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SocialCops helps tackle big problems with Big data

Prukalpa Sankar & Varun Banka's startup connects citizens with governments via mobile phone apps

Published: Feb 17, 2015 06:03:25 AM IST
Updated: Feb 17, 2015 08:19:30 AM IST
SocialCops helps tackle big problems with Big data
Image: Amit Verma

Prukalpa Sankar & Varun Banka | 23, 23
Founders, SocialCops
Category: Social Enterprise

In 2013, Prukalpa Sankar and Varun Banka were on a smooth path to the Great Indian Dream: Engineering degrees from a foreign college (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), good jobs (Sankar interned at Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil, Banka at Barclays Capital and Microsoft). But they decided to come back to India and start SocialCops.

It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. The two, who had met on a bus in Singapore and quickly became friends, had already been collaborating on startup ideas in the community and development space while still in college, frequently sacrificing sleep (their regular coursework didn’t leave much time for leisure) to plan and build into the wee hours.
“This excited us more,” Sankar says.

Their projects had already earned them recognition internationally, so, armed with that confidence and a seemingly bottomless well of energy, they moved to Delhi. (Sankar had spent much of her childhood in Hyderabad and Banka was from Ranchi.)
The genesis for SocialCops came from a brainstorming session in Singapore, in September 2012. The time was right, they felt. “There was so much happening in terms of people movements but it was not translating into change or decision making. There was also lot of talk about using Big Data. We wanted to connect the dots and help create that social change,” says Sankar.

SocialCops builds solutions to tackle data gathering and analysis in a number of areas. It connects citizens with governments via mobile phone apps, crowd-sources information and provides feedback on public infrastructure. For non-profits, which tend to have little or no money to devote to information technology, they offer low-cost solutions to conduct surveys via cellphones to help them gather data on topics that usually go untracked. They provide dial-in services as well. A lot of this also has applications beyond development: Data so granular has commercial value for the corporate world.

One of their pilot projects was in Delhi’s municipal ward number 103, where crowd-sourced sanitation scores offered by citizens through their mobile phones were used to rate the level of street cleanliness. Two months of data-gathering helped identify the cleanest streets in the ward, as well as the best municipal street cleaners.

SocialCops helps tackle big problems with Big data
In another case, they helped transform Ranchi, Banka’s hometown. The city had seen an increase in crime levels and had become unsafe at night due to broken street lights. A students’ movement on the SocialCops platform pushed the deputy mayor into installing over 2,000 street lights at a cost of over Rs 2 crore.

Today, SocialCops is collecting data from over a million people around the world. Their office in Delhi has 14 employees with matching energy levels. And they have the attention of some of the biggest names in the industry. In 2014, they raised $320,000 in seed funding from VC firm 500 Startups and personal investments from Google India MD Rajan Anandan and Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific MD Manoj Menon. “They have a product, they move fast and have the courage,” says Anandan.

Sleep can wait. Maybe once they’re 30.

Here is the full list of 30 Under 30 for 2015 and its methodology

(This story appears in the 20 February, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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