The first thing I notice when I walk into UnLtd India’s office is a poster of Apple’s legendary ‘Think Different’ ad — the commercial that talks about the ones who see things differently; the round pegs in the square holes. An hour later, after meeting Pooja Warier, I couldn’t help but wonder how appropriate the quote is for the lady herself. After all, she was just 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. In eight years, the company has supported 132 unique fellows, created 390,000 jobs and has reached out to more than 2.5 million beneficiaries through their ventures.
It all started during Warier’s nine-month stint at UnLtd UK as an intern when she was 25. Warier recalls that then, the idea of starting one in India wasn’t well structured as it is today. “It was less about incubators and social entrepreneurship and more about building a community for individuals who want to contribute towards change and try to build an organisation,” she says. But as time evolved, the objective sharpened and focused on helping entrepreneurs in the social sector.
It was also at UnLtd UK where Warier met her co-founder Richard Alderson, who was also her first boss. Her experience there laid the foundation for her work in India. ”When I first stepped into UnLtd UK, it was as if I was coming home. Even though I was just an intern, watching the coaches counsel the fellows was enlightening,” she says. When she realised, that UnLtd UK was not planning to expand out of the country, she took the opportunity to launch UnLtd India. While they were inspired by UnLtd UK, both organisations are completely independent.
Nevertheless, the journey from there on was no walk in the park. Ironically, Warier had to face the same problems that are currently posing challenges to her fellows, the major one being finding investors. “At the start, if we accept ten start-ups, not all flourish; 3-4 tend to fail. This was a phenomenon that VC circles were accustomed to, while it was unheard of in the soci