Ashok Jayaram was a software engineer in India, but has always done the best he could to offer his knowledge and a helping hand to those in need. Indeed his involvement with a charitable eye hospital and b-school training led him change his path and become an entrepreneur. He and his partner have founded a hospital chain that provides quality eye care in many rural parts of India.
He sat down with MBAsocial to talk about his venture – Belaku Eye Hospitals – which he launched in 2010, a year prior to graduating with his MBA from UNC Kenan-Flager Business School. Ashok also shared his path to entrepreneurship, tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs, and some progress-to-date on his venture.
What does your company do?
Belaku Eye Hospitals is a for-profit social enterprise that provides affordable and accessible high quality eye care to the lower income population. Currently the venture operates in 2 locations: Bangalore West, launched in August 2010, Mandya, launched January 2011. Our goal is to set up upwards of 20 hospitals in the next 5 years.
How did you get this idea?
I had already been involved in managing a charitable eye hospital prior coming to b-school, I knew some of the challenges in this business. Our NGO struggled to make the hospital financially sustainable. The idea of launching my own enterprise has been growing in me. Finally in the summer of 2010, after a considerable amount of brainstorming and learning in b-school, we launched Belaku Eye Hospital in its first location.
I was an engineer by training and never thought I would be an entrepreneur. But it happened to me organically. Prior to b-school, I was helping to run a charitable eye hospital for a local NGO, from 2006- 2009. This was an excellent opportunity to learn the business from the operational point of view. Yet it was frustrating to see how difficult it was to raise the funds and sustain hospital activity on daily basis. The resources were scarce. I have pondered many questions. And often enough kept asking myself: What are the ways to improve this business. How can it be scalable?
The core of providing health care services to the poor was the catalyst that kept giving me fuel. I decided to take the matters in my own hands, and become an entrepreneur. The decision to pursue an MBA focusing in on sustainability and entrepreneurship was a unique opportunity to understand the social entrepreneurship and learn from practitioners. In parallel to my involvement with NGO, I also worked at Huawei Technologies, a global telecommunications solution provider, in their R&D department based out of Bangalore, India.
What resources did you use at business school?
Business school had taught me a great deal of management concepts I applied in building the Belaku venture. I have learned strategic implications, operational traps, and abilities to combine a for-profit interest with social impact, allowing Belaku to be a “double bottom line” investment. The sustainability and scalability of such a business are at the core of its success. And I have learned considerable amount of concepts, theory, and practical examples during my studies.
One of the pivotal experiences, as well, was my internship with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the summer of 2010. I was helping out on a project with the public health partner agency of the Gates Foundation, called Karnataka Health Promotion Trust. The project was focused on coming out with recommendations to improve maternal and child health services in the state of Karnataka. My participation in this project had allowed me to learn hands-on practical experience in the evolving arena of public health and to understand in detail the complexity of operating a social enterprise.
What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or MBA applicants interested in entrepreneurship?
I would like to draw attention of future entrepreneurs to two things to which I wish I had paid more attention.
First, I would like to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to pay more attention to human capital. Aside from financial and other rewards that your venture will be offering, one needs to treat human capital with utmost importance and consider these decisions with special accuracy.
Second, I would suggest future entrepreneurs not spend a lot of time perfecting the business plan. After all, business plan is a theoretical foundation that is needed, but without taking a risk of actually launching the venture and testing the waters, one can never be sure if the idea will be successful or not.
What are the foreseeable next steps for your venture?
We are scheduled to open our third location in November 2011 – in West Bangalore. We also plan to secure external funding from social venture capital funds (like Acumen Fund) or others by end of this year. If you wish to learn more about this venture please subscribe to Ashok’s personal blog http://ashokjayaram.wordpress.com/.
Photos courtesy Ashok Jayaram and Belaku Eye Hospitals.
* * *
You might also like from MBAsocial:
- Entrepreneur Spotlight: Chirag Sadana (Stern ’12), America Smiles