A Glimpse Inside The IDEX Fellowship

Tyler and Lyle are IDEX Fellows currently working and living in Hyderabad, India.  The IDEX Fellowship is a social entrepreneurship fellowship in India where fellows work with private schools to improve the quality of education for students.  All fellows must fundraise part of the cost to participate in the program.  This year, 10 fellows got together and started a campaign on SSG to fund part of their fellowships costs.  They were able to raise just under $4,000 and split these funds equally to offset the costs of participating in the program.  Recently, I got a chance to speak to Tyler and Lyle about their experience in the program so far and how they plan to use this experience in their future endeavors.

How has your experience as an IDEX Fellow been so far?

Lyle: My experience at IDEX has been great so far.  There are two sides to our program.  We’re working in private schools half the time and that’s giving us a feeling of giving back.  We’re working for a non-profit placed in these schools and we’re helping out in any way that the school owner sees fit, which can mean anything from programming a computer lab to looking for different services for the school to running extracurricular activities.  We’re also doing professional development, which is an extra internship for everyone here where we can work in a field more specific to what we’re interested in.  So, I’m feeling good on all sides right now!  The experience for IDEX is ongoing—we’re only halfway through and it’s changing all the time.

Tyler: It’s a very broad program, as Lyle said we work mostly within the affordable private school market, which generally has tuition rates between $5 and $10 per month. For the families we’re serving, this is about 5-10% of their monthly income so it’s affordable but it’s certainly not a small cost.  India, in particular the city that we’re based in—Hyderabad, has a very different market.  Over 50% of students, regardless of economic income, tend to attend private school.  Our model is to work with for-profit businesses (or at least businesses that are breaking even) that have positive social impacts.  The education sector—particularly the private school sector—is not really thought of in this way in the States, but it definitely is in India. 

What are you both doing for your professional development internships?

Lyle: As part of my professional development work at IDEX, I work with an organization called Village Capital.  For Village Capital, we’re looking for seed stage entrepreneurs and we’re bringing them together into a forum where they’re learning how to pitch to investors.  We’re also lining up investors simultaneously to come and invest in the top two enterprises that are self selected –the entrepreneurs get to choose their two best enterprises—and they get a guaranteed $75,000 investment for each enterprise.  I get to work with them on a daily basis and learn so much about social entrepreneurship.  It’s super cool!

Tyler: I’ve got two right now—one I can’t disclose the actual company name because it’s still going under pilot but it’s one of the biggest social enterprises in America.  They are starting to work in India and piloting the distribution of their product in India.  That’ll probably be able to be announced officially in about a month or so.  I’m working on the distribution and the selection of applicants for that.  The second one that I can talk about is the Aakash Tablet, which is a low cost Android touch screen tablet.  It is a collaboration between the Department of Education and a British firm called Datawind.  The goal is to bring it to market with a subsidized education cost of about 1,500 rupees, which is roughly $30.  The unsubsidized cost will be about $60.  It does have limitations such as a slower processor but it can play YouTube and it can run a variety of Android apps.  I’m piloting that in a private school for the first time in India, which is a pretty cool opportunity.  The long-term goal of the Indian government with that project is to have one in every student’s hand by the end of 2014, which will probably be about 500 million units if it’s successful.

How did each of you get involved with IDEX and what are your backgrounds?

Lyle: I’m a recent college graduate.  I graduated from the University of South Carolina this past May and I began my job search probably about three months too late way back in February or March.  I got on Idealist.org and was searching social entrepreneurship and I found someone at an affiliate company of IDEX who recommended me to the IDEX program.  I studied entrepreneurship in South Carolina specifically under management.  Writing small business plans and seeing how businesses start is something I’ve been interested in and it’s something I want to do one day so I feel very lucky to have found this job. 

Tyler: My story is kind of funny also—I typed “social entrepreneurship fellowship” into Google and it was on the 9th page.  I’ve run about four companies myself, two of them being remotely successful, one of them kind of getting to a medium scale, and the last one kind of morphed into a social business in the last year of its existence where I would provide free services to non-profits and I kind of got really interested in that because I made a relatively comfortable amount of money in college and realized that profit wasn’t really my long-term motivation. My past background experience is in the entertainment industry.  I’ve worked for a lot of record labels like Sony and Universal.

Do you see yourselves using this IDEX fellowship to someday start your own social businesses or are you just looking to gain experience in the field?

Tyler: I’m definitely intending to start social businesses as my career.  I’m currently in talks for roughly three to four business ideas (realistically two).  I plan to stay within the IT, entertainment and arts-based industries but hope to take some of this education experience as well because it has really broadened my horizons.  I definitely plan to continue to exist in this space as an entrepreneur.

Lyle: I am using IDEX for professional development and I think I would like more experience as a professional before I start my own business.  I’m learning so much right now, it’s definitely encouraging.  If I can keep learning as much as I am right now I think that would make me more successful in the future.  I don’t think I’m personally ready to start a business right now but I’m here learning about how to start a business, which is definitely encouraging.  I think it is something you can learn how to do—the more you know about it the more successful you will be so I like being in this space and would like to stay in it a little longer to keep learning. 

As leaders of the campaign for the IDEX Fellowship, do you have any advice you could give to entrepreneurs looking to run successful campaigns on SSG? 

Tyler: I really think it’s important to tier your support.  A lot of people get an initial rush at the beginning and the end.  We definitely had a good initial influx and we had a rush at the end but there was a middle lull.  If you can design your campaign beforehand to pull from your different social networks from various industries at different times, that continued momentum is a lot better than just getting your donations in chunks at the beginning and end.  I’ve seen a lot of campaigns almost not make the tipping point because of that. 

Lyle: Also, social networking was HUGE for us.  We had everyone that was participating start their own donation page and send a shameless plug to all their friends and families to start. 

Tyler: One thing I’ve seen other campaigns do well was host a Twitter talk session where people can ask about the campaign.  While a paragraph or two is really nice, I think a lot of people who donate want to learn a little more before they start putting down their cash. Any way to be more interactive with your audience I think will have a really positive effect on your campaign.  Some of our biggest donors were people who we talked to individually who felt very connected to us for various reasons. 

What would be your biggest piece of advice for people looking to start their careers in the social entrepreneurship field?

Lyle: There are multiple fellowships in social enterprise.  Ours was lucky enough to place in the top 20.  That tells us right away that there are at least 20 worldwide fellowships in social enterprise so there are options if you want to jump into the field.  The educational value for me has been huge.  Joining a good social enterprise can be hard to do without some experience in a fellowship.  There are also probably some great graduate programs that focus on social entrepreneurship.  I think fellowships and graduate programs are the best ways to set yourself up in the field. 

Tyler: I would also say just start!  My first business—I took pictures for bands and I got paid $10 sometimes, I got paid nothing sometimes.  In my personal opinion, you learn a lot more from doing than from reading a book.  Particularly if you’re trying to be an entrepreneur, a lot of that isn’t learned in a textbook.  Your first five businesses could be awful—no one will ever get to see the first brochure I made for my friend’s wedding because it’s embarrassing—but learning by doing is the way to go.  Whether that’s volunteering on the weekends for a social business or joining a fellowship or starting a business on the side—just start something!

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Lyle: I love StartSomeGood!

Tyler: I like what you’re doing over at StartSomeGood.  You guys put us in a great spot.  We definitely would not have been able to come here and participate in this fellowship without StartSomeGood, so thank you!

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Have Tyler and Lyle inspired you to start your own good?  Do you have a social enterprise, a non-profit, or an amazing idea that needs some momentum to take off?  Visit our site to find out how to start your own campaign today.  Still have questions?  We have answers—check out our FAQ section. 

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