Guwahati baker rustles up innovative ways of serving Black Rice

Guwahati baker rustles up innovative ways of serving Black Rice

Innovation can take place anywhere – in a lab, a hostel room, or even in the kitchen. While the popular buzz for innovation revolves around technological breakthroughs, one cannot dismiss its existence even in things as basic as food. If the general definition of innovation includes a new product or a new method of utilizing an existing product towards serving the market needs better, a home baker’s craft to rustle up innovative ways of serving black rice can, arguably, fit in the definition as well.

Keyaa Das Choudhury’s experiment with black rice makes an inspirational pocketbook for those who remain smitten with a thing of wonder, but could not think of creative ways to put it to the right use.

When Keyaa Das Choudhury, a homemaker based in Guwahati, came across black rice at a fair in Guwahati, she was bowled over by its tremendous health benefits. After asking around for a recipe, she finally prepared a regular black rice pudding. Although happy with the outcome, she couldn’t contend herself with making just a single recipe of this wonderful ingredient.

“My husband didn’t like the pudding much. Or let’s just say that it was more of a regular item tried and tested down the generations. It was disappointing to see such a wholesome ingredient getting wasted in a single recipe. There had to be other ways to cook it. There must be more people like my husband who look for better serving variations to it,” Keyaa says.

Two years later, someone from her family had gifted her another packet of black rice bought from Manipur. This time, she decided to try and spin her wand (a spatula in this case) to try out something new with this Midas ingredient. She pulled out her grandmother’s recipe of a regular cake baked in an ethnic coal stove. But instead of the regular flour, she experimented with black rice. To her surprise and relief, the black rice cake came out better than she had expected. Her next experiment was to make the cake more palatable for her kids and tried baking layered cakes with delectable icing. Her experiment worked this time as well.

Ecstatic and encouraged by the success, she baked a cake for her two acquaintances from the Assamese film fraternity, Surjya Hazarika and Malaya Goswami. She disclosed to them, for the first time, her clandestine urge to start her own venture – an all-black rice bakery. The movie stalwarts enthusiastically validated her idea. In fact, Malaya Goswami was the first customer of Keyaa’s Black Rice Creative Baker’s Industry launched in 2019, ordering for an eggless black rice cake.

From that day to date, Keyaa’s focus has relentlessly been on innovating wide varieties of black rice desserts and savories. Though designer cakes and cupcakes are her specialties, she makes equally scrumptious chocolates, biscuits, dosas, idlis, cutlets, and laddus – all made from black rice. Her special salted black rice tekeli pitha (an Assamese recipe traditionally made with sticky rice, jaggery, and grated coconut) and savory black rice cakes with chicken and cottage cheese are must-tries for those who love experimental cuisines. Perhaps, it won’t be entirely wrong to call her culinary twists with black rice as a remote form of incremental innovation that increases the value of an existing product for consumers.

Of course, Keyaa’s quirky black rice fares weren’t perfected overnight. It required time, effort, and perseverance to get the proportions, temperature, and the ingredient combinations right. The appetizing outcome is all set to make the difference for people who swear by the nutritious benefits of black rice.

Keyaa’s out-of-the-box black rice dishes have rewarded her with around 50 regular customers from Guwahati and Kokrajhar, receiving 4-5 orders for designer cakes each day, on an average. As a baker, Keyaa dreams of the day when she could represent India in the global market for the indigenous confectionery and chocolate items.

A self-taught chef and a mother of two sons, Keyaa is taking baby steps every day to hone her entrepreneurial acumen. Keyaa’s creative mind conceived the idea of popularizing black rice through a variety of scrumptious delicacies. Next, through her trial and error experiments, she has succeeded in innovatively dishing out enjoyable black rice eatables. Perhaps, with a bit more focus on strategic business practices, a new chapter awaits to unleash and reward her efforts with a profitable enterprise. Especially given the current tide skewing towards indigenous products and local innovations, the right kind of branding and promotion can give Keyaa’s Black Rice Creative Baker’s Industry deserving access to the global market.

 

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
5 take-home notes from stories of startup failure

5 take-home notes from stories of startup failure

 

Swearing by the stories of successful entrepreneurs is a good practice. But digging into the cases of startup failure is equally smart. If a success story tells what to do, a startup failure teaches what not to do. Here are 5 such stories of startup failure to learn from in order to unlearn the bloopers.

 

Shyp
Shyp stormed into the scene with a promise to make cargo shipping as easy as the “two taps on a smartphone.” The company founded in 2013 in San Francisco by Kevin Gibbon, Joshua Scott, and Jack Smith, grew at a rapid pace and managed to raise $62.1 million in quick time. The startup was under the media spotlight and comparisons began to be drawn with Uber, so much so that the stories got into the founders’ head. While Shyp focused excessively on the vanity metrics, the founders were caught offhand when the need arose for re-strategizing and reorienting the company in the wake of decelerating consumer growth.

Note in a Nutshell

A Startup that witnessed a sprawling growth in the initial days, eventually had to die a slow death in 2018 due to a fixation with growth and the inability to flex a strategy to keep up with that growth.

 

Jawbone
The consumer electronics company was launched in 1999, offering wearable technology, like portable audio devices, Bluetooth speakers, and fitness trackers, etc. The company attracted the interest of big VC companies like Sequoia, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Andreessen Horowitz and had raised over $930 million in due course. Overfeeding with VC funding had artificially shot up the valuation of the company.
Meanwhile, however, news of product failures began to grow more prominent and the company’s wearable technology struggled to stay up in the race against the industry giants like Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit. It had also got into a legal spat with Fitbit on claims of patent infringement and trade secret misappropriation. Finally, weighing under an insurmountable financial pressure, Jawbone announced the liquidation of its assets in July 2017.

Note in a Nutshell

The Company messed up due to overfunding, especially with the failure of an ambitious product in the face of stiff competition, affording too little margin for mistakes.

 

Juicero
Juicero shot to limelight with its $699 Wi-Fi connected premium juicer that came with proprietary cold-pressed juice packs. Company founder, Doug Evans even compared his pursuit of juicing perfection to another perfectionist, Steve Jobs. He claimed that his juicer had the power to lift two Teslas. Having succeeded in creating a sensation around the product, the company raised $118.5 million right in the initial days. However, once the product had hit the market, a few of the investors expressed dissatisfaction over the bulkier size of the juicer than what was originally pitched. The biggest blow came when Bloomberg released a video that showed how their juicer packs could be squeezed with hands to yield almost the same amount of juice and just as fast as by using the juicer. This largely dissuaded consumers from buying a luxury juicer. Subsequently, they reduced the product price to $399 but decided to shut down just 16 months after the initial launch.

Note in a Nutshell

The Company that had everyone in confidence about their claims to take juicing to the next level, had to draw curtains because they did not care to test the product and pricing with the users before launching.

 

Beepi
Beepi introduced an online peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling used cars in 2014. The startup venture came at a time when demand for such a marketplace was rather high. Being able to address the pain point, Beepi soon managed to raise $60 million Series B funding round. Unfortunately, the startup could not take care of the money. It went through a high burn rate that reached $7 million monthly at one point while paying exorbitant salaries and furnishing the office space with extravagant items. Further, if reports are to be believed, the leadership failed to get rid of micromanaging decisions that restricted the employees from learning fast and acting on it.

Note in a Nutshell 

The Company that speedily rose to prominence and managed to bag funds even faster fell prey to reckless spending.

 

Yik Yak
Back in 2013, when Yik Yak, an anonymous chatting app, was launched, it attracted a large number of young takers, mostly the college-goers. For a time when smartphones had started witnessing a boom, many innovative apps were launched, much to the users’ delight. Yik Yak smartly tapped on the opportunity but failed to capitalize on it further. The app was plagued with cyberbullies and crass content that led to some colleges and universities even banning it. Entries of more popular chat apps like Snapchat and Tinder proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Yik Yak. It had decided to call it a quit in 2017 without anyone remembering or missing it anymore.

Note in a Nutshell 

A Company that rose in popularity by tapping on the current trends failed to create a roadmap to stay afloat against competitors and beyond the current trends.

 

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
Naga woman, Akitoli Suu, creates buzzword for sustainable living with her organic toiletries

Naga woman, Akitoli Suu, creates buzzword for sustainable living with her organic toiletries

Women in North East India have been known for their courage and industriousness. It is their impeccable grit and knack for business that has pushed Ima Keithal in Manipur as the largest all women’s market in the map of Asia. So, when we chanced upon the story of Akitoli Suu coming back home in Dimapur, Nagaland to start her business venture, it didn’t surprise us.

Following her 8-year stint in the US and the UK as an expert nutritionist, Akitoli decided to make a homecoming in 2012 and engage in her father’s rubber plantation. It was during this time that she developed an attachment with Nature and began unearthing its blessings. The 38-year old also started maintaining a vegetable garden towards pursuing an organic and sustainable lifestyle.

Akitoli’s choice of adopting a natural way of life also drove her to explore natural alternatives to the chemical-laden toiletries and healing ointments. She did thorough research on the harmful effects of chemicals on skin and decided to experiment with making soaps at home using natural ingredients.

The first time she made soaps, Akitoli Suu decided to get the quality validated by her friends and family. The positive feedbacks from them encouraged her to carry on with her experiments to create her line of organic soaps. The trial and feedback cycle continued for another 6 months.

Learning and unlearning through her experiments in the kitchen, Akitoli Suu finally founded Angry Mother Soap Co. in 2014. Her soaps are abundantly infused with the natural goodness of coconut oil, olive oil, lemongrass, almond, garden fresh tomatoes, papayas, oats, French red clay, calendula, Shea butter, fresh cow milk, hemp, flowers, and aromatic essential oils.

Having carved a niche for herself in organic soap making, Akitoli slowly expanded her range to other toiletries like shampoo bars, perfume sticks, lip balms, body butter, foot creams, elbow grease, pain relief balms, massage oils, and pet soaps, among others.

Akitoli makes sure to add the wow element in her soap designs. From cupcake shaped soaps to the neon-colored varieties that glow in the dark – she incorporates flabbergasting designs to masterful outcomes.

All her products are organic certified by USDA and India Organic.

With over 35,000 units of soaps being sold so far that includes serving orders from the local hotels in the state, Angry Mother Soap Co. churns out an annual turnover of around Rs. 6 lakhs.

They say that what looks good also sells well. Akitoli’s product packaging is as interesting as the name of her company. The recycled paper packs are handcrafted and come with cool labels, depicting the 16 official tribes of Nagaland in their traditional attires.

She has a store at Thilixu in Dimapur that has been wonderfully done to create a natural ambience for customers to get sold on to her product offerings. Though she doesn’t have a website yet, Akitoli’s brand has been able to garner decent exposure through Facebook and Instagram accounts. The buzz created around the products has also helped her bag B2B collaborations with establishments such as The Farm Chennai.

We can’t wait to see her company website, which, she says, will be launched in the coming days. Akitoli is about to make her way onto the online retail platforms that are expected to push the sales further.

Her mother being a businesswoman working on traditional handlooms, one might say that entrepreneurship runs in Akitoli’s blood. Yet, to manage two full-time employees and ransack her brains to come up with standalone branding and sales strategies demand a world of determination, persistence, homework, and knowledge. As much as innovation, entrepreneurship is the cumulative result of innate acumen, core intent, and acquired skills. And Akitoli Suu is surely shifting gears meticulously to achieve her entrepreneurial goals.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra

 

Health-tech startup in Assam is making healthcare facilities accessible to all

Health-tech startup in Assam is making healthcare facilities accessible to all

If COVID-19 has severely disrupted businesses, it has also accelerated technological innovations to cope with the lockdown norms. Health-tech startup from the Silchar town in Assam, QWKPRO Consultancy has leveraged the opportunity to up the game on digitising healthcare services, integrated on a single platform.

Biswajit Paul gave up a lucrative job to design a healthcare platform in 2016 – QuickOBook – in order to steamroll the hassles faced by patients in getting doctor’s appointments and waiting in long queues at the clinic. The platform enables patients to not just book an appointment, but also live-track it to be able to cut down on the waiting time at the clinic.

While its patient management software connects hospitals, laboratories, doctors, and clinics with patients, the startup’s cloud server, called QOB Connect, stores the medical history, prescription, and test results of the patients for future reference. The startup is also integrating data analytics into the software to offer possible diagnostic indications to the doctors based on the accumulated data about the patients.

Biswajit’s drive to create QuickOBook stemmed from his personal experience of having to trek over two hours to reach the government hospital in Silchar. There was no respite even after reaching the hospital as he had to wait throughout the night to get the appointment tokens to see a doctor. While this struggle for accessing medical facilities might seem alien to the urban dwellers, it is a hard reality for people residing in the far-flung rural areas of the North-Eastern region. That’s when Biswajit realized the need for a solution to ensure timely medical intervention in rural areas in the Barak Valley of Assam.

Interestingly, QWKPRO is outsourcing the QOB Connect software to hospitals, labs, clinics, and doctors for free. Revenue is sourced from the patients, charging them an amount for every doctor’s appointment. They also charge from the doctors for website listing. Besides, the startup earns a commission for lab appointments and medicine orders.

What sets QWKPRO apart from the big players like Practo, DocsApp, and Lybrate is its focus on rural patients. As Biswajit says, the medical sector in the North-Eastern region is largely fragmented and most inaccessible to the rural population. The startup’s objective isn’t just to organise the healthcare sector, but also to facilitate even access to the healthcare facilities, including for those residing in the remotest villages of the region. Acknowledging issues of poor internet connectivity and digital illiteracy in the rural areas, QWKPRO has also designed an offline version that allows patients to schedule appointments through SMS.


Today, the startup has over 1000 doctors enlisted on their website and over 12 hospitals and diagnostic laboratories onboard across the Barak Valley in Assam. They have also penetrated into Tripura and Mizoram, making an annual revenue of Rs. 38 lakhs in 2019-20. The health-tech startup has already connected 2.5 lakh patients in Assam’s Barak Valley and Tripura with medical practitioners.

As it happens with most startup entrepreneurs, Biswajit’s journey has been dotted with challenges. He was wanting in support from his family who aspired to see him chair a coveted position in a government department. Yet, going against the tide, he quit his job at Tata and started working on developing the website in 2016.

“It was difficult convincing the medical practitioners about the QuickOBook. They found no viability in the idea especially given the digital illiteracy among a lion’s share of the population in the region,” Biswajit says.

For a year, the startup went without getting a single appointment request. Subsequently came a phase when the startup founder was faced with a severe cash crunch, which compelled him to take up the job of a Medical Representative in Silchar. The job turned out to be a blessing in disguise in terms of building a network and generating leads.

Meanwhile, Biswajit met Jewel Sen who readily bought his startup idea and agreed to wear the co-founder’s hat. Together they invested around a lakh to build the infrastructure and hire a team.

Tables began to turn after the first year as revenue started to toddle into their kit. In 2018, the startup managed to raise a seed fund of Rs. 10 lakh from a local distributor in Silchar. Since then there has been no looking back.

Today, QWKPRO has an independent office set up in Silchar with 19 employees working under them. They have also roped in an IT team based out of New Delhi to develop the QuickOBook app as well as revamp the website.

With the incubation and nurturing received under Assam Startup – The Nest, NASSCOM, Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and NIT Silchar, QWKPRO is surely barking up the right tree in scripting red-letter success in the coming days.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
7 Life Lessons from the Seven Summiteer

7 Life Lessons from the Seven Summiteer

Ask about life from a mountaineer and he will give you every reason, with examples, to treasure it and live it to the fullest against every great hurdle. And when the mountaineer is one who has lived through asthmatic history, you know that no weakness can be big enough in front of a passion that reinstates one’s purpose for existence. Meet Satyarup Siddhanta, world’s youngest mountaineer to climb the Seven Summits and the first Indian to climb the Seven Volcanic Summits.

If Satyarup’s story from being an asthmatic child to a fearless mountaineer is inspiring, his journeys to the pinnacles have been replete with life lessons and precious realizations that show what great blessing life is! Here are seven life lessons from the Seven Summiteer that every common man, especially the entrepreneurs, must take a leaf from for scripting stories of victory and leading a life that makes man die without regretting the unfulfilled dreams.

 

Make a start; do not worry about the obstacles in the journey

“Had I known what it takes to climb the Mount Everest, I might have never gone for it.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

Fretting about the possible hurdles will not let you make a start. Be so much in love with your dream that the thought of the challenges on the way will not matter. Being positive isn’t just a hackneyed quote of motivation. It is a skill for tasting success.

 

Do not be afraid of Fear

“Take fear as a foe and it will overpower you. Take it as a friend and it will help you.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

Fear isn’t as dreaded a villain as projected. Fear of a fall can help you prepare harder not to fall. It could be a brilliant harness against overconfidence and slackened homework. Use it to your advantage to prepare better for the challenges ahead. The journey graph of an entrepreneur will depend a lot on whether one uses fear as a stumbling block or as fuel.

 

In every bad phase hides a good reason

 “Try to find the good in all the bad happenings.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

To make a lemonade when life throws lemons demands bearing in mind the sweeter possibilities of sourness. If things do not go as per the plan, know that the Universe must have a better plan. When Satyarup practiced crossing the crevasse on a ladder in broad daylight, he didn’t imagine that he would also have to cross a crevasse in the darkness of a night. But when he finally did, he realized that the darkness was a blessing in disguise for it kept him from gauging the depth of the crevasse, the fear on his leader’s face, and the enormous distance from the summit. The darkness helped him focus more on his steps to cross the crevasse than getting distracted by the depth, the distance, or his teammates’ fears.

 

Failure gives an opportunity to win

“Every time I get knocked down, I take it as an opportunity to come back stronger.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

To err and to fail is human. Entrepreneurs will fail too. But getting bogged down with failure doesn’t make winners. Embrace failure when you meet it on the way, but with a promise that you will come back stronger the next time in order to defeat it. Make your failure the metrics to gauge where you are lacking and start working on filling up the gaps.

As Satyarup says, “The fact that I am still alive even after meeting so many setbacks means I am stronger than earlier.”

 

Learn to value your resources

“Mountaineering has taught me to lead a minimalistic life.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

While most of us crib and cry about the resource constraint due to the lockdown, imagine the mountaineers going without proper food and shower in adverse weather conditions! Satyarup relates about a situation where he was even ready to fight a wild rodent over a piece of leftover picked up from the trash.

You never know when your life or your business takes a U-turn and you are left with just the bits and pieces of resources. Better value your resources while the sun shines on you and learn to spend meticulously.

 

Your biggest weakness may become your greatest savior

“My asthmatic trouble that I have cursed all my life had saved me that day.” – Satyarup Siddhanta

Never get disheartened by your weakness. You never know when and how the weakness turns into strength and saves you from a catastrophe. During the final leg of his expedition to the Mount Everest, Satyarup had to trek without his oxygen mask for half an hour due to a blockage in the oxygen pipe. He was surprised at the ease with which he managed the suffocation without growing nervous or anxious about it. While mulling over the episode during a regular day, Satyarup realized that it was his childhood experience of handling breathing troubles due to asthma that had helped him manage with scarce oxygen on the mountain.

 

Hold your nerves and you will discover beauty in danger

“The near-death experiences that I have encountered were near-life experiences in reality.” Satyarup Siddhanta

Our reaction to a stimulus determines the quality of our experience. Hold your nerves in a situation of danger and you will discover beauty around it. This will create brighter reminiscence of a threatening event and dismiss the piling up of negative memories that can adversely affect one’s mental health.

Satyarup met with a near-death experience when he fell into a deep crevasse, dangling from a rope for not less than half an hour until he was rescued. Although initially taken aback by the fall, he soon regained his composure and looked around. To his joy and surprise, the mountaineer discovered the untrodden beauty of the snaking long stretch of the white crevasse, reflecting the clear blue of the sky. He felt lucky to be the chosen one for experiencing the hidden brilliance of Nature which not many get to experience. That which could have been 30-minutes of dread and exhausting fight for life, turned into moments of overwhelming ecstasy. Satyarup’s preoccupation with the surreal splendor of that crevasse freed him from the fearful thought of falling dead into that seemingly bottomless abyss. Today, when he recounts that experience, there are glitters in his eyes and not trepidation as one might expect.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra

 

Young woman from a small town in Assam turns culinary skills into a cloud kitchen venture during lockdown

Young woman from a small town in Assam turns culinary skills into a cloud kitchen venture during lockdown

 

Many of us have utilized the lockdown to revive lost hobbies and hone skills. But, only a few must have thought of leveraging the situation to turn skills into business ventures.

Tusharika Gogoi, a resident of Demow in the Sivasagar district of Assam, was hit by an idea when her friends complimented the culinary pictures she published on Whatsapp stories.

“Why not commercialize it?”

Especially in the current context, when outside foods are either scarce or looked at with apprehension, the idea of delivering restaurant-style, hygienic homemade food holds a lot of promise. Tusharika obtained the necessary permission and started her cloud kitchen called Home Restaurant on 3 May 2020 with help from her mother and younger sister.

In fact, her sister, Arshi Gogoi, who aspires to study Hotel Management, had been contemplating about starting a similar venture along with their mother, Popy Gogoi for a long time. The lockdown offered the trio with the luxury of time to give shape to the thought and execute it.

It’s been just 10 days since its launch, and her cloud kitchen has already made some good business, serving 15 orders a day on average. From varieties of momos, chowmein, and fried rice to dahi vada and panipuri – the enterprising women are catering to a range of orders and getting them home delivered. They strictly follow the hygiene guidelines and lockdown rules and do not take any order after 5.30 pm.

Tusharika is also adding new twists to these recipes. However, she promptly adds that the Home Restaurant would have failed to see daylight without her mother and sister. While her mother’s magic touch gives her recipes the extra edge, Arshi has largely taken the responsibility of getting the orders home delivered.

A student of Psychology in the Dibrugarh University, Tusharika started discovering her unexplored culinary skills during the lockdown. Her decision to open a home-based restaurant was purely experimental, inspired from her sister’s dream of having a restaurant of their own.

“I have no trained background in either cooking or business. I just thought of giving it a try. But I never expected it to click so well,” she says.

The story of these ladies is an ideal example of how one doesn’t need a specialized degree in business to think of a promising idea and execute it. In fact, their cloud kitchen idea has inspired a few women from her locality to start working in similar lines as well.

Asked if she would like to carry on with the business once she goes back to college after the University reopens, Tusharika says she would make sure that their cloud kitchen doesn’t get stalled at any cost.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
Startup Webinar Series conducted by IIMCIP to brainstorm business solutions to the COVID challenges

Startup Webinar Series conducted by IIMCIP to brainstorm business solutions to the COVID challenges

COVID-19 has wreaked a nightmare in the startup world. It has been a one-off situation for startups where supply chain has been disrupted while the demand has remained comparatively unaffected barring a few sectors. While experts have been vouching for business pivoting to sail through the crisis, there are a number of unique challenges that the startups have been looking up for redressal. Towards addressing the challenges and reassuring the startups of every possible support in these unprecedented times, IIM Calcutta Innovation Park organised a 5-episode Webinar series for the incubated startups from IIMCIP, Prime Startup Hub Meghalaya, and Assam Startup.

Each session was dedicated to an exclusive startup sector, viz., Healthcare, Education & Skill Development, Food & Agriculture, Manufacturing & Logistics, and E-Commerce, Livelihood, Tourism.

For every session, a panel of experts were roped in from the respective domains. The esteemed panels included seasoned professionals like Ajay Muttreja (Strategy Advisor & Mentor for MSMEs and Startups), Rohit Chopra (Vice President, Mitsubishi Corp India), Dr. Sachin Gupta (Member, ICMR -Centre for Innovation & Bio Design, PGIMER Chandigarh), Sanjay Prasad ((CEO- IQ City Foundation, Ex CEO-Medica Superspeciality Hospital), Suman Mukhopadhyay (Director, Banglanatak.com), Dr. Satyahari Dey (Professor IIT Kharagpur, MD of STEP IIT Kharagpur), Sumit Dutta (Chief Advisor to Offbeat Ventures & Senior Consultant and Advisor to Kerala Startup Mission), Dr. Sriparna Baruah (Head, Centre for Industrial Extension, Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship), Vinay Sharma (Business Head, Digital, S. Chand & Co), Gowrishankar Chella (Executive Director & Chief Risk Officer of Take Solutions), Kaustav Majumdar (Head – Startups, Incubation, Acceleration, SPJIMR), Subhankar Sarker (Consultant, Strategy and Execution), and Girish Naik (Chief Regional Officer, Kolkata, Mitsubishi Corp India), among others.

The sessions were facilitated by the CEO of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, Dr. Subhrangshu Sanyal.

The main objective of the webinar series was to navigate the challenges faced by the startups in a spirit of problem-solving. The series intended to create a platform for all the startups to meet, brainstorm, and formulate solutions that wouldn’t just help float through the COVID crisis, but also thrive in the long run. And throughout, IIMCIP has been committed to act as the enabler to help the startups with useful insights to help come up with solutions.

At the outset of every session, the moderator from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park introduced the startups from the respective sectors, who laid before the experts the peculiar challenges that they have been facing due to the Covid-19 crisis. The experts then took it over, breaking down the challenges to find pertinent solutions.

Some crucial points that came out from the discussions were the importance of smart business pivoting, skills repurposing, collaborations, and out-of-the-box partnerships. Startups expecting to work in isolation is an adventurous idea at the present times. Forging collaborations and complementary partnerships would be decisive towards abating the supply chain disruptions and sealing corporate and government deals. Furthermore, in this times when social distancing has become the tested norm to stay alive, the enormous importance of technology has been reinstated. And startups must make the most of this situation to help corporates and government with technological innovations. This is also a perfect time to talk to the customers, understand their needs and what’s crucial to them. The customers will listen and respond only when the startup understands their needs. Brainstorming to devise customer retention strategy is the need of the hour.

The sessions received overwhelming response from the startups with average attendants of 60 for each webinar. The sessions also provided a productive platform for startups to strike discussions for collaboration among each other.

“For all the startups going through tough times, these sessions blow in a fresh leash of life to hold on to our nerves and move on,” said the co-founder of Dream Decals, an incubatee from Assam Startup.

“The Zoom session was quite useful as I got a chance to know and interact with many Startups pivoting to technology-based solutions. It was kind of refreshing to hear from people working towards a common goal. Though our Startup is not fully healthcare and we are more dependent on logistic services, we have to wait for the lockdown to relax,” said the founder of a Guwahati-based fintech startup, HookoluPay.

Based on the challenges and opportunities identified during the webinar, IIMCIP will be coming up with subsequent domain-specific brainstorming series very soon.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
COVID-19: Startup from Assam develops an App for smooth execution of Relief Drives

COVID-19: Startup from Assam develops an App for smooth execution of Relief Drives

While the startup world goes through testing times due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they haven’t compromised on their spirit to innovate solutions and make a difference. One such startup from a remote area of Assam has chosen to detangle a problem that especially makes more sense at this hour of crisis.

Aranyak Valley, a startup based out of Cachar district in Assam, has recently launched an app to organise all the donations and distributions of the COVID-19 relief materials by a number of volunteers & volunteering organisations in the district.

Taratari – Cachar Covid-19 relief resource module app lets the volunteering local teams to generate, crowdfund, source, monitor, and manage thousands of relief packets every day in different parts of the district, while keeping the district administration in loop for the daily passes.

“Typically, the local volunteering groups first have to get the names of the people in need and send the names to their leader. The leader, in turn, goes to the donors for fund. He then buys the relief materials, packages them, applies for passes from district administration, waits for approval, and finally sends his team to deliver. All these he does manually and in an unorganized fashion. With the help of Taratari app, he can easily control, monitor, and record all the activities. Through this app, the volunteers, donors, and administration can efficiently monitor the progress,” explains Gaurav Chakraborty, the founder of Aranyak Valley.

The app helps avoid duplication of delivery, instruments greater reach to the needy and efficient interaction with administration.

What’s remarkable is the fact that the app has been developed by the students and faculty of Aranyak Valley in just 7 days without any physical interaction between the developing members. The COVID-19 situation forced them to interact virtually from their respective villages with unsteady power and no broadband availability, and yet, come out as winners in just a week.

“It was a live validation opportunity for the students and faculty of Aranyak Valley, to test their knowledge and provide instant solution to a regional problem,” the founder adds.

Aranyak Valley was founded in 2017 in Silchar, offering skills training that are quintessentially ‘local’ in nature. The skill-based education model of the startup focuses on developing the local skills and finding them an opportunity to validate their skills.

The startup’s objective is to create self-sustainable “Pride Habitats” in Tier 3 and Tier 4 regions of Assam that would offer classes on skilling (IT & Non-IT) and farm appreciation and drive cultural agro-tourism in those regions. The model lets such regional ecosystem sustain on its own while maintaining the rich local cultural life. This will eventually inspire bright brains to focus on developing their own region rather than draining out in search of better opportunities.

Aranyak Valley has established 2 operational Pride Habitats in the Barak Valley, training 700 students and directly employing over 20 people in the region. Over 10, 000 native plants and trees have been planted. The startup has established over 50 diaspora connects for culture, script, skill, flora, and fauna.

Although comfortably placed in Dubai as the Regional Commercial Director (Asia & Middle East) of a reputed French company, Gaurav’s love for his state and his strong urge to give back to its people inspired him to set up Aranyak Valley in his hometown. His core intention has been to instill a sense of pride as well as empower the local people from the grassroots with essential skills, knowledge, and confidence to develop world-class solutions to the local problems.

When the skilled pool of teachers and students of the Aranyak Valley, together with local volunteering leaders, pulled off a smart app in just a week with zero physical interaction, it, indeed, arrived as a ‘Ta-da’ moment for the Founder.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra
Men’s grooming products get a local address

Men’s grooming products get a local address

From roadside barbers to beer shampoos, men’s grooming industry is the talk of the town. For decades, men’s grooming was confined to using an aftershave lotion and hair gel, but now there has been a paradigm shift to using face washes and even hair masks, extensively designed for men. Today, twinkle-toed men’s grooming startup’s can give major companies like HUL and P&G a run for their money.

Rohan Dugar, a BBA Graduate from K.C. Das Commerce College, Guwahati used to lend small amounts of money to his friends during his school days and held a perspective that making money isn’t that difficult, given they put the smart foot forward. With Indian men getting more in right mind about skincare and general physical outlook, he decided to plunge into the men’s grooming industry. 

A proud owner and the self-made man behind Innovative Entrepreneurs, Rohan launched men’s grooming products line under the brand name, Menganic. As per Rohan, these products are completely organic and affordable, manufactured at Rajkot.

The brand essentially targets middle class families, college students, and office goers in the age bracket of 17-35 years.

The startup sold its first product – a beard oil – in 2017 during the No-Shave November period. Since then, Menganic’s product range has ballooned up to 9 products that include hair clay wax, face wash for all skin types, 3-in-one scrub and face pack, oil-free moisturisers, and varieties of organic soaps. These are priced between Rs. 295 – Rs. 450 excluding the shipping charges.

The USP of the brand lies in its quality as each product is a rich amalgamation of carefully chosen herbal and organic ingredients meant to suit every hair and skin type.

Moreover, unlike the high-end herbal and Ayurveda grooming range available, Menganic products could be easily counted within the affordability bracket for consumers with average purchasing power.

He believes that a lot of introspection and interaction with veterans can give one an upper edge and lay down a doctrine essential to venturing into any kind of business. He also believes that taking meticulous risks could be the key to staying ahead in the game.

Till now, the startup has been quintessentially cashing in on the thriving digital platforms and social media influencers to promote its products. Apart from its own website, the products are put up for sale on various e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Zotezo and is also in talks with Nykaa for the same.

Manscaping is here to stay and men’s grooming industry is yet to play it’s A game in the upward moving curve. Products that appeal to the millennial male consumers are expected to trend upwards and especially those that cater to a simplistic routine. With the penetration of men’s grooming industry, there’s a lot of room for players to grow and expand in the market. And Innovative Entrepreneurs is on the right route in this regard.

 

By: Samiksha Somani
Covid-19, Force Majeure and Impact on Commercial Contracts

Covid-19, Force Majeure and Impact on Commercial Contracts

The Covid-19 outbreak hasn’t only wreaked havoc on people’s health, but has also muffled businesses and negatively impacted the economy. In India, as much as around the world, the protracting days of lockdown are bringing about major revenue losses and severe disruptions for the economy.

While businesses across sectors are mired from carrying out their performance obligations, companies are trying to find answers to the critical aspects associated with the inability to meet the obligations of a legally commercial contract in the current scenario. Questions on lease agreements and rental renegotiation being on top of the chart.

One way to protect a business against the obligations of a commercial contract is to invoke the Force Majeure clause in the contract.

Force Majeure is a French word meaning ‘Superior Force’. It absolves parties from the obligations of a contract in wake of a natural calamity or disaster, war, civil strike, etc. The intention of a Force Majeure clause is to protect a party from being punished for something that was not under their control.

Under the Indian Law, Force Majeure isn’t an implied concept. It is applicable only in contracts that expressly mention about it. If a contract does not have a Force Majeure clause, it won’t be applicable in that contract. Hence, it’s important to analyse the contract at the outset and see whether it has a Force Majeure clause.

In case of the presence of a Force Majeure clause, one needs to analyse whether the Covid-19 situation can be covered under the Force Majeure definition in the contract.

Some contracts use generic language to define a Force Majeure clause, stating to release a party from the obligations under a situation that is outside the party’s control. Under the given definition, Covid-19 is likely to stand as a reason or situation that is beyond the party’s control. Factors like supply chain disruption, labour shortage, etc. owing to the lockdown may be considered as something outside the party’s control and qualify as Force Majeure.

In some contracts, the Force Majeure events are specifically mentioned, in which case, it may not be possible to incorporate Covid-19 in the Force Majeure definition. Scan the contract and confirm whether it mentions natural disaster, epidemic, or pandemic as Force Majeure events. While WHO has declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, Ministry of Home Affairs has notified it to be a disaster under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Ministry of Finance has issued Office Memorandum stating Covid-19 to be a natural calamity.

However, there’s every possibility that a commercial contract may not include a Force Majeure clause. In that case, one has to find remedy in the Indian Contract Act, 1872 and interpret whether the current scenario qualifies under the ingredients provided therein.

Section 32 and Section 56 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 talks about various scenarios when a contract is void or the performance of the contract is waived off or discharged.

Section 56 of the Act lays down the Doctrine of Frustration, which states that in case of a change in situation after entering the contract that makes it impossible for the party to perform the obligations under the contract, the contract becomes void or frustrated. However, the application of the Doctrine of Frustration in a given situation would vary case to case. Mere incidences of delay, expense, or onerousness aren’t sufficient for a party to claim protection under this provision. The party must prove that the performance of obligations became completely impossible because of the changed situation.

Supreme Court’s decision in 1954 on the Satyabrata Ghose v. Mugneeram Bangur & Co. case is an apt illustration on the Doctrine of Frustration. A builder had started a township and invited offers from the buyers. One of the buyers executed the builder-buyer agreement. Subsequently, because of some government acquisition, a large portion of the land for township was acquired and the builder was unable to complete the township as committed in the contract. The Court held that it was impossible to fulfill the commitment made at the time of entering the contract however since the time is not of essence, it would not be considered as a frustrated contract.

Applying the same principle, if it’s shown that the performance under the contract was possible even during the Covid-19 crisis, it will not be possible to take recourse to the Doctrine of Frustration. The defaulting party may be held liable for breach of contract, notwithstanding that the lockdown is going on or that there are severe financial consequences or losses borne by the party.

In any case, it’s important to send a notice to the other party at the earliest, communicating in clear writing about how performing the obligation has become impossible because of the current situation, requesting them to discharge the obligations or grant time extension to a period after the lockdown or mutually decide to terminate the contract. In case a contract provides for liquidated damage, send a notice to the party immediately so that the defaulting party may have a bona fide stand for duly informing them on time and that the latter was restricted due to the situation which had made the contract infructuous.

 

 

By: Rohit Jain 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Rohit Jain is a Senior Associate at Singhania & Partners LLP, New Delhi