Hubli sandbox: Incubator of social innovation

Started five years back, it has spawned 500 graduates, 13 startups, close to 50 partners and hundreds of new innovations

Published: 01st February 2013 08:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st February 2013 08:43 AM   |  A+A-

What began as an interesting experiment in the districts around Hubli has in the past five years given hundreds of locals a chance to build their businesses.

Welcome to the Hubli sandbox - a hub for experiments of a social nature. Similar to those in the USA, the sandbox seeks to provide a sheltered atmosphere for any social experiment in order to see whether it can be scaled to a bigger level. The experiment started five years back has so far spawned 500 graduates, 13 new startups, close to 50 partners and hundreds of new innovations every year.

An initiative of the Deshpande Foundation, the Hubli sandbox stands alongside three more run by the foundation in the USA and Canada. Foundation co-founder Gururaj Deshpande told Express: “When my wife and I wanted to do something for India, we found that social innovation is more apt than technological innovation. In a smaller area of 4-5 districts, it is easy to reach the critical masses without many issues with the implementation.” 

On the initial years of the sandbox, Deshpande said that over 100 people from the USA were invited to participate in local programmes and speak to the people. “We soon realised that local leadership is essential for social innovation. So, we started leadership programmes at all levels. We have today 50 partners that we choose to work with because of their entrepreneurial skills,” Deshpande added.

On the role of the foundation in the sandbox, Deshpande said that it funds small innovations or ideas to see if they are viable. These ideas are implemented within the sandbox. If found to be viable, the person who came up with the idea is encouraged to find a scalable financial model to take his innovation to a larger crowd, he added.

“We fund innovation and parts of research and ask the researcher to find his/her own financial model to scale it,” Deshpande said.

On his reasons for starting a sandbox, Deshpande said that it is a resource intensive process. “We have so far invested Rs 60 crore here. However, the solutions found here are not limited to the area and can be taken beyond the sandbox itself. What we are hoping is that with time, the concept of the sandbox itself becomes popular and is duplicated,” he added.

Another idea of Deshpande is that the Centre can look at starting such sandboxes in around 100 districts once the process is properly documented. “We are watching the project grow and there is still a lot of confusion. There is much more to be done before a roadmap for duplication can be achieved,” Deshpande added.

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