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How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Last updated on: September 13, 2011 18:19 IST

Image: Durgesh Nandan
Photographs: Photograph: Shobha Warrier Shobha Warrier in Coimbatore

Twenty-one year old Durgesh Nandan, the founder and CEO of AutomotionAds, is an engineer who passed out in April 2011. And, he has been running a venture for the last one year.

Here, he narrates how he became an entrepreneur, that too a social entrepreneur, when in college itself.

For starters, he was the first runner up at the recently concluded Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), a programme founded at the John Cook School of Business at the Saint Louis University.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Image: Rickshaw pullers

A social entrepreneur is born

I would say my parents inspired me to be a social entrepreneur. My mother herself is a social entrepreneur. I grew up seeing my mother train and help girls from rural areas. And, my father influenced me through his writings.

I was a second year engineering student in Lucknow. While travelling in rickshaws, I used to talk to the rickshaw pullers and found that even after working for say 36 years, they didn't own one.

They still lived in poverty and squalor. I felt auto rickshaw drivers and rickshaw pullers are an exploited segment. Thus, I started thinking how their lives could be improved.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Photographs: Photograph: Dipak Chakraborty

That's when I met the founder of Basix (, the micro finance organisation which helped the poor.

Even though, it was a Rs 1,000-crore (Rs 10-billion) company, it gave me the idea that you can develop a sustainable business plan and still help the society.

I thus came up with the idea of using rickshaws as a commercial/marketing platform. In villages, you don't see any hoardings, and here at the back of the rickshaws and auto rickshaws, there is enough space to place ads.

This was my first idea. And, I would say what came to my mind first was to help those poor people, and then, I came up with a business plan.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Beginning of the business venture

I started AutomotionAds with Rs. 50,000. My father, my friends and some of seniors initially helped me with this amount.

It was my passion to be an entrepreneur that made them extend a helping hand. I spent the money meeting people and talking to them.

I still remember jumping the walls of my college campus to canvas for my venture as they didn't allow us to get out till 5 pm.

It was more like a school. I got caught once and was suspended for seven days. But it never dampened my spirit to become an entrepreneur.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

My business plan was to use the space on autos for advertisement. For, this the revenue was shared 50:50 between my company and the clients. I got a good response for this idea. About 80-90 per cent of the autos in Lucknow agreed to place ads on autos.

So in November 2010, when I officially launched the plan, I had 100 autos ready to be a part of our venture. Even, it was a tough task for me to meet clients while still studying, I enjoyed every bit of it.

Our first client was IIM-Lucknow. They used this space to promote their annual fest. I actually got this client by accident. I was at a book fair, when I met a guy from IIM-L.

I told him about my concept and after a month, he called me and gave me the assignment. We were paid Rs. 40,000 for our first campaign that lasted four weeks.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Today, over 200 auto drivers from Varanasi also have joined us in our venture. We aim to start operations in four more cities in UP and as well as in Hyderabad.

So far, we have six clients and we have generated revenue of Rs. 2.5 lakh (approximately).

I am very excited about this project. Now that my education is over, and I have rejected job offers, I could be working for our venture full time.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Designing new cycle rickshaws

I have also designed a new model which is low on cost and low on weight. I have incubated it at IIT-BHU from where I have got technology support. In this newly designed rickshaw, there is enough space for ads.

My plan is, first to make the cycle rickshaw driver own the rickshaw and then register the space with our company.

And the ad space can be utilised for various campaigns, which are revenue earning for both us and the driver.


How this 21-yr-old became a social entrepreneur

Udaan for rickshaw pullers

We started Udaan to free the rickshaw pullers from the bond they are in now. It was the sad plight of the rickshaw pullers who did not have Rs.10,000 to own a rickshaw though they had been puling rickshaws all their lives that made me want to do something for them while doing the business.

Mind you, he had been paying Rs 35 every day to the owner of the rickshaw for more than 30 years. I also found that there are more than a crore cycle rickshaws in India.

What I plan to do is, help the rickshaw puller avail a loan to buy the rickshaw so that he can save Rs. 35 everyday. We are going to partner with Rang de, a non-profit microfinance institution, in this venture.

My dream is to develop AutomotionAds to be the biggest social change company.