Enabling Student Entrepreneurship: NextDrop

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In this series of Q&As, past winners of the BigIdeas@Berkeley social innovation contest describe how they developed their ideas and are implementing them.

In 2011, Thejovardhana Kote (MIMS, School of Information, 2011), Emily Kumpel (PhD, Civil and Environmental Engineering, 2013), Ari Olmos (MPP, 2011), and Anu Sridharan (MS, Civil Systems Engineering, 2011) won in the Scaling Up category for NextDrop. NextDrop uses mobile technology to deliver text messages to citizens about the availability of water in their areas.

The NextDrop teamWhere did you get the idea for your organization?
Co-founder Emily Kumpel, a former student of Blum Center affiliated faculty member Kara Nelson, was collecting water samples in Hubli Dharwad, India, for her Ph.D. thesis. She realized that most of her time was spent waiting for the water and she thought that if it was a problem for her it was probably a problem for other people. She took this problem to a graduate school course at the School of Information at UC Berkeley and a project team was formed. The project evolved into a business plan which eventually turned into NextDrop.

What does your organization do today and what is its impact?
NextDrop connects citizens and governments through data, creating smarter cities.

How has the idea evolved since you started?
Originally the idea was to send text messages to citizens about water supply availability. Over time, utility engineers in India have used this information to improve their operations. We’ve also built applications and products on top of our core platform of sending text messages about water availability.

What have been the biggest challenges in turning your social impact idea into a reality?
Developing the right culture for the organization — one that promotes healthy conflict between team members and encourages personal introspection. Finding the right people to come on board.

If you could go back and change one thing you did, what would it be?
We would fail faster and develop a culture that embraces failure.

Where did you get your most useful advice? (Why was this advice so useful?)
Reading literature that comes from Silicon Valley; sharing with other entrepreneurs and investors. These resources provided much-needed perspective.

How did you find time to develop your project?
We all quit our jobs.

How did you grow a team?
We first developed the right set of values and principles between our co-founders. We then sought out smart, creative people who shared those values and principles.

How did you get funding and resources?
Business plan competitions, grants, venture capital funding, revenue from customers.

At what point did you know your project had wings?
When co-founder and CEO Anu Sridharan signed up 20,000 people in two months during the pilot stage.

What advice would you give to budding social entrepreneurs?
Continuously develop your personal growth. Organizational culture is the most effective and sustainable way to hold people accountable.

What’s next for your organization?
Next is to scale our operations across India.