Dec. 1, 2017

A Stitch in Time: Batten Student Leads Venture to Empower Women in Village in India

Batten MPP student Jane Hammaker and her team reached the finals in the first stage of the UVA Social Entrepreneurship Cup Concept Competition, hosted by Batten’s Social Entrepreneurship at UVA, for a business start-up that empowers women in India. Hammaker is a co-founder of the start-up, called Shakti, which partners with women in a rural village who make colorful Indian-style pants.

Women at the village workshop (photos by Elisabeth Fellowes)

“Once the pants were made by the women in the village…we brought them to the United States and teamed up at UVA to sell them. And we sold them really quickly,” Hammaker said.

They sold 70 pants in fewer than three weeks, and “we realized, wow, we think we have something on our hands here.

“This was supposed to be sort of a one-time market linkage for the stitching center, so we decided to donate some time and thought and effort into (making it) a standing project, to see if we can maybe make a business out of it: selling pants…in the United States in a more ongoing, sustained basis (in order) to generate a more sustainable source of income for women who work at the center.”

Shakti, a Hindi word translated as strength, was one of five winners in the Social Entrepreneurship Track of the competition. Overall, 37 teams submitted concept applications with a focus on social entrepreneurship, and ten finalists pitched their ideas before a live panel of judges. The other winning concepts were:

•    MindBrush: Yash Tekriwal, McIntire School of Commerce 2018; Daniel Autry and Emily Yun, College of Arts and Science 2018
•    PocketBoy: Tahmid Kazi, School of Engineering and Applied Science 2021
•    Visible Financial: Carter Gray, Darden School of Business 2018
•    Yedea Telemedicine: Ted Obi and Morgan Brazel, College of Arts and Science 2018, Emmanuel Abebrese, School of Medicine 2020; Morgan Brazel, College of Arts & Sciences 2018; Vida Sarpong

The full competition, known as the E-Cup, is open to all University of Virginia students and is sponsored by UVA’s Darden School of Business Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Hammaker, originally from Rockville, Md., along with fellow undergraduate students Shafat Khan, Raghav Savara, and Malvika Jain, will participate in February in the Discovery Competition, the second of three E-Cup stages, focusing on customer service and product development. Shakti also plans to compete for a possible position in Darden’s i.Lab Incubator summer program next year.

(photo by Jane Hammaker)

Hammaker cited the diversity of skills from her teammates: “Malvika is a talented finance person and worked on budgeting and product development. Shafat has invaluable experience in business development and sales. Raghav has conducted market research and sales development. I coordinated the project with Mrida, and they have done a lot of great work.”

Shakti will reinvest the $1,000 in finalist prize money into the women’s stitching center in Tahtajpur, a village in the northern India state of Uttar Pradesh. A Delhi-based social enterprise, Mrida, is an investor and partner who has covered start-up costs, including purchasing and transporting fabric from Delhi to Tahtajpur, and getting the pants back to Delhi to ship to the United States. (Savara, on the Shakti team, also works with Mrida.)

“We are working within Mrida ‘MPowered’ Villages,” Hammaker said. ”Mrida Group coordinates our production on the ground in the village, and have several initiatives present in Tahtajpur to promote ‘holistic, sustainable rural development.’ The stitching center is one such initiative; women in the village have essentially made it their own.”

Women training at the workshop (photo by Jane Hammaker)

“We’ll be able to buy, hopefully, two additional sewing machines and sponsor advanced stitching certification for two women from the village,” Hammaker said. The prize money is roughly the equivalent of money earned from selling 46 pairs of pants.

“Next semester, we are hoping to ship about 400 (pairs of pants) to sell at UVA,” she said. The pants sell for about $25 a pair.

The women working at the stitching center “are excited for the chance to expand their business” through bulk orders for the U.S. market, Hammaker said. “All of them need to support their families, and most of them are young women actually about my age.

“That entrepreneurial spirit is something we hope to continue to work with. We actually are going back to India this summer to substantiate our supply chain, work with them more on product development, and see if we can help lead leadership change so that they can operate more independently as an enterprise, because right now they’re sort of dependent on us for the fabric. If they can print the fabric in the village and localize production, we can pay them even more, and add more value to the process.”

Hammaker will complete her Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Foreign Affairs in May and complete her Master’s degree at Batten the following year.

Hammaker’s interest in India came from several places at UVA, including courses on the region taught by professors like John Echeverri-Gent, and from her work as a student intern with UVA’s Office of Global Internships, which led to a summer assignment in India. She continues to work as an intern with the office “to help pair other students with global opportunities, because I feel that this is super-valuable.

“Being abroad changed my life. I honestly think everyone at UVA should participate in an internship or a study-abroad program. It really has been invaluable.”

She also cites the value of her Batten coursework. “My leadership is required in a dozen different ways, from starting to plan leadership development training for women in the village to coordinating the efforts of my team members.”

Citing the admonition from Batten Dean Allan C. Stam that “leadership is the art of getting things done,” Hammaker said, “I feel my whole semester has been trying to implement those principals they teach us in class.”  

Hammaker credits many people with helping her team to succeed in the first round of competition.

“I met with Professor (Christine) Mahoney back in October. After pitching informally to Christine about our project, she recommended we apply to the E-Cup. At this point, we weren’t even sure we wanted to become a business, but Christine’s support and encouragement definitely inspired us to move in that direction! Laura (Toscano, Associate Director of Social Entrepreneurship) reviewed our application submission and offered great advice as well.”

“Jane was incredibly prepared for the competition, and brought an inspiring concept which was a perfect fit for the social entrepreneurship track,” Professor Mahoney shared. “She visited our office hours to practice her pitch, and after hearing our feedback, she incorporated it and was back again the very next day to see if she could run it by us again. We were delighted to see her win one of the prizes and know she’ll go on to accomplish great things with Shakti. I’m sure I speak for the entire SE@UVA team when I say that coaching students through their innovative startup ideas is one of our favorite parts of this work.”

Hammaker also emphasized the advice given by David Touve, Director, i.Lab at UVA.

“We had worked with him when we were working on the submission for the Concept (stage), and we practiced our pitch with him. So I definitely want to give him some credit because he was super, super helpful.

“One of the guidelines for the Concept stage is, ‘Oh, yeah? Prove it.’ That’s literally in the rules,” Hammaker said. The proof for Shakti “is that our project is going to help people, and…we know that the work we’re doing will actually make a difference.

“It’s common knowledge that there is the connection between women’s empowerment and income accruement, and that’s the basis of our entire project. 

We hope that buy facilitating a sustainable source of income for women who are willing to work in their village, that will be able to facilitate women’s empowerment and help improve outcomes for women in the village.”

Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia creates opportunities for students to learn about social entrepreneurship through experiential classes, workshops, speakers, hackathons, concept competitions, Global Field Experiences and internships. Visit seatuva.org to learn more about classes, and stop by our office hours on the lower level of Garrett Hall to connect about opportunities.

 (photo by Elisabeth Fellowes) 
 Jane Hammaker in Tahtajpur

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Professor of Public Policy and Politics and Director of Social Entrepreneurship @ UVA
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Garrett L020C
Laura  Toscano
Associate Director of SE@UVA
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