Derby Entrepreneurship Center and The Fletcher School’s Business Program Announce Co-sponsorship of D-Prize Winner for Tufts Venture Accelerator
The Tufts community is filled with a hunger for solving problems, and sits within a world hub for entrepreneurship and innovation. At the intersection of leading-edge research, a dynamic entrepreneurial community, and a passion for transformative change, the schools and colleges of Tufts are uniquely positioned to empower students to solve problems, especially the big, hairy global ones, like poverty. A growing partnership between the Derby Entrepreneurship Center at Tufts (DEC) and The Institute for the Global Context (IBGC) at The Fletcher School is combining their strengths to help Tufts entrepreneurs make an impact in internationally developing communities.
IBGC and DEC have a longstanding relationship, collaborating on programming, events, and student coaching. Teams made up of Fletcher students, alumni, and staff compete in the Tufts $100k New Ventures Competition annually and participate in the Tufts Venture Accelerator (TVA)--a summer venture accelerator that provides structure, accountability, educational experiences. It helps entrepreneurs who are building a venture make rapid progress throughout the summer–with two Fletcher teams in the 2023 TVA cohort.
Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School, and Director of the IBGC, emphasized the important intersection of entrepreneurship and international affairs, saying, “The Fletcher School is unique among schools of global affairs as business and entrepreneurship are at the center of how we think about global issues. The Derby Entrepreneurship Center provides Fletcher students with training in how to translate their knowledge of business into actually building a business. Additionally, that access to an entrepreneurial community–the opportunity to connect with other startups and learn from each other–is invaluable to our students.”
The next step in the partnership between IBGC and DEC began last summer when DEC brought in 2022 Fletcher D-Prize winner Blesser Breakers to the 2022 TVA cohort as a pilot of extended support for Fletcher D-Prize winners.
The Fletcher D-Prize Competition (short for Distribution Prize) is a challenge open to all Fletcher students, alumni, and Tufts students who want to launch a poverty-busting new social enterprise in the developing world. In 2024, it will celebrate its 10th anniversary in a joint partnership born to bring together the best of Fletcher’s interdisciplinary, holistic problem solving to the world’s most pressing development issues with D-Prize’s venture capitalists who have a track record of finding and funding proven poverty interventions. While many business competitions focus on launching new ventures, the Fletcher D-Prize is a call-to-action for distributing and scaling existing, proven solutions to poverty such as providing solar lanterns, vaccines or clean water to rural households. D-Prize winners take their social enterprises into the field, working within the communities they seek to impact via a pilot of their chosen solution.
Piloting and scaling that solution directly within a developing community means it will have the greatest real world impact, but presents a host of new and unique challenges. Historically, once D-Prize winners head out to their chosen community, they have less access to entrepreneurial support and education. But by connecting to the TVA remotely, Blesser Breakers was able to continue developing their entrepreneurial mindset and skillset and receive weekly support on setting up systems and processes to ensure their project could continue with long-term financial sustainability. Blesser Breakers’ participation in the 2022 TVA cohort was so successful that Fletcher and DEC are now collaborating to co-sponsor the 2023 D-Prize winner, Raitagyana, with a venture award grant up to $10,000.
Raitagyana’s mission is to empower smallholder farmers in southwestern India by providing cost-effective agricultural inputs, along with specialized knowledge and guidance from their team of agricultural experts. The majority of Indian farmers are at a disadvantage due to their limited access to finance and good quality seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Often, they lack the necessary knowledge to cultivate weather-friendly crops, resulting in low yields and poor incomes. In the words of the Raitagyana co-founders Nikita Vardiparti and Sushant Swami, MIB 2024, “By helping farmers produce more crops, we hope to lift them out of extreme poverty and create a more sustainable and prosperous future for rural communities in India.”
Raitagyana has already begun distributing farming inputs and training to 40 farmers, with 75% of planted seeds germinating to date. This is a promising result as the team continues to distribute their solution over the coming months. The team aims to reach 5,000 farmers in the next few years, expanding their solution to neighboring states, and eventually impacting around 100,000 farmers in the next five years. The support of the TVA will help the team scale their solution in a challenging environment and reach those goals.
Elaine Chen, Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship and Director of the Derby Entrepreneurship Center highlighted the value of the TVA to D-Prize winners like Raitagyana, sharing, “The Tufts Venture Accelerator provides critical support in funding, structure, mentorship and entrepreneurial education at precisely the right time–providing the team with real time support that accelerates their progress and significantly improves the long term viability of their ventures. We hope to continue this tradition and be able to make the co-sponsorship a long-term commitment that supports future D-Prize winners and helps ensure the continued impact of their solutions.”
Dorothy Orszulak, Director of Corporate Outreach at the IBGC/Fletcher, reflected on the impact of the work of D-Prize winners, “what an honor to support our amazing Fletcherpreneurs – an affectionate term coined by Prof. Rocky Weitz, coach and mentor to D-Prize teams. From Zambia, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Pakistan to India, our Fletcherpreneurs are distributing educational trainings to girls and women; seeds, fertilizer, and training to smallholder farmers; and launching other ventures proven to lift communities out of poverty. The impact in these emerging market communities is profound. Spotlighting our global entrepreneurial talent as students bring their multidisciplinary skills to solve intractable, longstanding problems highlights the best of a Fletcher education.”
The Tufts Venture Accelerator will culminate in a Demo Day on August 17, during which Raitagyana, Yummy Greens, and the other teams in the TVA will pitch their ventures to Tufts faculty, staff, their fellow entrepreneurs, and potential business connections.