The Hindu’s Business Line recently had an article on the evolution of Intellecap, a social business consultancy in India. Writer Murali Gopalan speaks with Intellecap’s Co-Founder and Vice President, Aparajita Agrawal, about Intellecap’s start in microfinance and subsequent expansion into a range of sectors and service offerings including microfinance development, technology solutions, investment banking, and business consulting, largely focused on bottom of the pyramid solutions. Currently a $5.8 million entity, Intellecap is set to host its fourth Sankalp Forum, which brings social entrepreneurs and social investors together. Agrawal explains that throughout the year, Intellecap helps entrepreneurs develop their business plans and presentations, and during the forum, facilitates capacity building workshops and matchmaking with investors.
Most social businesses are in the micro-space. For us, it is one which works with a small profit initiative coupled with a strong social mandate catering to the bottom-of-the-pyramid market. Aparajita Agrawal, Intellecap’s Co-Founder and Vice-President (Knowledge and Insights)
When Aparajita Agrawal threw up her job with CARE India eight years ago to be part of the Intellecap team in Mumbai, little did she know then that this was the beginning of a memorable journey.
“My hometown is Meerut and I had no idea of Mumbai. The fact that I was taking a pay-cut and moving to an expensive city did not even sink in then,” Intellecap’s Co-Founder and Vice-President (Knowledge and Insights) told Business Line.
The idea was to join the brains behind the show, Vineet Rai, and help grow a dream of an advisory firm in the microfinance arena. Intellectual capital, therefore, was the genesis of Intellecap, now a Rs 30-crore entity.
From her viewpoint, the interest in this area germinated at the Indian Institute of Forest Management where she did her post-graduate programme. “Field visits to villages and community participation opened my eyes. The more I read forestry, the more I was certain I did not want to do it. It was community work that really interested me,” she adds.
The small team at Intellecap began working out of an apartment in Mumbai on a start-up capital of Rs 1 lakh. For the first month, there was not even an Internet connection. Yet, the energy levels continued unabated.
“Vineet was looking for more capital in the development space. Microfinance was undergoing a transition at that point to becoming more profit-oriented. We also felt profits were imperative to scaling up and reducing one’s dependence on grants,” Aparajita says.
The first big break came from the World Bank in the form of a marathon content exercise in microfinance. The small team began devouring news on the subject with a vengeance. “The content on the site was our responsibility and this gave us a lot of flexibility and knowledge,” she adds.
Nearly 125 documents were being processed every month and the Intellecap stakeholders literally soaked in all the information. The more important part about the World Bank assignment was that it was a fixed monthly fee which took care of the salaries and rent! The association continues to this day.
By 2005, Intellecap was looking at creating verticals. By this time, it had kicked off a newsletter too. “We created products and service lines in areas that were non-existent. We were also careful about the kind of assignments that we wanted to be involved with,” Aparajita says.
A magazine on microfinance was another offshoot which was a lot of fun while it lasted. It continued till 2007 but then the hard copy gave way to the online version. It was clear that this was an expensive option which just could not continue.
Being an advisory firm gave Intellecap the freedom to engage in different types of work. When working with social businesses, the team realised that the challenge they were facing was to access the right investors with the right business plan. This was when they decided to build a physical platform to bring both sides together and help them out.
Aparajita’s role was to create the knowledge group within the company. “Most social businesses are in the micro-space. For us, it is one which works with a small profit initiative coupled with a strong social mandate catering to the bottom-of-the-pyramid market,” she says.
In 2007, work began on a social enterprise platform and various models were tried out. Since it was hard to crack the online space, the focus changed to a physical option. This is when Sankalp was born as a forum to bring all enterprises together. It also has an awards component which allows these companies to submit their nominations.
“We work with them through the year and help them refine their business plans and presentations. We also create capacity-building workshops, matchmaking with investors and vendors and so on,” she says.
Sankalp’s fourth edition is happening this month. “The last three years of hard work is paying off and it is now really sought after in the social enterprise place,” she adds. The focus is on healthcare, education, rural agri-business, clean energy, and technology for development.
Aparajita believes there is still some way to go.
“We are happy with some of these initiatives but would have liked greater interest in this sector. There is a big knowledge gap in this space and the journey is a challenge for most of these people,” she says.
From Intellecap’s point of view, what began as a small journey a decade ago has since grown to include a host of services ranging from microfinance development, technology solutions and knowledge & insights to investment banking and business consulting. It hopes to achieve a turnover of Rs 100 crore over the next three years.