University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Featured mentors of the month – Leo Sharkey at UMN and Joyitraj Patra at KIIT

February 26, 2011sarabjeetsinghPeopleComments Off on Featured mentors of the month – Leo Sharkey at UMN and Joyitraj Patra at KIIT

Acara Institute has a unique strength in its collection of mentors all of whom are leaders and experts. Mentoring at Acara goes beyond areas of business strategy and planning, and covers field research, design thinking, and product development. Each team participating in the Acara Challenge is assigned a Team Mentor who is their guide and counsel. Add to that, we have Subject Matter Experts and Guest Lecturers who interact with students across our partner universities and are available for any queries in their area of expertise. Teams interact with their mentors regularly to share updates, ask questions, and discuss ideas and plans.

Acara is proud to announce a monthly series on mentors where we will feature a few mentors every month. I feel excited to introduce our featured mentors for the month of February – Leo Sharkey, team mentor at UMN and Jyotiraj Patra, team mentor at KIIT.

Leo met Fred Rose (Co-founder and CEO, Acara Institute) in early 2009 through the Carlson Ventures Enterprise and volunteered to be a mentor. That first year was very exciting as everything was new and had to be figured out on the fly. Team ReachOut (winner of Acara Challenge 2009) performed exceptionally well and won the challenge with a well thought out idea and a nicely developed business plan. For the following year, Leo helped Fred develop a set of mentor guidelines based on the experience of the first year with the ReachOut team. Leo’s 2010 team, myRain, also made it to the finals and is the only team still moving forward with funding from Acara and 3 angel investors including Leo. When not mentoring, Leo also judges in the spring and fall competitions with Acara as long as his own team is not involved that particular day.

Leo has been slowly touring the Big Ten since the mid 1980’s attending Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota picking up a BS Chemistry, MSME and an MBA along the way. He has worked for small firms and major corporations including IBM, Rohm & Haas (now DOW) and Siemens, where he is currently the GM for the Inorganic Business of Siemens Water Technologies. Leo also has entrepreneurial experience as the sole proprietor of a custom furniture business. (Google Leo Sharkey if you are curious.) His wife of 23 years, Leslie, is a tenured member of the University of Minnesota Veterinary school. Together, they have 3 children, a 19 year old college freshman and twins attending Mounds View High School. To stay busy, Leo is also an age group triathlete who competes at the Sprint, Olympic and Half-Ironman distances as well as a 2 mile open water swim race every August.

Leo says, “I really enjoy working with the students. I have found them to be very bright, highly motivated and eager to learn something new. They are also open to feedback and work hard to improve themselves and their solution as the year progresses. I always tell my teams early on that I will be brutally honest. If they have something that isn’t good enough, I’ll let them know that quickly, along with what is required to make it better. We spend a lot of time tearing ideas apart to learn what works and what doesn’t. In the end, I believe that all of my students become better critical thinkers. This is my 3rd year of the Acara challenge and I still love it. 2 – 3 hours of every weekend is dedicated to the team and I look forward to it every weekend.”

Let me introduce Jyotiraj Patra now. Jyotiraj was introduced to Acara Challenge by Anu Jha, Student Program Manager at KIIT. This is the first time Jyotiraj is a mentor at Acara Challenge and he has already built a very strong relationship with his team.

Jyotiraj works with community-based organizations in the coastal state of Odisha on issues of environment,disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. He strongly advocates for and contributes to ‘science’s social contract’ by engaging with diverse stakeholders for collaborative knowledge production. He spearheads some of these activities as the Director (Institutional Strategy and Development) of the Centre for the Environment, Resilience and Global Sustainability, a not-for-profit research-based boundary organization. Trained as an interdisciplinary research practitioner at the University of Oxford, EPF Lausanne and Jawaharlal Nehru University, he worked with the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) of the United Nations and is associated with many civil society initiatives and networks.

Jyotiraj says, “An opportunity to engage with and learn from students participating in the Acara Challenge 2011 exposed me to the diversity of initiatives and drive for innovation with which some of these young citizens have come forward to design and deliver out-of-the-box solutions for some of the pressing societal challenges.

We are extremely thankful to all our mentors who have been working with our teams across universities and hope that the team-mentor relationship will help all Acara Challenge participants improve their ideas and plans!

India Program Managers at Acara Challenge 2010

February 13, 2011sarabjeetsinghAcara News DeskComments Off on India Program Managers at Acara Challenge 2010

Acara Challenge 2010 is up and running across 5 Indian, 7 US and 1 Mexican university. Teams have been formed and students are already visiting the field conducting research, talking to people and analyzing data that they collect.  Collaboration across borders and disciplines is happening as I write. Mentors have started talking to teams across universities and their interactions will probably result in great outputs. All of this is not possible without the support of our Student Program Managers. I am using this opportunity to introduce our India Program Managers at our five universities for the 2010 Acara Challenge.

First goes Vikash Singh from Somaiya Institute of Management Science and Research in Mumbai. Vikash was a participant in the Acara Challenge 2009 and was also an Acara Corps 2010 Fellow. Vikash is currently an MBA student pursuing studies in International Business and Marketing. Vikash is an alumnus of Bangalore Institute of Technology and has over 3 years of experience in the IT industry. His interests include social entrepreneurship, business networking and development. He is a budding entrepreneur and is working on his social venture ‘Tathatsu’ focused on rural ecommerce and agri-tourism. Previously, Vikash has alo started an adventure sports group called The Offroaders and is planning a commercial venture in that space.


Neha Bhagat is our PM at TERI University where she is pursuing an MBA in Business Sustainability.  She has worked on community development programs in the slums of Delhi and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Management.




Next goes Maninder Pal Singh Thind, our Program Manager at IIT Roorkee. Maninder is an undergrad studying Civil Engineering and has also been an Acara Challenge participant and Acara Corps Fellow. He is actively involved in SIIRD (Students Initiative for Integrated Rural Development) at IITR. Maninder is working on a solar energy initiative in village Charba near Roorkee (also the Acara Challenge local community spot) to bring power to local schools. He was one among six young leaders invited to present his work at the Global AIESEC International Congress at ISB, Hyderabad in 2010.


Next comes Abhishek Jain, Acara Student Program Manager, at VIT in Vellore. Abhishek is the Co-ordinator of Center for Social and Entrepreneurship Development (CSED) at VIT and is the co-founder of ‘Volunteer for Manipal’.




Anu Jha is Acara’s PM at KIIT in Bhubhaneshwar where she is pursuing a Masters in Biotechnology. Anu Jha has always been an active member of NSS and her interests include event management, social service and scientific research.


2010 in review

January 2, 2011sarabjeetsinghArticlesComments Off on 2010 in review

Dear readers,

A very Happy New Year to all of you!

The last year was really exciting for us at the Acara Institute and before I begin to share more updates, news, thoughts and analysis with you, I’d like to share these stats on how our blog did last year. It’s an acknowledgment of your love for our work and our continuous effort in creating better content everyday.

Here’s a high level summary :

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2010. That’s about 29 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 60 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 148 posts. There were 114 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 46mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was April 8th with 354 views. The most popular post that day was MIT honors IITKGP student for innovative clean energy technology.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for drip irrigation, plan, drip irrigation system, stay hungry stay foolish, and irrigation system.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


MIT honors IITKGP student for innovative clean energy technology April 2010


Cashmira, Yash and myRain June 2010


Acara Challenge Team JAL from VIT-UIC is working on Clean Water April 2010
1 comment


Bottom of the Pyramid : A Paradigm Shift in Sustainable Business Development May 2010


National biomass Cook stoves Initiative (NCI) – A Promising Clean Energy Initiative June 2010
1 comment


Yours truly

Get Set Go

December 28, 2010sarabjeetsinghAcara News DeskComments Off on Get Set Go

As we head closer to the New Year, the excitement for the Challenge is increasing.  Our Indian universities (TERI, IITB, SIMSR, IITR and VIT) will reopen for their new semesters soon and the classes for Acara Challenge will begin.  Field visits, lectures on design thinking, business plans, and more will follow.

We are currently seeking mentors for the Challenge especially Team MentorsTeam mentors dedicate themselves to a single university team and guide them through the entire cycle – course, challenge and perhaps further. Team mentors are expected to spend 2-3 hours a week with the team. This could be in person or virtually, so you don’t have to be in the same city (but it helps).

Don’t be intimidated by this task. Students really need just basic help from someone experienced in business or this kind of process. Getting confidence in identifying problem areas, possible solutions and business models is a big part of what students are learning. Team mentors help guide that process by asking questions and getting the students to think about key areas. So even if the challenge isn’t in “your domain”, you can still add value to the team. Mentors with product development or business development expertise are valued.

Please sign up here. Acara will pair you up with your choice of university, provide training and other resources. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or write to me on

Where path breakers meet path makers

December 11, 2010sarabjeetsinghArticlesComments Off on Where path breakers meet path makers

Last week, I attended ‘Unconvention‘, a conference by Villgro, a rural business incubator based in Chennai. The conference saw entrepreneurs, investors and incubation firms coming together to discuss key strategies to start businesses and raise investments in the BoP space. With participation from representatives from Acumen Fund, NSTEDB, Ashoka, Aavishkar, Monitor’s Inclusive Markets Division, IFMR, and various successful entrepreneurs, the discussions were pretty interesting.

The conference began with a panel discussion on the future of social entrepreneurship. Discussions on innovation and impact investing followed. On one hand,Joe Madiath from GramVikas spoke about markets not being the panacea of all evils, on the other hand Ashish from Monitor spoke about the importance of scaling up. Joe’s advice for social entrepreneurs: ‘If you have passion in your belly and compassion in your heart, you are in the right place to start a social venture.’ Investor session saw VentureEast and Acumen stressing the importance of unit economics.

Day 1 ended with an award ceremony where the winners of the Wantrapreneur 2010 competition were announced. Grassroutes, one of my favourite social enterprises, won the award in the start-up category and Shradha Sharma, Founder,, won the best journalist award.  The conference ended with ‘My Story Sessions’ by entrepreneurs – Saloni Malhotra from DesiCrew Solutions, Madhabananda Ray from MASUTA Producers Company Ltd., and Svati Boghle from Sustaintech India Pvt. Ltd.

It was exciting to see so many new ventures coming up in the socent space and so many exciting discussions happening around energy, water, agriculture and livelihood. As Acara, I think we can help create a strong eco-system here, given our interactions with students, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and corporations. We can be pipeline partners for early stage investors, innovation partners for companies who want to build new products and services in emerging technology areas, field partners for non-profits who need more hands, and research partners for universities who need more students to focus on innovative methods to solve community challenges. If you are interested in partnering with us, do write to me on

Acara is the impact entrepreneurship program of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management.