09 Jun 2015
We profile the winners of LBS’s annual awards for entrepreneurial alumni who’ve made a mark in their industry
The Accomplished Entrepreneur Awards are held each year to celebrate London Business School alumni whose entrepreneurial activities are making a mark in their industry.
There are two winners each year – with one award going to a brand well on its way to becoming established, usually coming up to a decade or so of operation. The second goes to an organisation that’s been operating for around five years, long enough to hone its business model and prove its success, but still in the relatively early stages.
This year, recognition went to Gaurav Mehta, who founded India-based social enterprise Dharma Life in 2009, and Stephen Finch of Vagabond Wines, who’s innovative approach to selling wine launched just over four years ago.
But what exactly are the ventures, and what do they do? We’ve profiled both of them.
What? A social enterprise started in 2009 by a group of graduates from London Business School with the ambition of driving sustainable growth in rural India.
How does it work? By creating entrepreneurs and building a market for socially impactful products that facilitate a socially positive behavioural change. More than 700 million people live in rural and remote parts of India where they there is high unemployment and lack of access to the basic products and services needed to improve health, education and earning potential, so it’s no small challenge.
What are its biggest challenges? Creating awareness, improving access and driving adoption of socially beneficial products among the rural consumers at what is known as ‘the last mile’, which is the last stage in a sales transaction.
To tackle the challenges, they’ve created a three step model:
Awareness: The first step in the process of change is to generate awareness of the causes of the various social problems at the village level.
Access: The second step is the creation of access to information, practices and products for improved quality of life.
Adoption: The last step ensures adoption of healthy practices in the village through behaviour-change campaigns that involve participatory activities at village-level access points.
What’s its social impact been so far? Pretty impressive. The enterprise estimates it’s provided 75,000+ people with access to clean energy in the form of solar lights), and 3,200+ with improved levels of indoor air pollution thanks to better cooking facilities. It says that 40,000+ people have benefitted from better health, hygiene and sanitation with water purifiers, sanitary napkins and soaps and that 3,300+ village-level enterprises have been supported. In total, 2.5 million+ livelihoods have been improved and 15,400+ tonnes of CO2 saved.
What? A hybrid of wine shop, wine bar and wine importer/distributor.
How does it work? The high street venues have 100 wines “on tap” so that customers can buy wine to either take away or drink on-site with food and friends. Vagabond also imports wine into the UK and distributes it to bars, restaurants and offices. Specifically aimed at those who enjoy wine, but don’t know that much about it, its carefully curated selections along with easy to digest descriptions mean that wine lovers know what they’re buying. Its distinctive approach sees it group wines by type rather than region, and has a streamlined approach to stock, with a smaller (although still extensive) selection, meaning it’s not intimidating. With comfy leather sofas and chunky farmhouse tables, as well as charcuterie and cheese platters to help the wine go down, if you’re really unsure, you can try before you buy and discover your new favourite. Another of the business’s popular elements are the descriptive taste cards, which customers often take home to display along with their selected bottle.
What challenge has it faced? It can be tough doing something new for the first time. Local councils had never encountered a business like Vagabond. Was it a shop, a bar? Stephen spent two years negotiating red tape to get the planning permission he needed – which at least made attracting customers seem like the easy part.
Tell me something interesting about the business. When it comes to innovation, Stephen doesn’t just stop at the business plan. Keen to introduce self-service wine machines, he baulked at the price of commercially available models before painstakingly building his own unique version.
The name sounds familiar, I’m sure I’ve heard of it..: You may well have done, if you’re into your UK TV. The business has featured on Made in Chelsea, the semi-reality TV show that follows the lives of some of London’s bright young things, three times.
Find out more about Dharma Life here
Find out more about Vagabond Wines here