An article on Sonia Manchanda in Entrepreneur india!

Sonia Manchanda is a graduate of National Institute of Design, with training in graphic design/visual communication, filmmaking and photography. With a vast experience in creating sustainable design systems, she has set up one of India’s most vibrant design firms.

She began her career by designing television programmes and film sets, then she moved to advertising at Mudra only to realise that in liberalised India, there was an exciting opportunity to become an entrepreneur.

“I learnt about entrepreneurship not from any course in management but from entrepreneurs,” she says.

Working in an environmental space, she did a project for Bharat Bala, and then for the Taj Group of Hotels. Thus, she named her company Esign. “At least, it sounded better than Sonia Designs, but many people got confused and asked me whether it is a signage company,” she chuckles. When Esign merged with Tessaract (another design company), the company was renamed as Idiom.

Idiom has closely worked with small businesses like YLG salon and many start-ups. The success rate of start-ups for which Idiom has worked is around 80 per cent.

Defining the importance of design in today’s world, she says, “Design is all about looking ahead with a great deal of openness, enthusiasm and optimism. You almost go about dreaming an idealistic future. You are always asking why not. What design allows you to do is to think big.”

When asked about why start-ups come to them, she replies, “For venture capitalists, an enterprise with a great design element increases the chances of success. Now, design firms are being approached by start-ups. We also want to work with entrepreneurs and create tomorrow’s concepts.”

She admits that it has to be a two-way communication while working with entrepreneurs. She has not only created something for them but also learnt from them. She said this while remembering her working with Kishore Biyani of Future Group and Manipal Group’s Dr Ranjan Pai. “When you speak with them you get associated with them,” she admits.

Although most of the creative minds find it difficult to balance business aspect with creativity, it was not difficult for her. She finds herself lucky as she met people who helped her at business front and personal front and also guided her. Kishore Biyani was her mentor, and Jacob Mathew was her business partner, whereas her husband Girish Raj took care of the marketing aspect.

Sharing her recent experience, she says, “At the beginning of 2011, I got associated with Carlos Texeira, who was doing a study on design in emerging markets. He said he had not seen this depth of involvement of a design team in various aspects of business.” This further gave a boost to Idiom.

Idiom Bangalore is spread across 24,000 sq.ft and is known as an institution and organisation. At The Idiom team includes architects, design strategists and advertisers. Highlighting the team’s importance, she says, “It is important to have right people around you. A good team creates a good design firm.”

Talking about her new project Dream:In, she says, “It comes from the assumption that a design has to start from a human need. Design starts from dreams of human beings. Dreams allow us to get out of our fears.”

When asked about company’s vision, she replies, “It is about creating an organisation that is much larger than us. Idiom is finding out what design can do for India, or how design defines India.”

“Every entrepreneur is a dreamer and our aim is to achieve that,” concludes Manchanda.

On catching creativity

For me it is a journey, a journey can be getting out of an office and going into a book shop. A journey can be going to another land altogether or having a holiday and going to a very different place like a village.


Q&A with Mr Bala Warrier, CEO of Manipal Foundation, who is on the Advisory Board of DREAM:IN

Q 1. Mr Warrier, you have played a leading role in both the business and social responsibility worlds over time. What draws you and the Manipal Foundation to DREAM:IN?

First of all, the same beliefs are shared with the original dreamers and I am comfortable with the value system of DREAM:IN. Secondly, the whole effort lies in dealing with the aspirations and dreams of people and I am a People’s person. Thirdly, I am a dreamer myself!

Q2. Your first tangible interface with the DREAM:IN project was through your active involvement in the DREAM:IN Tumkur project. Why did you choose to get involved in this project?

Once I was drawn to it, like a small iron piece attracted by the large DREAM:IN concept, there was no stopping. The question then was: where and which project? Tumkur was our initial suggestion and when it was accepted as the pilot DREAM:IN location, no force on earth could have kept me away!

Personally, I was fascinated by the possibilities and the locational advantages that Tumkur offered.

As a Manipal Foundation team member, I was already deeply involved with large numbers of school children from Government schools for their improved overall performance in Tumkur district. So, if we from the Manipal Foundation and me, personally, don’t take it as a  green signal to make the district GREEN, who else will?

Q3. The DREAM:IN Tumkur project is moving into action phase after the Dream Journey, the DreamScaping of the 700 dreams captured and the Dream Conclave on June 5th. What are the next objectives?

Step by step and at a fast clip, we will implement the specific actions outlined to make it a replicable model. During this ‘Dream of an Initiative’, let us set up and refine processes that will form the foundation for replicating similar, larger projects in other locations across India. High level of people connectivity at all levels, their wholehearted participation and finally DELIVERING the DREAM – do not let it fritter away.

Q4. What do you see emerging from the next phase of DREAM:IN Tumkur as positively impacting the people of Tumkur district?

The immediate impact will be in creating self-belief – ‘we can do it’. Then the message will spread like a bush fire and replicating it elsewhere will be easier.

Q5. On a bigger front, DREAM:IN Next Gen is being readied for launch. What is Next Gen poised to achieve and what will be its impact?  Can you elaborate on the connection between Dream:in Next Gen and the future of youth entrepreneurship? How do you see DREAM:IN Next Gen as being critical to the future of business and social transformation in India?

DREAM:IN Next Gen has the following advantages:

  • High impact across the rural population, touching huge numbers of lives.
  • Lower cost for implementation.
  • Mass mobilisation of people across various walks of life.
  • Out of sheer necessity, involvement of the government machinery and support.
  • High level of replicability.

All the above and maybe some more that I have missed out on, will make DREAM:IN Next Gen, a very powerful tool to be used effectively, but SELECTIVELY.

It is not a full and final answer to many of the ills of our current society, but if used selectively and with the full involvement and commitment of the teams playing this game, it will transform the way we do business in the country and across the globe.

Ultimately, with a much larger chunk of the young population, a major chunk coming from the rural, hinterlands, the social transformation will be much quicker and most importantly – SUSTAINABLE.

 Q6. Tell us something more about Manipal Foundation and its involvement as a “big believer” in the DREAM:IN enterprise.

Manipal Foundation believes in the people’s ability to join hands and work together. Our website gives a lot of information on our philosophy and additionally, the links given below will give more specific details about our support activities.




Our motto is ‘Build Sustainable Partnerships’ for the good of Mankind. Hence, the wholehearted involvement with DREAM:IN.

the #dreamin ne…

the #dreamin next gen journey has begun! we cant wait to hear the dreams of the youth of #india !! #dreamtree