09 Sep 2020 18:48 IST

Krea University sets up Atal Incubation Centre to support rural artisans

The Centre aims to strengthen digital access to financial services in the handloom sector of Jaipur

Krea University has established an Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) — Catalyst, under the aegis of the Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), a flagship initiative of NITI Aayog. Established as a Section 8 entity, Catalyst AIC seeks to accelerate innovative, disruptive and inclusive tech solutions for the last mile.Over a five-year period, the programme will work towards building a robust support system for entrepreneurs working to enhance livelihood opportunities for undeserved segments in rural India, with a focus on rural artisans.

The first phase of the Catalyst initiative was funded by the United States Agency for International Development, under the mSTAR programme, to increase adoption of digital payments in India. In a partnership with the Government of Rajasthan, Krea’s leadership and research centre LEAD set up a first of its kind digital payments lab in Jaipur to enable small merchants and low-income consumers to move towards a cashless economy.

The incubator will be formally launched shortly followed by a call for applications for the first cohort of start-ups.

Community building

Home to a 200 million-plus strong artisan community, India’s handicrafts and handloom sector is deeply linked with its cultural heritage and is a crucial pillar to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities in rural areas. With the exception of a few supply chains, the sector is largely unorganised, and artisans have poor access to formal capital, weak exposure to new technologies, and markets. Inclusive tech applications, combined with relevant livelihood initiatives, can bring artisans into the fold of the formal economy, nurture greater inclusion and growth in rural areas.

The Catalyst AIC focuses on solutions that seek to strengthen access to digital financial services, improve supply chain management, skill development and workforce management, among others. It is unique in its value proposition as it provides start-ups with real-world test environments to rapidly test, iterate and deploy their solutions and integrate data-driven insights on their consumer segments to improve product design and delivery.

Real-life impact

The Catalyst AIC located in Jaipur offers a dedicated incubation space of approximately 10,000 sq ft to incubatees. As part of the incubation programme, selected incubatees will receive support in identifying targeted customer segments, piloting solutions, accessing domain experts and fine-tuning business models, drawing on Krea University’s thought leadership and research centre LEAD. The Catalyst AIC incubation programme will also facilitate relevant partnerships with educational and research institutes, corporates, start-up ecosystem players, and investors.

Dr Sunder Ramaswamy, Vice Chancellor, Krea University said, “The Catalyst AIC reflects Krea's ethos to nurture an inclusive ecosystem built on exchange of knowledge, ideas, insights and meaningful collaborations. It also strengthens our vision to interweave high quality research with impactful solutions on the ground”.

“While urban India has seen rapid digitisation of processes and systems across all domains through start-ups, India's last mile communities have been left largely unserved. With Catalyst AIC, we aim to provide a holistic support ecosystem for inclusive tech start-ups,” said Deepanshu Khandelwal, CEO of Catalyst AIC. He has previously worked with EY as a consultant to State Governments on their start-up policies and the founder of digital news media company Blue Box.

Co-creating with the artisans

“A key component of the Catalyst AIC Incubator is to provide in-depth granular research that helps start-ups. LEAD’s knowledge and expertise will be instrumental in providing ground-level insights about the artisan segment. It will enable the creation of tailor-made products for the last-mile, and importantly, those that are women-centric — taking into account their requirements, challenges and what works equally for men and women.” said Sharon Buteau, Executive Director, LEAD at Krea University.