We live in an era when technology is completely changing the world. In just 10 years our lives have been revolutionised by smartphones, apps and social networks, but unfortunately this change is not something that is benefiting everyone. Sixty one percent of the world’s population do not have access to the internet and to new technologies. Obviously, their needs are completely different and the innovation required can be much simpler than we think. TinkerTank, a social enterprise, is working on affordable technology for social impact.
Founded by Keshav G., Adnan Ansari and Abhishek Rathi, Tinker Tank’s mission is to design and distribute need-based, appropriate, low-cost tools and machines with an aim to reduce the drudgery of intense manual labour faced by poor women workers engaged in several cottage-based industries. It also hopes to increase (and generate) their livelihood opportunities.
“During my summer internship in 2011, I was asked to do an infrastructure-assessment in the slums of Bangalore against my much initial refusal. In every slum I found women rolling incense-sticks with bare hands. My presumption then was that incense-sticks in India are largely made by some machine. I came back to the institute and started working on developing a tool to roll incense-sticks. After my graduation, my institute’s director offered me the opportunity to stay back and further develop the tool,” says Keshav.
This experience was very important for Keshav who decided to pursue his goal, create a product and help women workers. “Our first product is Doopica, a low-cost incense-stick machine which helps women workers make incense-sticks easily, avoid exploitation and reduce health risks. We have a bamboo-stick making machine, fire-cracker making machine, rice-sapling planting machine etc in the product pipeline,” he says. But his goal is bigger than creating a product that can be used by women with low income. “At Tinker Tank, we are not just being an old-school design company which just develops and sells a technology but we are mobilizing women workers to come together and form a producer company. With our affordable technology they can carry-out their livelihood activities easily, produce high-quality products, sell directly to the market bypassing the middle-men or MSMEs structure. This will help them move up in the value chain and gain visibility. This is the best possible way to come out of the vicious poverty cycle and live a dignified life,” explains Keshav.
The idea behind Tinker Tank is great, but they are still an early stage startup. “At present, we are incubated at IIT Gandhinagar Incubation Center. We receive constant funding, mentoring and in-kind services. Recently, we raised some money by winning the ISB iDiya competition. We expect to raise more money as and when we wish to expand and scale up. Tinker Tank has a simple business model – we outsource the manufacturing of components; we collect the components and assemble it; distribute and sell it. So, we generate revenue from direct sales of our product,” says Keshav.
Keshav sets some important short term goals to help the company scale up. “We are now essentially focusing on quick market penetration. We shall achieve this by building partnership with various NGOs and microfinance institutions which will act as our channel to distribute Doopica. By the end of 2014, we wish to have our presence in five states,” announces Keshav. But like every great startup, he also has some long term goals that he wants to achieve in the next few years. “In five years, we wish to have international presence and be recognized as a strong design center with a focus on developing low-cost, high quality, high social-impact technologies. With that in context, we wish to have a strong research and development team and sales and distribution team led by senior level hiring. By the end of 2019, we wish to reach and impact about 100,000 poor women workers directly,” adds Keshav.
Keshav is a young social entrepreneur who strongly feels about making a positive change in society. “I wish to say to all budding entrepreneurs that we are just the subsidized product of the Indian education system; we got our education from taxes paid by our fellow Indians, most of who are poor. I realize that it’s my duty to pay this back; using my educational skills to improve their lives. The ecosystem in India is better now for social entrepreneurs with many investors ready to put in money, with many mentors ready to guide, and with many incubators ready to nurture the idea. There is all the more reason to plunge into this space,” says Keshav.
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