Startup from Assam blows new life into indigenous weavers

Startup from Assam blows new life into indigenous weavers

Despite the onslaught of machine-made textiles, India’s timeless legacy of handlooms has stood strong against the test of time. According to the 2011-12 report by the Ministry of Textiles, over 43 lakh people in the country are engaged in weaving and allied industries. Handlooms worth US$ 355.91 million were exported in 2017-18. While retail giants like Fabindia have been ruling the roost, linking rural weavers to the urban consumers, relatively newbies like GoCoop and the Khadi Cult are creating noteworthy ripples as well. Following a similar model, a startup from Assam is trying to put on show the jaw-dropping variety of the Assamese handloom before the global purchasers.

Bolkol was launched in 2018 with dual motives of uplifting the economic condition of the indigenous weavers as well as promoting local handlooms among global consumers. When Purabi Medhi, a small-town artisan from Barama in Assam, was struggling to find a lucrative platform to promote and sell her hand-painted sarees and mekhela chador, she approached Krishnarjun Das, the co-founder of Bolkol, seeking help. The startup didn’t just offer her an online platform to market her products, it had also provided the initial hand-holding in terms of internet literacy, online marketing and selling, and product photoshoot, etc. Since her first stint with Bolkol in 2018 till now, Purabi has sold her handmade apparel worth over a lakh.

“Apart from claiming a higher share from selling, big retail platforms do not offer any personalized support like customized marketing guidelines, product photoshoot assistance,  etc. We, on the other hand, believe in building a personal bond with the rural weavers to not just get buyers for their products, but also help them grow self-reliant in terms of mastering the marketing mantras,” elucidates Krishnarjun.

The startup’s hand-holding efforts have also won it a collaboration with the Handloom Textiles and Sericulture Department, Government of Assam, under which, the startup will impart product promotion training to the weavers.

For all the marketing assistance provided to the weavers and artisans, the startup keeps a 10% commission from every product sold. Since 8 months of its operation, Bolkol has managed to rope in 3 clusters in Assam and 12 individual weavers.

 

The startup has, lately, completed an order for 30 Assamese gamusa by a party from Pune, who had approached them after watching the honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi sporting a gamusa recently. “It was an emotional moment for us. The party had searched for the gamusa online, but the prices were exorbitant. That’s when they approached us. After delivering the products, they had sent us photographs wearing the gamusa. Indeed, it was one of those ‘chest swelling with pride’ moments! That’s exactly why we started this venture – to tell the world about a rich aspect of our culture, i.e., weaving,” says Pranjal Kalita, the second co-founder.

Understanding the need for value addition to the model, Bolkol has also come up with its line of apparel, with slogan T-Shirts leading in popularity. Encouraged by the demand, the startup is gearing up to launch a production unit at the upcoming Handloom Park at Barama in the Baksa district of Assam. “We are planning to share the fabric samples with reputed fashion houses across the country. Drawing bulk orders will be a big boon for the weavers,” explains Krishnarjun.

Founders, Krishnarjun and Pranjal, however, do not wish to confine the startup to handloom alone. They have opened the gates for handmade jewellery makers and miscellaneous indigenous product artisans as well. The latest inclusion has been the biodegradable bamboo straws made by village artisans. Interested buyers may go to their website and place an order.

One might conclude that what Kashmir Box is to Kashmir, Bolkol might emerge as the same for Assam. But, the founders refuse to restrict themselves to Assam alone. Their upscaling goal is to take the model to the other North-Eastern states, gradually encompassing handloom weaves from across India.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra

 

 

9 Things to know about Assam Startup – The Nest

9 Things to know about Assam Startup – The Nest

Among several issues plaguing Assam, unemployment stands as one major constraint. The fact that the state has a dismal number of literate and semi-literate unemployed youths strikes a sorry picture. Keeping this in mind, the Government of Assam decided to give shape to an initiative that will support and encourage the youths of Assam to convert from being job seekers to job creators. The Department of Industries and Commerce, Government of Assam, took it upon itself to formulate the Assam Startup Policy in 2017. The core objective of the Policy is to promote a culture of entrepreneurship in the state that would help develop self-sustenance in Assam and largely address the problem of unemployment in the state. The IIM Calcutta Innovation Park has been roped in as the implementing partner to execute the initiative by the Government of Assam.

Given that the average state population has traditionally been service-inclined, merely motivating the youth towards entrepreneurship isn’t enough. They need a certain amount of grooming and hand-holding until they are confident and skilled enough to drive their business independently. Hence, the need for a world-class startup incubator that can provide complete entrepreneurial grooming and practical coaching to the startups.

Keeping this mind, a state-of-art marquee incubator was inaugurated, as part of the Assam Startup Policy 2017, on 20 January 2019 by the honourable Chief Minister, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal. Assam Startup – The Nest is Assam’s first state-owned startup incubator located at Ambari, Guwahati and is dedicatedly working to help the startups grow into master entrepreneurs.

Months into the initiative, there has been a lot of curiosity among people about Assam Startup – The Nest. A feeling of wonder engrosses the mind about what goes on inside the swaggering building! Here’s an attempt to clear the clouds and pull out answers to everything one wants to know about the Assam Startup initiative.

 

What does Assam Startup – The Nest do?

As a startup incubator, Assam Startup – The Nest helps the startup entities to tailor their entrepreneurial mindset in order to align it with the market. Selected startups are incubated at The Nest for a period of 6 months, wherein they go through intense mentoring, capacity building training and get access to co-working space, support services, and crucial network connects to help them get cracking and take the next big leap.

 

How can Assam Startup – The Nest help fulfill the entrepreneurial aspirations of a startup?

Entrepreneurship is a tough call involving several highs and lows. Being an entrepreneur requires a strong frame of mind, problem-solving mindset and a never-say-die attitude. Through its rigorous capacity building programs and mentoring sessions, Assam Startup – The Nest tries to train the startups to align their thoughts with the tough demands of entrepreneurship so that they are skill-equipped to turn a startup idea into a scalable business venture.

The startups are also introduced to formidable figures from the industry that include national and international entrepreneurs, investors and startup mentors. They get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with those industry gurus, indulge in knowledge sessions with them and turn those sessions into fruitful networking opportunities.

What more, in the final phase of the incubation, The Nest organizes a Demo Day, wherein top investors are invited to consider investing in the ventures pitched by the incubated startups.

What kind of mentoring is provided at The Nest?

The incubated startups are assigned mentors based on their sector, startup stage and specific needs. The pool of mentors at The Nest consists of industry experts from across the country with elaborate experience in entrepreneurship. Most of these mentors are already mentoring startups incubated at IIM Calcutta Innovation Park (Kolkata).

The assigned mentors do a review of the startups and offer them insightful suggestions as well as give them monthly targets or action plans to work on so that by the end of the 6-month incubation, the startups could have a thorough business model in hand.

 

Does Assam Startup provide technological support to the incubatees?

Assam Startup – The Nest is essentially a business incubation hub and does not provide direct technological support. But it helps the startups to connect with institutions offering suitable tech training and support.

 

Is there a fee for incubation?

No fee is charged for incubation.

 

Does Assam Startup provide fund?

Assam Startup – The Nest connects the incubated startups with the investors. Apart from this, the startups can apply for Startup Recognition on the website www.startup.assam.gov.in to become eligible for a number of fiscal and non-fiscal benefits provided by the Government of Assam. Startups deemed eligible for Startup Recognition following a rigorous process of evaluation are granted a unique My Assam Startup ID (MASI), which the startups must use to apply for the various benefits enumerated on the website.

One may go to the website and click on “Resources” to read the Assam Startup Policy 2017 and learn about the benefits under MASI in details.

Please note that startups who aren’t incubated at The Nest are also eligible to apply for MASI.

 

Apart from the MASI benefits, what does Assam Startup – The Nest do for startups who aren’t incubated at The Nest?

The Nest conducts a special Startup Adda every month, especially for the non-incubated startups, wherein they get the opportunity to interact with industry experts and ask them for suggestions regarding the various challenges of entrepreneurship with special focus on their own ventures. Besides, The Nest also conducts topic-based workshops for the non-incubated startups to acquaint them with the motley nuances of business and management.

 

Does Assam Startup give startup ideas?

Assam Startup – The Nest does not offer startup ideas. It offers the right direction to execute the startup ideas.

However, the startup incubator organizes Hackathons and Ideathons, inviting youths to come together and brainstorm over a popular local problem in order to come up with interesting startup ideas and solutions.

 

Are all activities of Assam Startup confined to The Nest alone?

It’s understood that none of the facilities under the Assam Startup Policy would bear fruits unless and until there’s far-reaching dissemination of knowledge about startups, the challenges and scope of startups in the state, and a comprehensive familiarity with the provisions enumerated under the Assam Startup Policy 2017. As such, it’s been made sure that The Nest holds awareness sessions and workshops at different academic and training institutions across the state from time to time. In fact, within 2 months of its launch, The Nest had connected with around 2500 students and aspirant entrepreneurs across the state.

 

Is there any sector specification or preference in order to be considered eligible for incubation?

Startups from any sector, except for liquor, tobacco, drugs and explosives, can apply for incubation at Assam Startup – The Nest. The startups are evaluated on the basis of Innovation, Market Potential, Revenue Model, Traction and Team Capabilities.

 

 

 By: Satarupa Mishra
Startup from Assam recreates Farmville-like experience in real life

Startup from Assam recreates Farmville-like experience in real life

Everyone with a Facebook account must have come across Farmville, a farm replicating social network game. The player farms a land, raises livestock and gradually builds an estate. A startup from Assam is recreating something similar. The only difference is that this isn’t a digital game, but a real-life experience.

Abhinab Shyam, an IIM Indore alumnus, decided to bid adieu to an ambitious corporate job in order to join his father for a farming initiative in Assam. But his idea was to take the farming experience to the urban dwellers. Agro Origin took shape around this idea with a slight twist: Bringing urban dwellers to the farmlands.

Fusing the concepts of micro-farming and kitchen garden, Agro Origin offers fragments of farmland to the urban residents to grow their own crops, free from hazardous chemicals. Customers can rent a piece of farmland on payment of a subscription fee. Once a micro-farm is subscribed, customers get to select their own crops. The startup offers a wide variety of seasonal crops such as leafy greens, tomato, French beans, carrot, cauliflower and broccoli, among others. Following the plantation phase, the farmers are entrusted to manage the crops and keep the customers in loop about the crop status.

Abhinab launched a Proof Of Concept at Bortari in the outskirt of Guwahati on 22 September’19. The land has had been under cultivation – banana plantation to be precise – for the last 12 years, managed by Abhinab’s father. This has been one of the main reasons for choosing the plot for POC. As Abhinab says, “We are accustomed to the area. Apart from the scenic surrounding, familiarity of the place is something, which, we thought, would score for us at the POC stage.”

30 families have been roped in as clients for the POC, utilizing 1.5 bigha out of the 15 bigha farmland. Each family is rented a 600 sq. ft. of land on payment of a monthly subscription fee of Rs. 1,999 that includes costs of seeds, manure, soil preparation, farm management, crop harvest and home delivery. Though managed by farmers, micro-farm owners are free to lay their hands in the farm proceedings, spend hours in the field and experience the farmer’s life. After all, it’s an inexplicable joy to grow one’s own food!

“Whenever you visit your micro-farm, we will make sure that you forget all your problems and enjoy farming,” Abhinab assures.

 

During the launch of the POC at Bortari.

The founder has plans to install a live kitchen and a mini library in the coming days. The idea is to offer a unique, unwinding experience to the customers amid a tranquil, agrarian setup with the assurance of growing healthy food of one’s choice. The pivotal motto of Agro Origin is to ensure a transparent ecosystem where the customers can trace the source of their food. “Usually, we do not know where our food comes from. So, despite the tags of being ‘organic’, there remains specks of doubts regarding the claims while making expensive purchases of organic fruits and vegetables. At Agro Orgin, we are trying to assure complete traceability of the farm produce that form the mainstays of one’s food habits,” Abhinab explains.

The startup currently targets dwellers in Guwahati, addressing the urban pain points of chemical-infested vegetables and fruits and the tumultuous lifestyle distanced from the serene essence of countryside.

Despite being at the POC stage, Agro Origin has inspired an impact as a good number of people who had moved to other cities in search of jobs are making a homecoming in order to get involved in the project. Considering that farming hasn’t been a lucrative activity, with the predominance of middlemen and a volatile market adding to the woes, a good chunk of the population from the rural areas have been consistently outfluxing to the bigger cities in search of rewarding opportunities. Abhinab’s initiative, with a 60:40 revenue sharing model, comes as a gleam of hope for these migrating people to come back to the homeland and pursue an activity they are akin to – farming. The startup is expected to make use of its network of 300 farmers for project engagement. As Abhinab says, ‘Agro Orgin strives to build a transparent community of producers and consumers and help connect to the roots.’

 

Interestingly, renting out micro-farms wasn’t something Abhinab had initially thought of. Early on, the startup founder had contemplated working out a model for rooftop farming targeted towards urban dwellers. But, later on, with inputs from the mentors at Assam Startup, he tweaked the idea for the current model.

A first-of-its-kind idea in Northeast India, replication of the model in other parts of the region can help usher in a metamorphosis in terms of the easy availability of healthy food among urban dwellers as well as improving the condition of the agriculture-dependent population in the semi-urban and rural areas. The pleasure of living a Farmville experience apart.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
Startup at Majuli opens door to Digital Nomads

Startup at Majuli opens door to Digital Nomads

Imagine a workspace somewhere on a river island! You working on the laptop while basking in the sub-tropical winter sun on a carpet of soft grass, against the faint flapping sound of waves hitting the bank! With the concept of digital nomads taking a grip of the millennials across the globe, Dipmoina Dowarah made a smart move to establish Okegiga Homes on the world’s largest river island, Majuli, particularly targeting this new age group of world travellers.

A wanderlust himself, Dipmoina gave up his well-settled corporate career to build a resort at Majuli in order to cater to the globe trotters, backpackers, wanderers, and digital nomads.

“I have been the crazy guy in the family. When I decided to quit my job to fuel my passion and do a startup, they thought I was putting an axe on my own foot,” says the founder.

Derived from an African word, meaning ‘mountain’, Okegiga Homes was founded by Dipmoina Dowarah and Madhumita Devi on 26 November 2017. The idea of this one-of-a-kind resort had hit him while travelling to Majuli during one of his backpack expeditions. While camping there, Dipmoina fathomed a huge potential for setting up a permanent campsite there. Initially, he had booked a piece of land and set up 11 local-style camping tents fixed on bamboo platforms with hay root ceiling. Encouraged by the demand for a place that can meet the needs of the backpackers and digital nomads at Majuli, Dipmoina Dowarah purchased a new land by the Lohit river and established the resort.


Okegiga Homes is spread across a lush area of 5 Bighas with the river on one side and wood on the other. The accommodation facilities consist of the traditional Bamboo Cottage, Swiss Tents and Camping Tents fixed on bamboo platforms. Apart from budget-friendly accommodation for indefinite stay durations, the resort also offers ample of space for car and caravan parking and self-cooking facilities. Like Dipmoina says, “A lot of these globe trotters prefer putting up in their own caravan and cook their own food. We make the necessary arrangements for the same.”

Not just accommodation, the resort also meets the experiential needs of the guests to see around the island and get a first-hand experience of the tribal lifestyle. Besides, in the wake of a demand, Dipmoina connects the guests with suitable parties conducting adventure activities across Northeast India. The idea is to offer at-home services fused with pleasurable holiday experiences at affordable prices to fit the bill for backpackers and working nomads.

It’s rather surprising that the challenges threatening the startup in the initial days were less financial in nature and more social. Coming from Moran in the Dibrugarh district of Assam, Dipmoina was faced with the arduous task of winning people’s trust at Majuli. He was looked upon with paranoia during the initial days, whereas, setting up a business there made it pivotal to build local support. Unbridled by resistance, the startup founder persisted patiently until the friction subsided.

“Sometimes, it’s better not to respond. I believe no problem can persist for a long time. Rather than trying to convince people with dialogues, I kept doing my work. And today, I am very much a part of the locality,” the founder elucidates. Perhaps, that’s a quintessential startup attitude to persist through the daunting times of inception and create a fertile ground for business through smart work.


The startup has had 2 operational seasons so far, drawing domestic tourists as well as foreign travellers from the US, UK, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Netherlands, Israel, Japan and Australia, among others.

From an impact perspective, Okegiga Homes has managed to create job opportunities for the local residents, making room for permanent and seasonal employment for both the educated and skilled workforce. The engagement of the daily wage earners is almost constant at the resort. Besides, the startup is making major impact in terms of drawing global attention to the cultural seat of Assam, Majuli, thus creating a conspicuous buzz about the rich Assamese heritage and culture among the foreign as well as domestic tourists. Dipmoina summarises the experience of the travellers in one sentence: Once at Majuli, one can never forget it.

Having said that, the challenges aren’t over yet. Ironically, Okegiga Homes’ biggest USP, the location, also poses as a major constraint. Majuli is a traveller’s paradise from autumn through the winters. Demand is at its peak from October to March, thus generating decent monthly revenue (figures held back on request) during the operational season. But given that flood is a serious issue on the river island, tourist footfall in the summers and the rainy seasons is almost next to nil. Naturally, Okegiga Homes is restricted to seasonal operations. Although Dipmoina utilizes the 6-month off-season to travel extensively doing market research and spending time on R&D, pursuing the trend threatens to kill his business. He admits the need to chalk out a 12-month model.

“Though I have managed to recover the cost of building this property with the 6-month model, I do understand the threat on sustenance if I do not convert it into a scalable model,” he admits.

A proud Assamese taking delight in hosting such one-of-a-kind resort on the world’s largest river island, Dipmoina’s ultimate vision is global expansion and to establish similar resorts in major island nations like Sri Lanka and Indonesia. But as of now, he is contemplating establishing similar resorts in summer destinations like Meghalaya, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand in order to convert into a 12-month model. And that would require the bootstrapping startup to raise funds.

Assam Startup – The Nest is currently engaged in helping the startup work on the business model to make it more scalable that would consequently make it more investment-ready.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
6 Must-Watch Hollywood Movies for an Entrepreneur

6 Must-Watch Hollywood Movies for an Entrepreneur

Given the trending narratives about startups and entrepreneurship, many are drawn to carve their own paths and take up entrepreneurship. Yet, when one takes to the field, he realizes that being an entrepreneur isn’t as rosy as it looked like from the other side of the hill. Often than not, he/she throws in the towel the moment they are confronted with hardships. The mantra is to take the plunge only after doing a homework on the ground realities of entrepreneurship.

It’s hard; it’s daunting. It will witness a number of impasse. But a successful entrepreneur has the strength, the passion, the grit, and the smartness to take on the challenges and overturn the impediments. One might say, it’s easier said than done. But it’s never impossible. Here’s a list of 6 Hollywood movies every entrepreneur must watch that can pose as real time lessons and motivate them to take the plunge in the right spirit.

Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999): The movie is based on the two giants of the Silicon Valley, Apple and Microsoft. Who doesn’t feel the goosebumps hearing the story of struggle and the exemplary success of the two globe-changing entrepreneurs? The movie measuredly depicts the competitive rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to dominate the computer industry. The way it follows the journey of the two giants through their struggles during the college days, to founding their respective companies, the hardships they face, and the consequent emergence of the two most influential corporate empires, without trying to camouflage their negative shades, makes it a superhero narrative that’s convincing and human at the same time.

Boiler Room (2000): Perhaps, one aspect that every entrepreneur faces, and yet, is least discussed about, is the ethics or moral responsibility in entrepreneurship. Is everything fair in business and profit-making? The movie digs into this less-talked-about dilemma of an entrepreneur about making a choice between money and morality, right and wrong. Though not one of those conventionally inspiring movies, it surely bounds a person to soul-search and make the realization that business is driven by greater motives than just minting money by any means.

Pursuit of Happyness (2006): Inspired from the true story of an entrepreneur, Chris Gardner, the movie depicts the inspirational journey of a business person from rags to riches. The movie is a tribute to the never-say-die spirit of entrepreneurship on the face of every hurdle, rejection and humiliation. The spirit of the movie can be wrapped up in that one scene where the protagonist tells his son:

“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”

The Founder (2016): Talking of perseverance, here’s another movie that inspires one to stand up and deliver against every fall of failure. “The Founder” follows the struggle and extraordinary rise of Ray Crock, the sales guru who turned the fortune of the McDonald brothers. When the McDonald brothers struggled to expand their impressive “speedy system” for fast food kitchens beyond a single joint, Crock re-invented the business strategy for a franchise model and transformed the hitherto small eatery into the McDonald’s Corporation of the present time, thus revolutionizing the fast food industry in America. And while the audience takes away Crock’s sharp business acumen from the movie, one finds a special motivation from the fact that Ray Crock tasted mega success when he was in his 50s. Indeed, entrepreneurship can never be restricted by gender or age.

Flash of Genius (2008): The movie follows the struggle of Robert Kearns, the inventor of intermittent windshield for cars, against the auto manufacturing giants, who, he claimed, had stolen his idea sans his consent or giving him the due credit. The movie, at the very onset, gives out the strong disposition and passion of an innovator who is willing to create something that would help enhance lives, but not at the cost of letting away the credit. “Flash of Genius” is especially a reality check for those who bask in the euphoria of making a breakthrough innovation, but forget the most crucial part about guarding that innovation.

Office Space (1999): The most humorous of the 6 in the list, “Office Space” is a satirical take on the drudging, monotonous, and soul-sabotaging plight of the new-age cubicle dwellers. When the protagonist decides to give voice to his silent suffering behind that mundane office desk, he manages to strike a chord with those who had been passively contemplating on giving up that corporate job and inspires them to dare take the ‘step’ to trudge up the path of entrepreneurship.

 

Satarupa Mishra

 

North East Startup curates Trips with a Cause

North East Startup curates Trips with a Cause

If the core value of entrepreneurship is creating leaders who can engineer a social impact right from the grassroots, startup from North East India, ChaloHoppo is trying to do just that.

Founded in 2016 by 4 young men – John Raphael, Nishant Sinha, Chetan Jalan, and Devraj Barooah – ChaloHoppo isn’t just another travel company trying to woo tourists to visit the traditional locations in North East India. It spots offbeat places in the North East and curates activities that are quintessentially local, which the tourists can experience only in this part of the country. Apart from conducting trekking expeditions and holding campsites, ChaloHoppo organizes unique activities that allow tourists to get a first-hand experience of the North Eastern lifestyle.

From arranging football match between tourists and Khasi boys in Meghalaya and organizing storytelling sessions with the locals around the evening bonfire, to involving visitors in hand-fishing in Ziro, mask-making in Majuli, and pitha-baking in Balipara, the startup is always bustling with novel ideas to offer authentic, out-of-the-box experience to the travellers so that they go back carrying a chunk of North East India in their hearts.

As John says, “Our vision is to bridge the gap between North East India and the world. Travelling is the best medium to achieve the same through the creation of authentic local experiences.”

ChaloHoppo campsite at Jakhama Village, Nagaland

The most crucial aspect of ChaloHoppo is it’s community involvement model. The startup ties-up with local partners at every level of execution. For example, the startup’s permanent campsite at Jakhama Village in Nagaland that acts as the basepoint for the Dzukou trek, is entirely managed and maintained by the local land owner, while ChaloHoppo takes care of the sales and marketing, with an equal profit-sharing between both the parties. The campsite that also hosts tourists attending the Hornbill Festival in December has a team of around 25 locals running it. “They are the real heroes while we are just there, assisting them if they need any help,” John says. The same applies to the campsite at Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh as well.

Not just the campsites, the local involvement is conspicuous in every activity that the startup undertakes. Every trekking expedition that ChaloHoppo leads is accompanied by a local representative, thus offering constant revenue earning opportunities to the latter. The startup works with a vision to bridge the gap between North East India and the rest of the world. And they have got on board the people of the region in realizing their vision. In the process, the startup has also been impactfully addressing the problem of unemployment in the region.

Barring the initial challenge of building trust among the people, ChaloHoppo has had a fairly smooth journey. The fact that they have been able to dissolve the most common inhibitions among people travelling to North East India by ensuring safety, hospitality, and relatively smoother journeys while providing quintessential local experience has helped ChaloHoppo stay ahead in the race. Perhaps, that’s the reason that the startup has been able to gain formidable traction in the 3 years of its operation sans raising a fund. With the founders having a strong base in Mumbai, they have been able to draw a good number of tourists from the city, besides Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kochi and Ahmedabad. The startup is also initiating B2B tie-ups with companies in Asia and Europe to spur the flow of foreign tourists in the region.

The local team in action

ChaloHoppo had earned a revenue of Rs. 2.4 crore in 2018 and strive to close it at Rs. 3.9 crore in 2019. Their landmark achievement has been to become, probably, the first company to start fixed departures to Mizoram. “We have identified small villages in Mizoram that can offer wholesome experience to the travellers,” John reveals.

Apart from curating trips and organizing local flavoured activities, ChaloHoppo also plans to aggregate homestays in the region. They have already identified a few homestays, whom they try to promote on a pan India scale and get bookings in exchange for a cost. As John quotes, “We are trying to get people to book those homestays against a cost deposited by the homestay owners. The owners get to earn revenue while we keep a fee for promoting and connecting them with the tourists. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

However, the startup is yet to go all out with the homestay project. “Converting homes into homestays is a lengthy process, requiring thorough training of the locals to ensure hygienic and sound stay for the tourists. It would also demand an infallible back end infrastructure, R&D, and a strong marketing team on our part. We intend to go about it assertively, which would require a hefty fund,” the founder explains.

In fact, fund has been one of the reasons for ChaloHoppo to have applied for incubation at Assam Startup – The Nest. The startup has had fruitful networking opportunities and interaction with the mentors at The Nest, which could help them realize their homestay project in the days ahead. The founders are upbeat about the emerging startup culture which the Assam Startup initiative is trying to build in the region. Like John says, “Getting a platform like this really helps to build an atmosphere where everyone is trying to help each other grow, which we had lacked earlier.”

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
10 free tools and resources for start-ups to up the marketing game

10 free tools and resources for start-ups to up the marketing game

 

‘A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned’. This Philosophy helps you to lean through your bootstrapping phase. But marketing efforts come at a price if you seek for a professional help. However, there are certain free tools and resources available that could curtail your marketing budget. Here’s a list of the best available free tools that will help in the better functioning of your start-up business.

 

Canva

Canva comes in loaded enough, easy-to-use features and functionality that anyone can use in order to create a variety of engaging content. Even if you are a non-designer, you can create awesome social media flyers, digital banners, print designs, and graphics.

 

Adobe Spark

According to a recent statistics, 54% of consumers want to see more video content from a brand or business they support. Tell your story by creating awesome video content online with the help of Adobe Spark. Add video clips, images, text, or icons to the slides and let Spark Video’s cinematic themes bring it to life.

 

Mailchimp

Mailchimp helps you create and send emails, initiate automations, manage contacts, and stay on top of your E-mail marketing campaign. Mailchimp’s Free Plan gives you access to most Mailchimp features, but limits your total subscribers, as well as your daily and weekly sends. You can keep up to 2,000 subscribers across all audiences in your account and send up to 12,000 emails per month. In a 24-hour period, you can send up to 2,000 emails.

 

Proposify

In the corporate world, first impressions last out. A well-designed business proposal helps in capturing the attention of a potential client and the only way to do this is to give them something that stands out from the sea of proposals submitted to them. Proposify can help you create a winning proposal by giving unlimited access to a gallery of beautiful templates with pre-written copy for a variety of services. All templates are customizable to fit your business and brand voice.

 

Flaticons

Graphical icons find its usage everywhere! From website to company logo to PowerPoint Presentations, icons help add value to the texts and boost the overall content. Flaticon is the largest search engine of free icons in the world. It offers users high quality graphic designs: totally editable vectors that could be used in both commercial and personal projects.

 

Pexels

The potential of visual communication has reached an all-time high with the rise of digital and social media marketing. As a result, photography is becoming more crucial to the promotion of a product or service. Pexels stocks beautiful images and videos shared by talented creators which you can use for free for both personal and commercial projects.

 

Hatchful Shopify

Have you realized that you’re able to instantly identify a business by looking at its logo even if their name isn’t inscribed in it? Take the example of Nike. We immediately identify the ‘Swoosh’ symbol with Nike. A logo is an important part of your company’s brand and makes a significant impact on the public perception about the company. Hatchful Shopify is a free logo maker that helps you generate custom logo designs in minutes. You can create great logos for your brand without any design experience.

 

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Amazon Web Services, commonly known as AWS, is a web hosting service offered by the e-commerce Amazon. You can try some AWS services free of charge within certain usage limits. AWS calls this the AWS Free Tier. The free tier is designed to give you hands-on experience with a range of AWS services at no extra charge.

 

Hootsuite

If your start-up has a presence on multiple social media platforms, you need to spend a lot of time in coordinating, publishing, and scheduling your posts. Hootsuite is a free digital marketing tool that integrates with most of the social media platforms so that you can do all of these things in one place. It helps you keep track and manage your many social network channels. It enables you to monitor what people are saying about your brand and help you respond instantly.

 

Shopify

Shopify is one of the biggest and most popular E-commerce platforms for creating your own e-commerce website or online store and selling products online. The best feature of Shopify is that with just a minimum knowledge of computer, anyone can create an efficient, advanced, and appealing store with the help of its hundreds of  pre-existing templates.

 

Author: Wasim Akram
Startup from Assam eyes on becoming India’s largest brick manufacturer in the next 10 years

Startup from Assam eyes on becoming India’s largest brick manufacturer in the next 10 years

 

Three young engineering graduates from Guwahati, David Gogoi, Rupam Choudhury, and Mousam Talukdar, are creating ripples in the construction market in Assam with their innovative and low-cost brick manufacturing startup.  Unlike the usual red clay bricks, Zerund bricks are made of cement, fly ash, organic chemicals, and plastic waste and are available at prices 15-20% lower than that of the regular bricks available in the market.

“Our main cost of production is cement. 60-70% of the raw-materials are waste products alone. The NTPC is offering us fly ash for free as a gesture to support our innovation,” says David Gogoi, one of the founders of Zerund Bricks.

They have designed a 3-process machine that shreds waste plastics into microbeads which are used in the brick making mixture. Use of plastic augments the tensile strength of the bricks and also shores up resistance to water absorption, thereby dismantling any possibility of dampness in the constructions.

Tiny honeycombs are shaped inside these lightweight plastic embedded bricks that act as air bubble insulation sheets against extreme heat and cold penetration. 

Incorporated in September 2018, Zerund has been certified by the National Test House, the Public Works Department, and the Assam Engineering College. In fact, the founders had started working on the prototype in college as their 7th-semester project.

At present, Zerund is operating from a single manufacturing plant at Azara, Guwahati. Interestingly, it was a fully equipped plant at the time they took it on lease.

“We didn’t have to incur an extra expense to set up the plant. We only needed people to man the machines, which cost us lesser than a lakh. The operations costs were sourced from the operations itself,” David says.

Encouraged by the cost-efficiency of working on an existing plant, the startup has decided to follow the same model of integrating and accelerating working plants in the future as well. They are currently in talks with a few parties across the state over plant procurement.

As David elucidates, “The parties will get a chunk of the profit from the plant. But we will have complete control over sales and operations. That way we will be able to protect our technology as well.”

David believes that their startup is blessed by a divine intervention which has been able to steamroll the rough patches in their journey. At a time when they were showed the door at financial institutions during their embryonic days, a couple of senior alumni (businessmen) from the Assam Engineering College showed up with a keen interest in their startup and agreed to invest.

Within a span of seven months from the day of inception, Zerund has sold bricks worth Rs. 32 lakhs. Currently, the demand for their bricks exceeds production. As David says, “For the next two years, we shall have no sales crunch.”

Although the startup primarily has a B2B model, the founders aren’t giving up on B2C either on ground that the latter assures a better cash flow.

With clients spread across the states of Northeast India, the Zerund founders’ goal is to grow into India’s largest brick manufacturer in the next 10 years.

Asked about the current constraints in the business, David is quick to state that the constraints are opportunities to flourish. However, being in a capital intensive industry, they would need formidable funds to expand. David reveals about their aim to acquire 10 more plants over the next 3-4 quarters, which would require funds of around Rs. 15 crores.

An incubatee at Assam Startup – The Nest, Zerund hopes to gain in terms of deeper business acumen and productive connections from the state-owned startup incubation initiative of Assam.

It seems that the startup founders have learnt the ropes well when they say that they are here to focus on business and earn money instead of devoting time in becoming social media heroes. To summarise in David’s words, “We don’t need thousands of people to know about our business. We don’t aspire to be social media heroes either. We only need a few good and resourceful people who are genuinely interested in our products and can contribute to the growth of our business.”

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
7 Startup Hurdles in Assam & their Solutions

7 Startup Hurdles in Assam & their Solutions

While the metropolitan cities in India are fast emerging as major startup hubs, claiming international attention over the last few years, the smaller states like Assam have been rather late in joining the startup bandwagon. Despite a not-so-conducive startup environment, startup entrepreneurs like Hironmoy Gogoi have been able to dodge the bullets and emerge as startups grabbing national limelight.

The founder of the national award-winning food-tech startup from Assam, Gaon Ka Khana (GKK), and the youngest author in India to pen a book on entrepreneurship, “The Future CEO”, Hironmoy’s startup journey has been speckled with struggles and failures. But, he is hopeful that the Government of Assam’s Startup Policy 2017 will manage to transform Assam into a major startup hub of the country in the coming years.

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Taking cues from Hironmoy’s startup struggle, we have listed out 7 startup hurdles in Assam and how the Assam Startup aims to overcome them.

A Dearth of Technical Knowhow

In a state where entrepreneurship is still a fancy option queuing behind a ‘more practical’ government job or corporate employment, a professional approach to startups is still wanting. Though young entrepreneurs from other states scripting success stories have managed to inspire the Assamese youths, the latter are yet to master the technical layers of entrepreneurship.

How to develop the idea and make it market ready? How would the product/service benefit the customers? Who are the target customers? How to source the funding? What kind of team would best suit my startup? How to market the product? How to create branding and visibility? What should be my medium of product selling? How to take care of the logistics? The aspirants are mostly left to learn about these complex aspects of a startup business sans any professional mentorship. On account of a dearth of specialized guidance, the new startup entrepreneurs have often given up before they could hardly begin. As Hironmoy puts it: “Having a brilliant idea isn’t enough. One must have a foolproof business model in place.”

Solution: The state-owned marquee incubator, Assam Startup – The Nest has been launched to address this very issue and guide the new entrepreneurs towards honing entrepreneurial skills. Apart from grooming the incubatees, The Nest also organizes workshops, seminars, and mentorship sessions for startup enthusiasts.

Lack of Regional Angel Networks

Early stage startups are mostly funded by angel investors. Venture capitalists enter into the scene much later when the company has established a decent grip in the market. Sadly, there has been no conspicuous angel investors in the state. Hironmoy recalls his own experience when he missed bagging a fund from a national angel network on the ground that there was no local angel investor in the state. Asked about the reason, he holds accountable the state’s relatively embryonic familiarity with the startup phenomenon. Also, most businesses here are yet to give a free hand to the axiom, ‘investing in a business is also a business.’

Solution: Under the Assam Startup Policy, the Government of Assam has committed to encourage investors, industrialists, successful entrepreneurs, and highly experienced business executives and professionals to create Assam Angel Network (AAN) to cater to the early stage funding needs of the startups in Assam.

The Policy also makes room for seed fund of Rs. 5 lakh and scaling grant of upto Rs. 50 lakh for startups who are issued the My Assam Startup Id (MASI) under the Assam Startup initiative.

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Shortage of Industry-ready Job Seekers

Though Assam has no dearth of academically qualified youths, the state is still wanting in key employability skills that usually turn an employee into a company asset. Especially a startup environment demands versatility and multitasking skills. A successful startup execution depends hugely on the sharpness and adroitness of its team. Unfortunately, as Hironmoy says, the average mindset in the state revolves more around ‘studying to get a job instead of studying to deserve a job.’

Solution: Innovation-based evaluation at the academic level can be helpful. As Hironmoy says, assigning mandatory projects of innovation to the students of higher education could be a bankable option. In fact, the Assam Startup Policy 2017 has already reserved provisions for the needful academic interventions in order to sharpen the problem-solving acumen and inculcate the entrepreneurial qualities in the students.

Deficit Homework on the Revenue Model

An average number of aspiring entrepreneurs in the state hardly have a definite idea about the revenue model. It isn’t enough to build a product. One must have a clear idea and strategy about the types of revenue that the startup could generate. It could be earned through direct product sales, advertisement sales, service fees, data access fees, etc.

Solution: “One must plunge into the business only after formulating a clear revenue structure. At the very outset, he/she must put down on papers in bold letters the step-by-step plan for revenue sources and expansion. Make no haste to step into the field until you are ready with a clear cut revenue structure,” Hironmoy recommends.

Assam Startup – The Nest would guide the incubated startups in rolling out a foolproof revenue model suitable for their business. They would be exposed to the best-in-the-business mentors who’d even out all the doubts and dilemmas for chalking out an unerring revenue model.

Limited Co-working Space

Co-working space has been an issue in Assam. For startups, who mostly bootstrap in the early stage of their business, it becomes almost impossible to afford an extensive and exclusive office building on lease. As a result, we see a number of entrepreneurs operating from their homes with minimum infrastructure and office stationery. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Hironmoy had to start the operations from the storeroom of his house.

Solution: Though Guwahati is slowly witnessing the rise of a fingerful of co-working setups, things haven’t been progressive in rest of the towns in Assam. Taking note of this, the Assam Startup Policy 2017 has introduced a Hub & Spokes model for ensuring a more inclusive reach in the state. While Assam Startup – The Nest stands as the incubation Hub with various ancillary infrastructure and offering co-working space, a number of specialized institutions across the state, especially the educational institutions, are encouraged to open incubation centres and co-working spaces for the startup units.

Need of Co-Founders

Instances of startup entrepreneurs taking a back-foot due to the inability to find a competent co-founder are found copiously in the region. Hironmoy delineates the situation most accurately: “We see young people deciding to club together to start a venture during the most unceremonious conversations in the most informal setups. Unfortunately, such partnerships hardly survive. Within a few months, finding himself in the dire straits of a startup struggle, a partner is often likely to exit from the project with motley excuses.”

Solution: Hironmoy suggests a more professional and farsighted approach while looking for a co-founder. Being a startup enthusiast with brimming ideas isn’t enough. A co-founder must be matured, steady, and patient. It isn’t a partnership of a few years, but a rather long one.

Keep a keen eye around the surroundings, including social media. Be present at the right places at the right time where you are most likely to bump into like-minded people with serious entrepreneurial acumen. Attending the events and workshops at the Assam Startup – The Nest could introduce you to a few potential co-founders as well. Networking will hold the key. Watch out for the hackathons and boot camps at The Nest in the coming days for excellent networking opportunities.

Lack of Perseverance

Perseverance has been an issue among the youths in Assam. A number of startups started with fresh vigour. But not getting quick results, they had also shut down in no time. This could also be due to the youths’ lack of confidence in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the state.

Solution: A successful entrepreneur never gives up grasping at straws when the going gets tough. Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos’ story from failures to success is an epic inspiration.

“I have made billions of dollars of failures.” Jeff Bezos.

The Assam Startup Policy 2017 also strives to nurture the confidence of the startups by shaping up a healthy startup ecosystem in the state and making the various symbiotic components of the ecosystem easily accessible to the startup entrepreneurs.

Assam Startup – The Nest takes first step towards helping form an Angel Network in the state

Assam Startup – The Nest takes first step towards helping form an Angel Network in the state

Assam Startup – The Nest initiated a meeting with the high net worth individuals (HNI) of Guwahati towards forming an Angel Network in the state for the startups on 9 May 2019. Sushanto Mitra, the CEO and Founder of Lead Angels, India’s first privately owned startup investing network, flew down to the city especially to attend the meeting and edify the HNIs about the value of investing in startups.

During the discussion, Sushanto pressed on the need to invest in the startups not just for the noble act of supporting new companies with disruptive ideas, but also for fetching handsome returns.

“A lot of entrepreneurs investing in new startups have made more money than they do from their own business.” Sushanto Mitra.

Sushanto further added that the whole world of investment is moving towards the world of startups owing to the new-age business’ incredible quality to create dominance out of meager capitals. They have the capacity to scale rapidly and become future monopolies. And their biggest strength lies in their ability to morph themselves according to a situation. A lot of angel investors acquire shares in the startups in order to learn these ingenious business techniques from the startups and apply them in their own business.

The founder of Lead Angels validated that though an angel network is formed with the primary motive to invest in startups, it graduates into a much valued business network. “Angel network becomes a way of doing business together,” Sushanto stated.

Owing to the fact that investing in startups is always a risky proposition, the HNIs inquired about the right methodology for deciding the startups to put their stakes on. Sushanto stressed on the importance of quality evaluation to ensure minimum loss. “Companies will go down. But if your evaluation is good, the rate of failure will be lesser,” he said.

Sushanto, nevertheless, was quick to point out that startup incubators can vastly improve the survival rates of the startups. And that’s where Assam Startup – The Nest will play a crucial role.

He suggested the HNIs to get an exposure to the startups that are getting invested in states with matured startup ecosystems, like Bangalore and compare them with the startups in Assam. They might also invest in one of those startups and learn as an angel investor. And then while the local ecosystem progresses, an angel investor might find interesting companies to invest in here.

“Start mentoring the local startups. When the right time comes, you will be the best person to invest in the startup you know in and out. And when you invest, the investors from outside will also be encouraged to invest in that startup,” he appealed to the HNIs present at the meeting.

Sushanto also answered to the queries from the HNIs, especially related to the processes involved in angel investment, the legal formalities, as well as the tax benefits of investing in startups.

Earlier during the meeting, Mrs. Manjula Saikia Bhuyan, Additional Secretary, Department of Industries & Commerce (FP), Government of Assam, thanked the HNIs for attending the meeting and appealed to them to nurture and mentor the startups that get selected for incubation at Assam Startup – The Nest. Quoting the crucial need of the hour for taking forward the products of innovation for production, she requested them to play a central role in commercially lifting up innovative ideas and products by young startups in Assam.

Pranjal Konwar, COO, IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, welcomed the HNIs and briefed them about the Assam Startup Policy as well as about the role of the IIM Calcutta Innovation Park as the implementing partner of the state-owned marquee incubator, Assam Startup – The Nest.

The swashbuckling incubator is gearing up to induct its first batch of startups for incubation. And this meeting was one of the important groundwork done towards creating favorable funding opportunities for startups.