Armed with an innate stubbornness, she has built India’s first incubator for social entrepreneurs: Meet Pooja Warier
Pooja Warier was in her mid-twenties when she co-founded UnLtd India, India’s first incubator to provide both financial and non-financial support for social entrepreneurs. And in eight years, they have supported 132 unique fellows, created 390,000 jobs and reached out to over 2.5 million beneficiaries.
The idea of starting an incubator first took root during Pooja Warier’s nine-month stint at UnLtd UK as an intern when she was 25. The idea was new in India, but she, along with co-founder Richard Alderson of UnLtd UK (who was also her first boss) persevered.
But it was not all smooth sailing initially. “Funders preferred to put money behind people who had track records,” she remarks. Their search for money ended with CSO Partners coming on board. Warier recounts that when the mail came in asking us how much money they wanted, they were caught unprepared.
“We had been so caught up in the act of pitching that we didn’t have a quote ready for him. When we gave them a quote, they said it wouldn’t suffice and gave us a higher amount; over Rs.1 crore. It was more than we could ever ask for,” she smiles.
“He told me that I could either spend the next three years looking for money or spend it building an amazing organisation, and that he wanted me to do the latter,” she says. This conversation led to the company telling their fellows that ‘we believe in you, we’ve given what you need, now do it’. “More than the money, it is the faith that we place in our fellows that has worked wonders for us,” she says.
A 2014 evaluation by Dalberg Global Development Advisors reported that on an average, for every rupee UnLtd India provides through funding, their investee programs have raised 14.5 of further funding.
Even after this, getting funds for new things the organisation wants to try still remains a task. Another challenge is getting the right talent on board as they cannot offer rates that match investment firms and venture capital firms. Warier feels that it is her “stubbornness” that carried her this far and ensured that her ideas and ambition turn into reality.
When asked if she ever felt like throwing in the towel, she says that there was just one time — when her co-founder, Alderson, transitioned out to become a board member.
Some of the milestones Warier recalls with fondness are her inclusion into the World Economic Forum and her TEDx talk at Pelourinho in Salvador, Brazil in 2011. While her gender was never a major hurdle, Warier recounts incidents where differential treatment was apparent. But she strongly denies that she could have achieved more if she was a man. “I am right where I need to be. I wouldn’t blame anything I’ve not accomplished on that,” she says.