Alumni Profile: Uday Singh '06 on the Mission of Social Good, Green Innovation and Corporate Responsibility
Uday Singh '06 talks to us about his non-profit website, InnovateUs, a site that focuses on promoting sustainable living and corporate social responsibility.
What is InnovateUs and what is your mission?
InnovateUs is a “social good” website focused on cataloging innovations and information that promote sustainable living. Our ambition is to become the #1 website for green / sustainable living by the end of 2015.
The main reason for that aspiration is to establish an objective online voice in this space, that can then be leveraged to promote companies, products, and services, which may not be the cheapest, but are sorely needed to promote "common good" and sustainable future.
Everyone at InnovateUs is passionate about green technologies and innovations. Our goal is to attract and retain top talent on the research and content creation side, and also to build loyal following among our audience, sponsors and friends.
What makes your site unique?
Our site is focused on providing content – related to green innovations, companies, and products – based on what the Internet users across the globe are looking for, rather than based on the decisions of a group of editors. So, our content stays fresh and relevant to the current needs of our audience. Along with providing green / environment focused content, we are actively building partnerships with schools to promote aware of environmental issues in schools, especially in developing countries (especially in India). We plan to accomplish that by hosting competitions that will require school kids to work in teams on projects that will promote awareness of the environment and related innovation.
We are also getting involved with large corporations (e.g.,IOCL in India) to fix fundamental issues impacting the environment, such as tracking “pot holes” on the Indian roads that lead to traffic jams (estimated increase in petroleum consumption by 20%) and many serious accidents.
Who is your target audience?
Our target audience falls under three broad segments:
1. Users looking for information about green innovations, technologies, and related concepts
2. Users looking for detailed profiles and ratings of companies that offer products and services for sustainable living
3. Users planning to purchase green products (e.g., organic clothing) and services (e.g., travel packages to sanctuaries and preserves)
How do you use social networks to promote your business? What else do you do?
This is a very good question, and one that we are continuously trying to answer for ourselves. The no regrets answer, and relatively easy to execute, is to establish a presence on the popular social networks, including FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as a way to get word of mouth and referrals to draw visitors to our site. For the next couple of years, we anticipate most of our users to visit us via Google, Yahoo, or Bing search engines. Our social networks will help drive referrals and traffic to the website.
The next level of engagement we are involved in is to capture “likes”, “comments”, and “edits” from social networks and make them available on the website. We believe that the “perfect answer” for InnovateUs, from a social networks perspective, is to be well positioned for “social search”, which will become more important than the current web search.
We do expect that over time, the traffic to our site will be split between search and referrals from social networks. As we continue to build out our apps (for iPhone, Android, and browser extensions), some of our traffic will also be coming through those apps.
How do you see social responsibility bringing today’s non-profits and corporate businesses closer together? What’s the biggest impact on the future’s bottom-line?
Although most of the large corporations have established Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments, they are almost an after-thought. They are functions without any real power to them. I guess it is a necessary first step that they needed to be established, albeit with limited powers. Hopefully, the next couple of decades will see these functions gaining in prominence within the corporations. Most of it will need to be driven by regulation. We, as a society, need to agree that we can no longer be solely focused on bottom-line or profits, and that we need to get our corporations to be equally focused on the “common good”. Without that focus, we risk neglecting the environment for short-term profits.
As CSRs gain prominence within corporations, they should have access to more funds to pursue their social responsibility agenda. That should lead to greater cooperation between CSRs and relevant non-profits to execute on their agenda.
Maybe it is self-serving (given that InnovateUs is focused on sustainable living), but corporations need to be held responsible for dual bottom-lines: the first one (profit-focused) is a clear responsibility of the CEOs and it is taken care of well, and the second one needs to be the positive impact delivered to the society / environment. Delivering on the second bottom will impact the first one, but still the corporations will have significant control to optimize on both. If corporations fail to do so, then governments all over the World will have to address the environmental issues by heavily taxing the corporations. While we still have some time, we need to enact the right set of regulation to hold corporations accountable for delivering on both bottom-lines.
How has your Columbia business school coursework and experience shaped your business and management approach?
Columbia Business School has a great entrepreneurship program, with the Lang Fund, The Outrageous Business Plan Competition, and The Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program. Participating in those programs helped focus and refine my business ideas, based on feedback received from friends, classmates, and competition judges.
Also the Introduction to Venturing course taught by Professor Murray Low was very helpful in getting to hear “war stories” of other successful entrepreneurs. I remember a statement by one of the competition judges that said “If you are convinced of the validity of your idea and are passionate about the area, don’t give up.” He has witnessed many students give up right around the point where things would’ve started turning around had they kept at it for some more time.
What advice would you give to a graduating Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
Make sure that the venture you plan to embark on is in an area that you are absolutely passionate about. It should be something that you would do even if you were not paid for it. Unless you are extremely lucky, most ventures take about 18 months to 2 years before revenues begin to exceed costs. If you are passionate about the space, then it increases your chances of sticking with the venture even when all odds seem to be stacked against you.
How can our readers get involved?
Would be great to have your readers involved by:
• Following us on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
• Writing about InnovateUs on their blogs or websites (especially those focused on non-profits, green product companies, or green website owners)
• Writing environment related articles on InnovateUs website, as a volunteer content writer
• Partnering with us to promote their green products or services on our site, to drive their eCommerce sites
• Getting in touch with us to see if we fit into their agenda / mandate, especially if they are involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)