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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

Last updated on: March 20, 2012 16:58 IST

From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

The story of E Sarathbabu, a boy brought up in a slum in Chennai who turned into a successful entrepreneur, passing through, on the way, the corridors of BITS, Pilani and Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has become legendary in India now.

The first time I met E Sarathbabu was in 2006 when he had just graduated out of IIM-A. He had made headlines in the country when he rejected offers from various MNCs to start his own enterprise.

He wanted to follow his heart and what his mother did to bring up her children -- sell idlis in the morning.

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Image: E Sarathbabu
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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In two years' time, he had made his enterprise- Foodking- a successful venture.

This was followed by a foray into politics and two elections in which he stood as an independent candidate and made thousands of speeches at various colleges to inspire children to study and become entrepreneurs. In the process, Foodking was neglected.

Now, he is back on track and ready to make Foodking more successful.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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The latest feather to his cap is an invitation by the World Bank to represent South Asia at the Bank's annual event, the Global Youth Conference.

He was among the three young entrepreneurs who were invited from across the globe to speak on "Youth Unemployment: Empowering Solutions through Innovation and Inclusion".

Sarathbabu, founder and CEO of Foodking got back from New York a few days ago. He speaks to rediff.com about the event and also his plans for the future.

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Image: Sarathbabu (second from left) on the panel of Global Youth Conference.


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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Representing the South Asia at the World Bank conference

In February, a month before the Global Youth Conference, I got a call from the secretary of the co-chair of the event, and she said that they were holding an annual youth meet and they wanted me to be one of the speakers.

She said there would be 400 youngsters from 30-40 countries across the world. She also informed me that the conference would be telecast live across the world.

I was thrilled and excited. It was no mean an achievement representing South Asia as an entrepreneur.

Last year, I was in the US on the Legislative Fellowship Program from the US state government. So, this was my second trip to US.

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Speaking at the Global Youth forum

I reached New York on March 4 and the address was scheduled for March 7. They told me that each speaker would be given seven to eight minutes to speak on the topic. Besides me, there were two young entrepreneurs at the meet.

We were asked to speak on how we could solve the unemployment problems of our countries. I represented South Asia, while the other speakers were from Mexico and Africa.

I was the second person to speak. I worked hard on my power point presentation, but my speech was extempore. I divided my presentation into three parts, and the first part was about my childhood.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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I spoke about my childhood and connected it to the millions of children living in poverty. I sensitised the audience on poverty and hunger.

The second part of my speech was about following my dream of becoming an entreprenuer and what made me start Foodking. I said, by starting Foodking, my desire was to provide employment and alleviate poverty.

The third part was about how young entrepreneurship can change the lives of people and the face of a nation.

I said, we have a population of 100 crore (1 billion) and we needed one person from every 1 crore who had the capacity to start an enterprise and create 1 lakh jobs. I said it was not necessary to have any help from the government to be an entrepreneur.

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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I also spoke about how I addressed youngsters at various college and industry events on entrepreneurship.

Finally, I said my dream was to see a hunger-free India and that's why I started the Hunger Free India Foundation. I ended my speech by saying, if all of you are with me, 'we can make a hunger-free world; as hunger is the same whether you are from India, Africa or Europe!'

When I ended, theere was complete silence. Nobody said anything, nobody moved. Later, I was told that lot of people were crying listening to my speech. To which, I said, 'that was not my intention at all!'

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Photographs: Courtesy, sarathbabu.co.in

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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After the three of us addressed the meet, there was a question and answer session.

Huge applause followed after I finished answering the questions. Needless to say I was thrilled. One of the girls at the event came up to me and said that she was going back to India to start an NGO.

It was an overwhelming experience to share my dreams at such a big platform.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Youth to Youth (Y2Y) Community

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Starting Foodking in 2006

I started Foodking (I had decided on the name then itself) from my hostel room with less than Rs 2,000, when I was studying at IIM-A. I knew I was going to be in the food business. So, I didn't want to waste any time. I started out by serving refreshments to the students.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Foodking

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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After graduation, I got an offer from big software companies but I rejected them all to start my own enterprise.

I never expected this kind of response from people, but I knew my initiative would have a strong impact on the society.

Right now, we have six units in four places - Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Rajasthan. I am now concentrating on retail units. Our turnover today is Rs 7 crore (Rs 70 million) per year.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Jobs for school drop outs

At present, we have 250 employees working for us. I employ school drop outs and poor people, as their families need support. If I wanted, I could have started a software company and employed educated youth, but that was not my intention when I decided to be an entrepreneur.

My dream is to employ one lakh people in my lifetime. That is also the vision of Foodking.

I don't want to be number 1 or even one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in India. Let me be the 10,000th one, but at least a few of those who are above me in the list should say that they became entrepreneurs because of me.

I plan to open 100 units in the next two years, and some investors have also shown interest in the business.

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 A roller coaster ride

It has been a roller coaster ride in the case of Foodking, as in between I concentrated on my social responsibilities. I felt if I sow many seeds, they would grow with me. I don't think I have to be 45 to support entrepreneurs.

While I took up social reponsibilities, my business got affected. In the last 6 years, I might have spent only 1 and a half years concentrating on my business.

Now, I have changed my strategy and I am going to devote the next five years to my business.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Foodking

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From the slums of Chennai he made it to World Bank

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Hunger free Foundation

I started the foundation to spread awareness about a hunger free India. I feel not individuals or government, but the whole country should work towards it.

We declared October 10, 2010 (10-10-10) as hunger free day. With this, we wanted to sensitise the nation. What we want is that everybody should do something at least on that day in their capacity so that nobody stays hungry.

It has to be a collective effort, mainly by the youngsters as they are the future of the country. It can be feeding someone, or helping someone in the education of a child or helping an entrepreneur...you can do anything for the cause.

I have experienced hunger and it's like a disease. I don't want anyone to have that disease.

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