked the needs of today's organizations and guided innovators, including Innerhour, to think of incorporating elements of user-centric design, behavioral insights, and gamification in their offerings for future-ready workplaces.

These symposia helped steer the Urban Works startups in the right direction - a holistic understanding of the market, society, and government regulations - that would reap benefits in their go-to-market journey. Members of the Swapeco team remarked, “All our team members were motivated as most of our employees were present for the webinar and it was a validation for them as well, listening to other founders working on the same field gave them a sense of satisfaction that they are also working on the right company."