By Shannon Sweeny
Aakaanksh Pothukutchi, who graduated from Babson College in 2013, is bringing social responsibility to feature films—not only as a theme but also as a for-profit social enterprise. Here are the excerpts from an interview with Mr. Pothukutchi.
Aakaanksh Pothukutchi: Sedition is a 90-minute bi-lingual action-thriller film set in the remote regions of the Himalayan Mountains. Sedition is the first feature film to structure itself as a for-profit social business with 50% of profits being pledged to a nature conservancy fund (The World Land Trust) to preserve forest lands & 20% of profits being pledged to a rural education fund (Pencils of Promise) to builds schools and increases literacy rates in rural communities.
I, am the CEO & Lead Producer of this film. I have also written a few scenes in the shooting script. The film is currently more than halfway through production.
I attended Babson College from 2009-2013. I had never heard of entrepreneurship until a Babson representative came to my high school in Manila, The Philippines and showed us a presentation on Babson and its offerings. I liked the idea of being able to determine my own future as a part of a small business/a start-up.
Where did the idea come from?
AP: Being of Indian origin, I was encouraged to attend graduate school as quickly as possible. This did not make sense to me. I had been practicing yoga for two years at this point and I had been interacting with thousands of people who were traveling to Asia searching for something. To me it seemed like they had everything they could ever need, so I wanted to see for myself.
Being lucky enough to have progressive parents. I donated 95 percent of what I owned (minus my books) and backpacked across India for 18 months. From the northern tip (Leh) to the southern most point (Kanya Kumari) I travelled looking for answers, searching for meaning and purpose.
In my time in the Himalayan Mountains, I became friends with an Australian film director and screen writer- Summer Bodhi Nicks. Summer and his friend Joel had written a base script for Sedition. At Babson, I was introduced to the concept of for-profit social enterprises, a business with the goal to maximize profit, but it was not the end goal. I had never put together a film team, but this would be my third start-up. Cinema is a business just like any other. The business life cycle and the end goals are the same.
I decided to put all of my savings into bootstrapping Sedition. The data shows that millennials want to do something constructive with their time, they want to contribute to the betterment of our species, but they don’t know where to start. In consumer capitalism your money is your vote. We are telling people to vote for us, to vote for other for-profit social enterprises that perform constructive activities with the money they are being given.
What makes your business unique?
AP: Sedition is the first feature film to structure itself as a for-profit social business. This is my attempt at putting pressure on the film fraternity, to show them that this is an economically viable business model. If a small player like me, with just his graduate school tuition money can attempt this, then why can’t other films who are making ridiculous profits also do so?
What are your goals for the future?
AP: My primary motives in making this film are:
- To showcase the natural beauty of India on the International Stage. Films like Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, despite being fantastic films, show a very limited view of India. Sedition will boost rural Himachal Pradesh’s tourism economy by showing The Himalayan Mountains in a way that most people have never seen before.
- To use the influence and reach of cinema to encourage the film fraternity to start leveraging their wealth and social influence to promote positive action on climate change, nature conservancy and rural education.
- To utilize the “cool factor” of making a feature film as a platform to speak to the millennial generation on critical issues that affect the entire planet and to show that a socially conscious business model is an economically viable model.
How did Babson help you in making your business/dreams become a reality?
AP: Five professors at Babson have changed the course of my life. My mentor and idol is Professor Swanson. Her Human Rights class opened up my eyes to the reality of the world. I did not realize until I met Professor Swanson that you could do more than just make money, you could make a tangible impact through education and through running a socially conscious business.
Professor Radermacher and her Detective Fiction class made me fall in love with cinema and showed me that I could write creatively when given the right prompt. Professor Marken’s Value Selling for Entrepreneurs class taught me the importance of being able to maintain eye contact (no matter how uncomfortable) and he showed me the power of understanding your target client and of being able to ask insightful questions that build rapport and a human connection. Professor Rourke gave me confidence as a writer by interviewing and accepting me into The Writing Center.
Professor Len Green’s Ultimate Entrepreneurial Challenge taught me about courage and having the audacity to take risks. He also introduced me to Sonia Agarwal ’12 who has joined the Sedition Team. In lieu of payment, Agarwal has pledged for 10,000 trees to be planted in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.
At Babson, the combination of a liberal arts education mixed with core business curriculum meant that I was able to explore my diverse interests. The friends I have made at Babson are akin to family. Each of my closest friends from Babson has contributed to my film’s crowdfunding campaign and to maintaining my sanity.
Anything else you’d like to add?
AP: I’ve been practicing yoga for the last four and a half years. I got tired of seeing young yogis practice yoga on the mat only to come off the mat and accept the world the way it is. We live in dystopia. Sedition is my attempt at finding purpose in this dystopia we live in.
I am thankful to Babson for giving me the courage to pursue opportunity. I am, perhaps, more grateful for being introduced to the concept of for-profit social enterprises. If we intend to have children or grandchildren and we intend for them to have a decent quality of life, we would like for them to live on a planet that isn’t filled with plastic waste, toxic air and polluted water. Because of this we need to promote for-profit social enterprises..
We cannot change corporate behavior solely through policy. Data shows that 89% of millennials are willing to switch brands to use a product or service that is social conscious. We need to educate the next generation of entrepreneurs and the next generation of consumers to vote with their money.
Help fund the creation of Sedition through their Indiegogo Campaign.
(This article is reprinted with permission from Babson Blogs of the Babson College.)