Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The inspiring rags-to-riches tale of Sarathbabu

When 27-year old Sarathbabu graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad [ Images ], he created quite a stir by refusing a job that offered him a huge salary. He preferred to start his own enterprise -- Foodking Catering Service -- in Ahmedabad.
He was inspired by his mother who once sold idlis on the pavements of Chennai, to educate him and his siblings. It was a dream come true, when Infosys [ Get Quote ] co-founder N R Narayana Murthy [ Images ] lit the traditional lamp and inaugurated Sarathbabu's enterprise.
Sarathbabu was in Chennai, his hometown, a few days ago, to explore the possibility of starting a Foodking unit in the city and also to distribute the Ullas Trust Scholarships instituted by the IT firm Polaris [ Get Quote ] to 2,000 poor students in corporation schools.
In this interview with rediff.com, Sarathbabu describes his rise from a Chennai slum to his journey to the nation's premier management institute to becoming a successful entrepreneur. This is his story, in his own words.
Childhood in a slum
I was born and brought up in a slum in Madipakkam in Chennai. I have two elder sisters and two younger brothers and my mother was the sole breadwinner of the family. It was really tough for her to bring up five kids on her meagre salary.
As she had studied till the tenth standard, she got a job under the mid-day meal scheme of the Tamil Nadu government in a school at a salary of Rs 30 a month. She made just one rupee a day for six people.
So, she sold idlis in the mornings. She would then work for the mid-day meal at the school during daytime. In the evenings, she taught at the adult education programme of the Indian government.
She, thus, did three different jobs to bring us up and educate us. Although she didn't say explicitly that we should study well, we knew she was struggling hard to send us to school. I was determined that her hard work should not go in vain.
I was a topper throughout my school days. In the mornings, we went out to sell idlis because people in slums did not come out of their homes to buy idlis. For kids living in a slum, idlis for breakfast is something very special.
My mother was not aware of institutions like the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, or the Indian Institutes of Technology. She only wanted to educate us so that we got a good job. I didn't know what I wanted to do at that time because in my friend-circle, nobody talked about higher education or preparing for the IIT-JEE.
When you constantly worry about the next square meal, you do not dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer. The only thing that was on my mind was to get a good job because my mother was struggling a lot.
I got very good marks in the 10th standard exam. It was the most critical moment of my life. Till the 10th, there was no special fee but for the 11th and the 12th, the fees were Rs 2,000-3,000.
I did book-binding work during the summer vacation and accumulated money for my school fees. When I got plenty of work, I employed 20 other children and all of us did the work together. That was my first real job as an entrepreneur. Once I saw the opportunity, I continued with the work.

Life at BITS, Pilani
Sarathbabau. Photograph: Sreeram SelvarajA classmate of mine told me about BITS, Pilani. He was confident that I would get admission, as I was the topper. He also told me that on completion (of studies at Pilani), I will definitely get a job.
When I got the admission, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited that for the first time I was going out of Chennai, but there was also a sense of uncertainty.
The fees alone were around Rs 28,000, and I had to get around Rs 42,000. It was huge, huge money for us. And there was no one to help us. Just my mother and sisters. One of my sisters -- they were all married by then -- pawned her jewellery and that's how I paid for the first semester.
My mother then found out about an Indian government scholarship scheme. She sent me the application forms, I applied for the scholarship, and I was successful. So, after the first semester, it was the scholarship that helped me through.
It also helped me to pay my debt (to the sister who had pawned her jewellery). I then borrowed money from my other sister and repaid her when the next scholarship came.
The scholarship, however, covered only the tuition fees. What about the hostel fees and food? Even small things like a washing soap or a toothbrush or a tube of toothpaste was a burden. So, I borrowed more at high rates of interest. The debt grew to a substantial amount by the time I reached the fourth year.

First year at BITS, Pilani
To put it mildly, I was absolutely shocked. Till then, I had moved only with students from poor families. At Pilani, all the students were from the upper class or upper middle class families. Their lifestyle was totally different from mine. The topics they discussed were alien to me. They would talk about the good times they had in school.
On the other hand, my school years were a big struggle. There was this communication problem also as I was not conversant in English then.
I just kept quiet and observed them. I concentrated only on my studies because back home so many people had sacrificed for me. And, it took a really long time -- till the end of the first year -- to make friends.
The second year
I became a little more confident and started opening up. I had worked really hard for the engineering exhibition during the first year. I did a lot of labour-intensive work like welding and cutting, though my subject was chemical engineering. My seniors appreciated me.
In my second year also, I worked really hard for the engineering exhibition. This time, my juniors appreciated me, and they became my close friends, so close that they would be at my beck and call.
In the third year, when there was an election for the post of the co-ordinator for the exhibition, my juniors wanted me to contest. Thanks to their efforts I was unanimously elected. That was my first experience of being in the limelight. It was also quite an experience to handle around 100 students.
Seeing my work, slowly my batch mates also came to the fold. All of them said I lead the team very well.
They also told me that I could be a good manager and asked me to do MBA. That was the first time I heard about something called MBA. I asked them about the best institution in India [ Images ]. They said, the Indian Institutes of Management. Then, I decided if I was going to study MBA, it should be at one of the IIMs, and nowhere else.
Inspiration to be an entrepreneur
It was while preparing for the Common Admission Test that I read in the papers that 30 per cent of India's population does not get two meals a day. I know how it feels to be hungry. What should be done to help them, I wondered.
I also read about Infosys and Narayana Murthy, Reliance [ Get Quote ] and Ambani. Reliance employed 20,000-25,000 people at that time, and Infosys, around 15,000. When a single entrepreneur like Ambani employed 25,000 people, he was supporting the family, of four or five, of each employee. So he was taking care of 100,000 people indirectly. I felt I, too, should become an entrepreneur.
But, my mother was waiting for her engineer son to get a job, pay all the debts, build a pucca house and take care of her. And here I was dreaming about starting my own enterprise. I decided to go for a campus interview, and got a job with Polaris. I also sat for CAT but I failed to clear it in my first attempt.
I worked for 30 months at Polaris. By then, I could pay off all the debts but I hadn't built a proper house for my mother. But I decided to pursue my dream. When I took CAT for the third time, I cleared it and got calls from all the six IIMs. I got admission at IIM, Ahmedabad.
Life at IIM, Ahmedabad
My college helped me get a scholarship for the two years that I was at IIM. Unlike in BITS, I was more confident and life at IIM was fantastic. I took up a lot of responsibilities in the college. I was in the mess committee in the first year and in the second year; I was elected the mess secretary.
Becoming an entrepreneur
By the end of the second year, there were many lucrative job offers coming our way, but in my mind I was determined to start something on my own. But back home, I didn't have a house. It was a difficult decision to say 'no' to offers that gave you Rs 800,000 a year. But I was clear in my mind even while I knew the hard realities back home.
Yes, my mother had been an entrepreneur, and subconsciously, she must have inspired me. My inspirations were also (Dhirubhai) Ambani and Narayana Murthy. I knew I was not aiming at something unachievable. I got the courage from them to start my own enterprise.
Nobody at my institute discouraged me. In fact, at least 30-40 students at the IIM wanted to be entrepreneurs. And we used to discuss about ideas all the time. My last option was to take up a job.
Foodking Catering Services Pvt Ltd
My mother is my first inspiration to start a food business. Remember I started my life selling idlis in my slum. Then of course, my experience as the mess secretary at IIM-A was the second inspiration. I must have handled at least a thousand complaints and a thousand suggestions at that time. Every time I solved a problem, they thanked me.
I also felt there is a good opportunity in the food business. If you notice, a lot of people who work in the food business come from the weaker sections of the society.
My friends helped me with registering the company with a capital of Rs 100,000. Because of the IIM brand and also because of the media attention, I could take a loan from the bank without any problem.
I set up an office and employed three persons. The first order was from a software company in Ahmedabad. They wanted us to supply tea, coffee and snacks. We transported the items in an auto.
When I got the order from IIM, Ahmedabad, I took a loan of Rs 11 lakhs (Rs 1.1 million) and started a kitchen. So, my initial capital was Rs 11.75 lakhs (Rs 1.17 million).
Three months have passed, and now we have forty employees and four clients -- IIM Ahmedabad, Darpana Academy, Gujarat Energy Research Management Institute and System Plus.
In the first month of our operation, we earned around Rs 35,000. Now, the turnover is around Rs 250,000. The Chennai operations will start in another three months' time.
I want to employ as many people as I can, and improve their quality of life. In the first year, I want to employ around 200-500 people. In the next five years, I hope to increase it by 15,000. I am sure it is possible.
I want to cover all the major cities in India, and later, I want to go around the world too.
I have seen people from all walks of life -- from the slums to the elite in the country. That is why luxuries like a car or a bungalow do not matter to me. Even money doesn't matter to me. I feel bad if I have to have food in a five star hotel. I feel guilty.
Personally, I have no ambition but I want to give a house and a car to my mother.
I did not expect this kind of exposure by the media for my venture or appreciation from people like my director at the IIM or Narayana Murthy. I was just doing what I wanted to do. But the exposure really helped me get orders, finance, everything.
The best compliments I received were from Narayana Murthy and my director at IIM, Ahmedabad. When I told him (IIM-A director) about my decision to start a company, he hugged me and wished me luck. They have seen life, they have seen thousands and thousands of students and if they say it is a good decision, I am sure it is a good decision.
Reservation should be a mix of all criteria. If you take a caste that comes under reservation, 80 per cent of the people will be poor and 20 per cent rich, the creamy layer. For the general category, it will be the other way around.
I feel equal weightage should be given for the economic background. A study has to be done on what is the purpose of reservation and what it has done to the needy. It should be more effective and efficient. In my case, I would not have demanded for reservation. I accepted it because the society felt I belonged to the deprived class and needed a helping hand.
Today, the opportunities are grabbed by a few. They should be ashamed of their ability if they avail reservation even after becoming an IAS officer or something like that. They are putting a burden on the society and denying a chance to the really needy.
I feel reservation is enough for one generation. For example, if the child's father is educated, he will be able to guide the child properly.
Take my case, I didn't have any system that would make me aware of the IITs and the IIMs. But I will be able to guide my children properly because I am well educated. I got the benefits of reservation but I will never avail of it for my children. I cannot even think of demanding reservation for the next generation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Film Funds


NFDC: The National Film Development Corporation Limited (NFDC) provides filmmakers with co-production facilities. Application forms are available online and at the Head Office in Mumbai and regional offices across India. Filmmakers need to submit the application forms, the synopsis and treatment (in English) along with a non-refundable processing fee of INR 2000 (for short films) and INR 5000 (for feature films). NFDC assures minimum fiscal investment of 30% of the total cost of the film project. For the projects which are selected by the committee, NFDC undertakes to finance the films with an investment of an additional 30% of the total budget of the film or Rs.10 Million, whichever is less. The filmmaker has to raise the balance investment within one year from the date of selection of their project. A maximum of five scripts are selected by committee.
For detailed Info: Email nfdc@nfdcindia.com or Visit: www.nfdcindia.com
Global Film Initiative: The Global Film Initiative was created to promote cross-cultural understanding through the medium of cinema. This is an American film fund mostly for filmmakers in developing countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Twice every year, 10 grants of up to $10,000 each are given to feature film makers from these regions. The current last date for application is 15 Jan 2009. They also have an acquisition and distribution program.
For detailed Info: Call 415-934-9500, Fax 415-934-9501, Email gfi-info@globalfilm.org or Visitwww.globalfilm.org
World Cinema Fund: This fund set up by the Berlin International Film Festival seeks to provide production and distribution funding for films that surprise audiences with their unusual aesthetics, tell poignant stories and present an authentic image of their cultural heritage. This funding is both for production and distribution of feature films as well as documentaries. This fund is mainly for co-productions with a German company and the maximum funding is of € 100,000 per project. Production funding applications should be submitted before 12 March 2009.
For detailed information:  Email heinen@berlinale.den and bugno@berlinale.de or Visitwww.berlinale.de.
Hubert Bals Fund: This fund is given to remarkable or urgent feature films and feature-length creative documentaries by innovative and talented filmmakers from developing countries. Though the fund looks at the financial aspects of a project, the decisive factor remains its artistic value. Since the Fund started in 1988, close to 600 projects from independent filmmakers in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America have received support. Approximately 80% of these projects have been realised or are currently in production. It makes individual grants of to €10,000 for script and project development, €20,000 for digital production, €30,000 for post-production or €15,000 towards distribution costs in the country of origin. Selection rounds take place twice a year, with application deadlines on March 1 and August 1. The International Film Festival Rotterdam screens a large part of the year's harvest of completed films supported by the fund. In exchange for its financial contribution the Hubert Bals Fund wishes to obtain the exclusive distribution rights of the film in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. After recovery of HBF's support the income is shared with the filmmaker.
For detailed Info: Email: hbf@filmfestivalrotterdam.com or Visithttp://professionals.filmfestivalrotterdam.com/eng/hubert_bals_fund/faq.aspx
Jan Vrijman Fund (for Documentaries): IDFA's Jan Vrijman Fund supports filmmakers and festivals in developing countries. Its goal is to stimulate local film cultures and to turn the creative documentary into a truly global film art. Since 1998, the Fund has supported over 300 documentary projects and 57 documentary festivals and workshops. Support of up to €15,000 is give to documentary filmmakers. Besides this, the fund also gives financial and knowledge support to local activities aimed at promoting documentary film genre, organisation of workshops for filmmakers and producers from non-Western countries, activities aimed at distribution of documentaries in developing countries etc.
For detailed information: Call +31 20 6273329, Fax +31 20 6385388, Emailjanvrijmanfund@idfa.nl or Visit www.idfa.nl/industry/vrijman-fund.aspx
Sundance Documentary Fund: The Sundance Documentary Fund is dedicated to supporting U.S. and international documentary films and videos focused on current and significant issues and movements in contemporary human rights, freedom of expression, social justice, and civil liberties. In supporting independent vision and creative, compelling stories, the Sundance Documentary Fund hopes to give voice to the diverse exchange of ideas crucial to developing an open society, raise public consciousness about human rights abuses and restrictions of civil liberties, and engage citizens in a lively, ongoing debate about these issues. Quality of work samples, strength of proposal, potential for broad international distribution, and the issue's significance are elements heavily weighed during the review process. As the SDF works on a rolling submissions basis, they do not have any deadlines. Two funds given. One is the "Development Funds" of up to $15,000 available to projects in research or preproduction phase and can apply for additional support upon completion of a rough cut of the documentary. The "Work-in-Progress Funds" that ranges from $20,000 to $50,000 is available to projects in production or postproduction and requires the submission of a rough cut of the work in progress.
For detailed Info: Email sdf@sundance.org or visit: www.sundance.org.
Sundance and Skoll Foundation Documentary Fund: The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, in partnership with the Skoll Foundation, is funding up to 8 films yearly with a fund of $30,000-$150,000 per project. This is for independent documentary films that frame, examine and amplify social entrepreneurship as innovative approach to the central questions of our time. Documentary films that combine the art of storytelling with topics in social entrepreneurship and the work of social entrepreneurs, and which have a high potential for co-production and for a full distribution plan, including theatrical, broadcast and DVD distribution, will be given priority. Films can be at any stage of development, production or post-production to apply. Completed films will not be considered.
For detailed Info: Email dfpskoll@sundance.org or visit www.sundance.org/skol
Alter-Ciné Foundation (For Documentary): This Canadian foundation is inspired by its founder who said, "… documentaries should go against the tide, they should bear witness and spur us to action." The foundation offers a yearly grant to young film and video makers from Africa, Asia and Latin America to direct a documentary film on the theme of rights and freedoms, including social and economic rights, women's rights, the right to culture and artistic creation. This foundation particularly supports documentary films that dare to go against the tide, that take the side of the defenceless and question common assumptions by giving a voice to the voiceless, enriching our understanding of the world and helping us reflect on the possibility of changing the world from a perspective of peace, justice, equality and respect for differences. Deadline for the fund is 15th August of every year.
For detailed Info: Call +1 (514) 273-7136, E-mail: alter@mlink.net or Visit: http://www.altercine.org/prog_an.html
Göteborg International Film Festival Fund: The objective of this fund is to help filmmakers in developing countries realise their film projects. The fund aims to provide assistance in film development, post-production and technical assistance to filmmakers. The GIFFF concentrates on providing opportunities for discussion on gender and promote female directors. The funding provided is SEK 100000 (close to $15,000).
For detailed Info: Email Åsa Bernlo at filmfund@filmfestival.org or Visit: http://www.goteborgfilmfestival.se/filmfestival/page/en/filmfond/information
Fonds Sud Cinéma: This fund provided by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication (National Center of Cinematography-CNC) and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has so far helped over 300 film projects and been responsible for the discovery of many new international talents. The fund covers feature, animation and creative documentary film projects intended for theatrical release in France and abroad. The average aid awarded to a film is € 110,000 and cannot exceed €152,000. The catch is that the major part of the money should be earmarked for post-production in France. The last date for the first commission in 2009 is 9th January. Three other commissions would be given in March, June and September of 2009. A maximum of 40 projects are given funding per commission. Three types of assistance given: production assistance (Max €152,000), post production assistance (max €46,000) and re-writing assistance (Max €7,600).
For detailed Info: Call +33 (0)1 44 34 38 17, Fax 33 (0)1 44 34 37 23, EmailJacqueline.Ada@cnc.fr or Visit: www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/france-priorities_1/cinema_2/cinematographic-cooperation_9/production-support-funding_10/fonds-sud-cinema_11/rules-of-procedure_4440/index.html
The Swiss fund: The "Visions Sud Est" is a fund based in Switzerland and aims to support film productions from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe and make them visible worldwide and guarantee their distribution in Switzerland. Provides production support, post production support, to a maximum of 50'000 Swiss francs (fictional production), 20'000 Swiss francs (documentary production) or 20'000 Swiss francs for finishing a fictional production and 10'000 Swiss Francs for finishing a documentary production. This support entails the global distribution rights for Switzerland. Next application deadline is 31 May 2009.
For detailed Info: Write to info@visionssudest.ch or Visit www.visionssudest.ch/?informations
National Geographic All Roads Seed Grants: The All Roads Seed Grant Program funds film projects (feature film, long documentary, short documentary, shorts, animation or music video) by and about indigenous and underrepresented minority-culture filmmakers year-round and from all reaches of the globe. The program seeks filmmakers who bring their lives and communities to light through first-person storytelling. The program awards up to 16 film projects annually with grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Submission deadlines are quarterly on the 15th of each March, June, September, and December. Award notifications are made approximately six weeks after each of these dates.
For detailed Info: Call +1 202 857 7660, Email allroads@ngs.org or Visit:www3.nationalgeographic.com/allroads/.
Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund: This fund is dedicated to documentary films that cover world affairs, domestic issues and social conflicts in depth. It provides finishing funds to documentaries that promote social change and illuminate issues in need of comprehensive coverage. Funded films will be driven by thoughtful, accurate and complete storytelling and an innovative approach to the use of source material, production techniques, or audience engagement. This fund is looking for films which challenge the status quo not just as pertains to subject matter but also in form. In 2009 the fund will offer grants ranging from $10,000 - $25,000 totaling $100,000. The deadline is 5th Feb 2009.
For detailed Info: Email documentary@tribecafilminstitute.org or Visithttp://www.tribecafilminstitute.org/documentary/about/

Hivos Culture Fund: Film makers in developing countries have trouble obtaining film grants. This fund makes efforts promote the motion picture industry in developing countries by supporting filmmakers in various ways. The Hivos-NCDO culture fund then enables these films to be screened in the Netherlands. In addition to productions, the fund also supports film festivals, distribution initiatives and training for film makers. The fund has an India office in Bangalore.
For detailed Info: Call +91 (0) 80 22270367 / 22210514, Fax + 91 (0)80 2227 03 67, Emailhivos@hivos-india.org or hivos@hivos.nl or visit www.hivos.nl.
ITVS Documentary Fund: The Independent Television Service (ITVS), an organisation from the US, funds independent producers from outside of the United States to create documentaries for U.S. television. Through the International Call, storytellers from other countries introduce U.S. audiences to their global neighbours, opening a window into unfamiliar lives, experiences and perspectives. ITVS looks for contents that explore globally significant themes and inspires public dialogue. Funds between $10,000 to $150,000 are given per documentary. The next deadline is February 6, 2009.For detailed Info: Joy-Marie Scott at +1-415-356-8383 x232, Email joy_scott@itvs.org or Visit: http://www.itvs.org/producers/international_apply.html
VAF: The Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) supports audiovisual production in, as well as international co-productions with Flanders. The Fund was set up by the Flanders government in 2002 and is headquartered in Brussels. The aims of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund are threefold: to develop a sustainable audiovisual industry, to encourage and support upcoming audiovisual talent and to promote a vibrant audiovisual culture in Flanders. VAF accomplishes four main tasks. It provides financial support for audiovisual productions (1) and promotes these in Flanders as well as abroad (2). The Fund also grants scholarships, finances professional training and supports/organises workshops (3) as well as carries out surveys on the audiovisual field (4).For detailed Info: Contact for: Fiction - Dirk Cools at dcools@vaf.be; Animation - Inge Verroken at iverroken@vaf.be; Documentary - Myriam De Boeck at mdeboeck@vaf.be; or Visithttp://www.vaf.be/taal/en