Technology

A look at 1,40,000 square-foot Bala Vikasa International Centre, Telangana’s latest startup incubator

The Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana, as seen from the accommodation block

The Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana, as seen from the accommodation block   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Borra

After 30-plus years of corporate social responsibility and working with grassroots industries Bala Vikasa has finally set up a dedicated International Centre in Keesara — plus, a look at the organisation’s history:

It is a long drive to Keesara from the bustle of Hitec City — more than an hour and a half to be exact, if you count the mind-numbing traffic. Hyderabad is pretty used to Hitec City and Gachibowli being the nesting ground for budding technologists but leave it to ages-old Bala Vikasa to situate their new innovation centre on the outskirts of Secunderabad, past the Indian Army’s bunkers and training facilities.

A not-so-well-trodden dirt road reveals the terracotta tiles of the roof first, each hexagonal section rebelliously protruding from the centre of the building. Nearing the site, one can begin to understand why Bala Vikasa International Centre (BVIC) is happy where it is geographically; the building is surrounded by farming communities which is where the incubator’s USP lies.

The driveway leading up to the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana

The driveway leading up to the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Borra

From the beginning

To understand the legacy of Bala Vikasa, it is worth looking at its rich origin story which goes as far back as 1977 when Bala Theresa Singareddy Gingras and Andre Gingras, along with some friends, start SOPAR (Société de Partage) in Québec, Canada to help marginalised communities in India.

The company went on to establish itself as an NGO with development programmes in education, water and shelter sectors, with Indian partner societies. It was in 1991, however, when Bala Vikasa was created as a ‘sister NGO’ to SOPAR. Over the next 20 years, the incubator would empower women through development ventures (1994), bring about ‘Rythu Vikasa Sangam’ which taught farmers more modern agri-practices (1997), desiltation programs to help farmers save water (2000), and more.

The wrap-around balcony-style corridor at the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana

The wrap-around balcony-style corridor at the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Borra

In 2002, a training centre was set up in Warangal where global practitioners would participate in empowerment sessions with agricultural societies. The organisation did not restrict their activities to the State either; in 2018, they renovated a number of urban water bodies in Chennai to mitigate flooding and drought risks. Bala Vikasa’s activities have impacted more than five million rural people from around 6000 villages across six states.

All of this happened right under our noses, with a fraction of the marketing we see from certain other incubators.

The new centre

So now at the BVIC, with its ‘fresh concrete’ smell, Rahul Bhardwaj (head of Bala Vikasa), Vijay Kumar Machcha (lead of programs and advisory) and Satya Raj (incubation lead) stand in front of the building. There are already sprawling lawns with flowers planted but, most interestingly is that the surrounding geology of rocky hills and paddy fields are not touched. There is also a sizeable natural lake nearby.

The natural lake near the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Telangana

The natural lake near the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Telangana   | Photo Credit: Divya Kala Bhavani

“We were mindful of this,” says Rahul, “and because so much of our mission is about social responsibility, we wanted our building to reflect that. I think the most interesting part of this centre is something that no one will ever know unless we tell them... we had actually planned on making this out of bamboo.” It is impossible to fathom how a 1,40,000 in a 20 acre campus would be maintained, let alone one made of bamboo which would require extra care but it is safe to say that concrete was a wise choice.

Bala Vikasa worked with Total Environment, a Bengaluru-based architecture and design. While there are massive air ducts running through the building for air conditioning, the balconies and interiors are quite temperate. This is due to the old-school reverse convection method of building where cool air rises but is also evenly distributed across all levels. Across these levels are various facilities including an e-library, cafeteria and kitchen, multimedia studio, discussion rooms and more. At the moment, the building is partially running on solar energy but as the facility gets populated, the energy scheme will become more eco-friendly, says the team.

The top-most floor at the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana

The top-most floor at the Bala Vikasa International Centre in Keesara, Hyderabad, Telangana   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Borra

“When we have visiting academics and also longer programmes which last five to seven days, we also have a dedicated residential block with rooms and suites,” says Vijay, “and given the location, not everyone wants to or can drive back into the city. And we have the land for living accommodations too!”

Rahul, a strong believer in aggrandising farming communities, says the space will also offer networking opportunities to their in-house startups and visiting delegates, who often come from Canada. “Our model is not just about incubating, it has a lot to do with the bigger picture of India and where the country is headed. It’s wonderful to see young people asserting themselves in these sectors with avenues of future tech.”

Remarkable social enterprises — such as ILLA Enterprises and Rubaroo — will soon take residence at BVIC and are looking forward to reaping the rewards of these fresher facilities. However, moving into the facility will take considerable time as the interiors are yet to be finalised. What the team have given us is a pretty good sneak peek of what is to come.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 6:24:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/bala-vikasa-new-international-centre-telanganas-latest-incubator/article30613433.ece

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