On June 16th, 2010, Singapore was flooded with a sudden summer downpour, but for Milaap, this day was special for a very different reason. On that day, we made our way to the Singapore Management University (SMU) to host our pilot event. That morning, we knew that the response here would decide whether Milaap as an idea was as grand as it already was in our minds.
At SMU on June 16th
At SMU, to a gathering of friends and some of our earliest supporters, we made our first pitch, put forward our first presentation, and told our first set of stories, about ten rural women entrepreneurs. We had already worked with Sakhi Retail (the retail arm of Sakhi Samudaya Kosh) to put together this set of ten Sakhis, who would be the first ones to be part of the Milaap system. Many people pledged a decent amount of money; but what struck us most deeply was the fact they had given their hard-earned money to help women they had never seen or met, believing only in us and in our idea. It was then that we knew that we were on the right path.One of the Sakhis in our program
After forging a link with Sakhi Retail, our next important partnership came through Guardian, a Trichy-based microfinance institution that works solely in the field of water & sanitation. We launched a microsite on World Toilet Day (November 19th) for ten Guardian borrowers. Support from Acumen Fund, water.org and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was the icing on the cake! Read about it here.One of our borrowers uses a water-connection that was built using our lenders' money!
We started working with our next field partner, Bangalore-based Industree Crafts Foundation, in February. So far, our first set of disbursements has been completed, and we are just on the brink of beginning the next set!
In April, we raised funds for the entire education of thirty-seven youths from the Dharwad area, as part of our field partnership with GRAVITY. Read more about our partnership with GRAVITY, and the youngsters in the program!
Advisers and Supporters
August was an important month for us. Vijay Sharma, founder of One97 (which provides Value-Added services for mobiles), and Rajiv Madhok, founder of Oorja (which provides marketing solutions to telecom service providers) came on board with us, lending their invaluable advice and guidance to our still-nascent company. At the end of the month, we also shifted to NSRCEL, inside the sylvan surroundings of IIMB.
We are also immensely thankful to Nitin Bantwal Rao (founder of MIT design startup DPlay) and Paul Breloff (ex-VP of SKS Microfinance and current consultant at CGAP), for their invaluable assistance in helping us get off the ground.You can read more about our advisors and supporters here. In addition, we are deeply indebted to BetterLabs for making a great website for us, thus kick-starting our online lending platform.
Being a startup, we know that the one of the best ways to gauge our growth is through competitions with other young startups. December flew by in a string of B-plan competitions, the most notable of which was ISB’s iDiya, in which we emerged as finalists. In March of the following year, we returned to ISB for the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC), where we managed to reach the Asia finals.Milaap Co-founder, Anoj Viswanathan giving a 60-sec elevator pitch at the Asia-Africa finals of GSVC at ISB, Hyderabad, INDIA.
Way back in September, Dasra selected us as one of its thirty social entrepreneurs for its executive education and networking program (the best in the country!). In May, we managed to win their Village Capital challenge from among the group of thirty. In that same month, Unlimited India selected us for their Level Three Incubation, allowing us to avail their financial assistance. We’re very grateful to these two organizations for their invaluable assistance! At the end of the month, we went the full circle, back to our alma mater, for the Startup @ Singapore competition at NUS. Winning the first prize there was one of the best moments of our young life!
Of course, we can’t – and couldn’t have – done any of this without our lenders, supporters, friends, and family. While this one year has been wonderful, we know we have a long way to go. We hope that the coming years will see Milaap reach much greater heights – and we invite you to join us for the ride. Thanks for everything!