QuickGhy collaborates with ASDM to launch mobile app, QG Daksha

QuickGhy collaborates with ASDM to launch mobile app, QG Daksha

Hyperlocal service aggregator and Assam Startup incubatee, QuickGhy has collaborated with Assam Skill Development Mission to launch the mobile application, QG Daksha, on 24 February 2021 at the PWD Convention and Training Centre in Guwahati, in the gracious presence of the Honourable Minister for Industries & Commerce, Sri Chandra Mohan Patowary.

QG Daksha is a unified platform for services that allows users to list their services online and help them get connected to potential clients. It offers ease-of-use to customers to access home care and personal care services in the comfort of their homes. The platform poses to bring the fragmented service sector under a unified umbrella, offering quality-tested services by the local vendors with uniform pricing.

The App is loaded with features such as App call, chat, rate profile, view profile options, and WhatsApp support for efficient communication among Service Seekers and Service Providers. The team is focused on maintaining efficient and excellent hospitality and offers 24×7 helpline support for users having any queries related to the service. The GPS feature allows the Service Providers to set their location and availability so that the users can find the nearest available Service Providers and after booking the service, the Service Seekers should be able to track the movement of the Service Providers up to their doorsteps.

Hitherto, QuickGhy had been taking requests on their social media handles for services including plumbing, electrical repairs, deep cleaning, sanitisation, beauty and personal care, personalised confectionery, fitness training, nutrition guide, marble and tile polishing, etc. To date, QuickGhy has on-boarded 100 service providers, facilitating an average monthly income of Rs. 8000 for each. The collaboration with ASDM is expected to create a pipeline of more than 60 skilled workers for immediate onboarding on the platform.

Apart from catering to the service requirements of the people of Assam, QG Daksha would generate the much-needed employment opportunities for the local youths of Assam. The partnership with ASDM will serve to build a decent work and economic growth space, in addition to building sustainable cities and contribute to responsible consumption in context to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN – SDGs).

ASDM’s mission for upskilling the local youths for better employability falls perfectly in sync with QuickGhy’s objective to create livelihood opportunities for the native population. The collaboration corroborates the importance of mutual support and inter-departmental efforts to push the growth of the startups towards realizing the greater mission of abating unemployment issues in the state.

Given that the mainstream markets in India have almost reached a point of saturation, it’s obvious for the big players to eye on the untapped market in North East India. While a competitive challenge from the big players is inevitable, the startups from the region have the home-ground advantage of knowing the market needs and customer behaviour better. It’s upto the startups how they leverage this advantage to set a cut above the seasoned players. Whereas the Government of Assam has been doing its bit to support, promote, and collaborate with the rising local startups like QuickGhy, a crucial part of the verdict also lies with the local consumers in terms of their willingness to opt for local offerings over big brands. At the end of the day, the effectiveness of the Vocal for Local movement will be decided in the market rather than on social media.

Startup from Assam records a turnover of around Rs. 1 Crore after receiving MASI Grant last year

Startup from Assam records a turnover of around Rs. 1 Crore after receiving MASI Grant last year

COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise for entrepreneurs who look for opportunities during crises. While the lockdown did not deter the spirit of the COHORT 1.0 startup, Deskneed (Science2Home), there came a point when they were grasping at straws to sustain themselves. Being a tech-enabled facility management startup, whose revenue depends predominantly on B2B sales of office supplies and office repair and maintenance services, the suspension of office and corporate establishments during the lockdown hit a major blow as almost all the revenue streams dried out. Sustaining a comparatively larger team of 11 members became almost next to impossible at a given point in time. But founder, Pankaj Kushwaha, isn’t made of brittle matters. He chalked out a two-tiered strategy to bring things back under control.

In the first part of the strategy, Pankaj adopted a number of expense control measures that included moving into a smaller office space, cutting down the team size by 60%, and dismantling credit sales to maximum clients. Meanwhile, the startup made sure of finding ways to communicate with the clients to ensure retention of customer loyalty and trust.

Though the expense control strategy started paying off, it still wasn’t enough to restore cash flow. The fact that the clients were unable to clear off their dues further added to the cash shortage.

Much to the founder’s relief, the startup received a Scale-Up grant of Rs. 12.6 Lakhs under the My Assam Startup ID (MASI), from the honourable Chief Minister, Sri Sarbananda Sonowal, in June 2020.

The grant came in just at the right time for the startup, enabling them to clear off payments to their vendors. Most strikingly, Pankaj, by now, had a model in place to scale faster and wasted no time in buying back the company shares from his angel investor.

Meanwhile, Pankaj and his team got down to some serious pivoting by focussing on facilitating COVID supplies and services for the clients. Interestingly, the pivoting instrumented a rethinking of the brand and sub-branding strategy. Following a lot of thinking and brainstorming, Pankaj decided to position Deskhub as the main brand under which are placed three sub-brands, viz.,
Deskneed: Office supplies (Stationary, Furniture, Gifting, Housekeeping Material, Printing, IT).
Deskfix: Office Repair and Maintenance (Electrician, Carpenter, Plumber, IT, AC technician, CCTV technician, etc.)
Desksafety: COVID-related supplies and services (Sanitizer, Gloves, Mask, Dispensers, Fumigations, Sanitisation).

Invigorated by the MASI grant, there was no looking back for the startup as it employed aggressive marketing tactics to convert prospects into clients. Since receiving the MASI grant, the startup has bagged 12 new clients. The major ones include IIFL Finance, Samsung Stores, Black Tiger Cement, IGGL, Radio Mirchi, and ASG Hospital, among others, yielding a turnover that is expected to touch Rs. 1 Crore by end of FY 2020-21. “The margin has increased from 10 percent to 15 percent. And we are good for FY 2021-22 with a total contract value of Rs. 2 Crore in our kit already,” Pankaj informs.

The founder envisions his startup to emerge as the pioneer in office admin management in the country. With clients like Tata AIG, Indusind Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Ujjivan Bank, and Bank of Baroda in the pipeline for this year, and a possible business expansion in New Delhi, Deskneed (Science2Home) is definitely on the right track to growth and scaling up.

Assam Startup – The Nest hosts “UDYAM” to award MASI Grant to 14 startups; launches 3 Nano Incubation Centres

Assam Startup – The Nest hosts “UDYAM” to award MASI Grant to 14 startups; launches 3 Nano Incubation Centres

Assam Startup – The Nest hosted “UDYAM” on 13 February to celebrate the 2-year journey and success of the initiative, in the gracious presence of the Honourable minister of Industries and Commerce, Sri Chandra Mohan Patowary.

The event was attended by Dr. KK Dwivedi, IAS, Principal Secretary, Industries & Commerce; Pabitra Ram Khaund, ACS, Secretary, Industries & Commerce; KJ Hilaly, ACS, Additional Secretary, Industries & Commerce; and Bipul Das, Managing Director, AIIDC, along with a number of government officials, academic partners, corporate, investors, and start-ups.

Alongside encapsulating the impact created by the 76 incubated start-ups and the ecosystem development drives undertaken by Assam Startup in association with IIM Calcutta Innovation Park in the last 2 years the event also witnessed the handing over of MASI grant of Rs. 70 lakhs to 14 startups. Out of the 14 grant recipients, 7 are Assam Startup incubatees, while the rest are from the ecosystem doing remarkable work towards addressing the key local challenges with innovative startup solutions. This was the second round of grant disbursement following the Rs. 3.29 crores grant awarded to 31 startups who had applied for financial benefits under the My Assam Startup ID last year on 7 June by the Honourable Chief Minister Sri Sarbananda Sonowal.

Speaking on the occasion, Patowary expressed his delight to see the amount of works being done to develop the startup ecosystem in the Assam within a span of 2 years. He congratulated the start-ups, and the team of Assam Startup and IIM Calcutta Innovation Park for making this initiative by the Government of Assam under the aegis of Industries and Commerce Department a success. He assured the startup entrepreneurs of every possible support to take their start-up ventures reach heights that no one can touch. The minister also spoke, at length, about the boundless prospects of tea start-ups in the state. He further requested Vivek Goenka, the President of Warren Tea Ltd. and Chairman of Indian Tea Association, who was present on the occasion, to study the prospects of the tea industry and the tea start-ups in Assam.

Addressing the gathering, Patowary further said: “The 21st century will be dominated by deep technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Everything (IoE), Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Time is ripe for us to ponder over where we stand, where we should stand, and where we will stand in the future.”

The evening also witnessed the launch of 3 Nano Incubation Centres in 3 districts of Assam, viz., Kokrajhar, Dibrugarh, and Cachar. Taking the Hub & Spoke model a step ahead, the Nano Incubation Centres will carry the incubation activities at The Nest to the far-flung pockets of Assam, so that the aspiring startup entrepreneurs in those pockets can take advantage of the incubation program under Assam Startup. It’s also interesting to note that following a number of Faculty Development sessions and interactions with the academia, The Nest has facilitated the launch of 8 Spoke Incubation Centres, each at Bineswar Brahma Engineering College, Birjhora Mahavidyalaya, Sonapur College, Jagiroad College, North Lakhimpur College, Nowgong College, Debraj Roya College, and Duliajan College.

Besides, the occasion was marked with the unveiling of the Annual Impact Report and the launch of COHORT 3.0, with 103 startups on-boarded for the 6-month incubation program.

Earlier in the evening, the Chief Investment Officer for IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, Hamant Kr Borah, spoke about the inclusive ecosystem development model in Assam that could be effectively replicated by other states of India. He further informed about IIM Calcutta Innovation Park’s investment worth over Rs. 1 Cr, in forms of equity and grants, in 7 incubated startups from The Nest, with a few more investments further lined up for this year.

The Chief Operating Officer of IIM Calcutta Innovation Park for Assam Startup, Pranjal Konwar, called for a unified effort and appealed to all the government departments to join hands in realizing the vision and mission of the Assam Startup initiative to create a thriving startup ecosystem in the state.

Assam Startup – The Nest, has, so far, provided incubation support to 76 startups, who have together earned revenue of Rs. 42.6 Cr, impacted 3.4 lakh lives, and created direct and indirect employment opportunities for more than 44 thousand people. 39 of these start-ups have together raised external funds worth Rs. 12.2 Cr. The third batch of 103 startups is currently gearing up for the 6-month incubation program.

SPOKEHUB: Pedaling its way to a cycling cult

SPOKEHUB: Pedaling its way to a cycling cult

Among the myriad epiphanies and the changing lifestyle habits that the pandemic has unleashed over the last several months, mankind’s renewed enthusiasm for bicycling would, perhaps, sit right among the top 5 post-lockdown adaptations that all of us would want to see being trending for long. While the urban dwellers across the globe seem to get smitten with the eco-friendliness and health benefits of bicycling today, Bikash Doley and Ajanta Boro had their passion rested on the pedals since the time when luxury cars made a better choice for people over bicycles. The thrill and the sense of freedom that these non-polluting two-wheelers offer to them are over and beyond the comfortable life that their corporate jobs in Kolkata had secured. In 2016, the couple decided on homecoming, which was about to change their lives forever.

Back to their hometown, Guwahati, the duo took their first big step towards living their passion by opening Guwahati Bicycle Rentals – a high-end bicycle renting outlet that also offers customized cycling tours. Soon, a personal experience had brought them face-to-face with the dearth of servicing centres for high-end bicycles in the city. The few that did offer to service were strictly restricted to servicing their brands alone. Without further ado, Bikash and Ajanta had set themselves to shaping up a full-fledged bicycle hub that rented, retailed, customized, and provided complete after-sales servicing of high-end cycles. This had marked the beginning of Spokehub Cycling in 2017.

Spokehub is the go-to stop for everything related to high-end bicycles – right from purchasing, to customizing, to buying riding accessories, to cycle tours, to cycle servicing and maintenance, to sharing camaraderie with a community of people with a common passion.

Sharing her experience of starting a bicycle store in the city back in 2017, Ajanta recalls the scarce footfalls and limited enthusiasm among the people. “There weren’t too many riders in Guwahati back then. One reason could be that there weren’t too many bicycling events to create the excitement and the occasion for riders to use their cycles,” the co-founder says.

Perhaps, it won’t be wrong to mark that although Bikash and Ajanta had rightly gauged the market opportunity for high-end bicycles, they still had a task in hand to rejuvenate that market. They took things in stride to design bicycling events in Assam that naturally attracted riders from across the country to participate. Tables began to turn sooner as the latent riders in the region saw an opportunity being finally created for them to practice the thrill.

“Conducting events is a must because if I am buying an expensive bicycle, I would want an occasion to use it as well,” Ajanta explains.

Spokehub started torch-bearing bicycling activities with prolific cycle rallies and adventure sports. Soon, the corporate houses began joining hands as part of their CSR drives. The ripples created by the startup among the rider community didn’t escape the notice of the government departments either. Bikash and Ajanta have bagged government support, both in cash and kind, to organize cycling events that carry an inherent promise of popularizing the healthy habit of bicycling among the people. Besides, they have also been the technical partner for numerous events in Assam.

3 years down the line since starting up, Bikash and Ajanta have activated a bicycling cult in Assam that swears by the camaraderie born from the common passion for thrill coupled with the likeness for simplicity as well as health and environment consciousness. One of their four annual calendar events, the Assam Downhill Championship, has especially been a head-turner for three consecutive years now because of the gravity-defying racing stunts it puts on offer. The pan India participation of riders in the Championship has further consolidated the esprit de corps in the community.

As per the founders, Spokehub is driven by two broad motto: First, to promote cycling as an adventure sport among the youths. Secondly, to offer new goals in the form of health and distance rides to those who have already achieved enough career goals.

Ajanta further informs about forming a special 3-member team from the rider community, who have been leading Spokehub’s Athlete Training Program to inspire and train young riders. These make for an interesting case study on the application of deft strategies to create a market for something not many prospective customers had realized a need for earlier.

From the business perspective, the founders are focused on ensuring repeat customers to make it more sustainable. That is the reason they lay constant emphasis on the bicycle servicing part of the business. “We want the people to purchase bicycles from us and come to us for servicing as well. Banking exclusively on one-time purchases will not be viable from the aspect of sustainability,” Ajanta elucidates.

The decision is faring well for them as the startup is progressing steadily in the number game, with an average monthly revenue bracket of Rs. 35 lakh – Rs. 40 lakh for the last 6 months. For a business that has seen a remarkable spur in the last several months, thanks to the global bicycle boom during the pandemic, Spokehub founders will not want to lose the momentum at any given point in time. Much expected, they are leaving no stone unturned to chalk out a sustainable model for expansion.

 

Alongside the two stores in Guwahati, Ajanta and Bikash will soon be launching a new bicycle hub in Upper Assam. Their e-commerce site for mountain bikes will be up this year. Interestingly, they have also started training the technicians at bicycle stores in North East India to enable competent servicing in those stores. Ajanta informs about their plan to conduct training in a quintessential classroom setup with structured schedules soon.

The stone has started rolling for Spokehub, but Bikash and Ajanta attribute a good part of their recent developments to Assam Startup. Before getting incubated at Assam Startup – The Nest, the duo devoted their efforts to perfecting their offerings while the processes were given a miss. But the interactions with the mentors from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park during the incubation have helped them streamline their processes for a more efficient back-end operation.

“Our billing processes were mainly offline. But now, we have got a cloud-based platform that has streamlined the process. As we grow and expand, we have also realized the need to focus on HR like never before. Incubation at The Nest has further helped us pick up the much-needed financial aspects of a business. Assam Startup has given us a definite direction to structure our startup better,” Ajanta concludes.

The startup was also awarded a MASI (My Assam Startup ID) Scale-up grant of Rs. 15 lakh in the first tranche last year by the honourable Chief Minister, Sri Sarbananda Sonowal, at The Nest during a celebratory event – Udyam Assam.

As per estimates, India’s bicycle industry is worth Rs. 7000 crore. And with the pandemic not just magnifying the benefits of bicycling as a form of exercise but also as a means to commute, Spokehub is positioned perfectly in the clock to scale up to a national level in the coming days.

Knowing that scaling up nationally would require a fresh round of market research, manpower, a well thought out Go-To-Market strategy, and heavy capital at disposal, the journey will surely not be any less nerve-wracking than participating in a cycle race on rough terrains. And yet, when asked if given a choice whether they would go back to chairing an esteemed corporate post or continue with the struggles and risks of running a startup, pat comes Ajanta’s reply: “Of course, we will choose the struggle over the security of a corporate job. It has brought us back peace of mind. Despite the insurmountable amount of hard work, we are now a pair of happy startup founders. And there’s no way that we’d let this go.”

 

Satarupa Mishra
Thwarted by situations, thriving on challenges: Woman entrepreneur turns problems into opportunities to empower women

Thwarted by situations, thriving on challenges: Woman entrepreneur turns problems into opportunities to empower women

If they pay no heed to your call, walk on your own

Walk alone, walk alone, walk alone, walk all alone

 

These lines by Rabindra Nath Tagore have been inspiring countless people whenever they felt deterred by isolation. Mandira Baruah’s story of trials and success fits the song like no one else as she carved a trailblazing path at a time when she was left with no choice but to walk alone.

Mandira Baruah’s trajectory from being a simple housewife to empowering thousands of women is a narrative of inspiration worth relating, especially to the young women and girls of impressionable age. Getting married at a young age to a man with a sombre heart condition didn’t make her life easy. Among the gamut of hardships, managing finances posed the biggest challenge. The family property had to be sold off for paying off debts, following which they had to shift to a humble rental apartment. However, the ever piling daily medical bills and the need for 24×7 nursing care for her husband weren’t making the house rent payment any easier. But Mandira was not born to give up. Instead, she took it up as a challenge and decided to face the obstacles head-on.

Since her husband was a civil servant, she went to the District Collector’s office to acquaint him about her given situation and that how the official accommodation, which her husband was entitled to, wasn’t allotted to them for years. Having stood her ground steadfast, Mandira was finally allotted an isolated plot of land with a house that was in an abject shape. She took the dilapidated condition of the house as a challenge and decided to transform the arid property into a fertile bed for growing vegetables and flowers. Good news soon followed as her goodwill reached the CM’s Office and she was awarded a grant of Rs. 20,000 from the CM’s fund. This came as an epiphany for Mandira that motivated her to create something of value not just for herself, but also for women like her. In this epiphany germinated the idea of her social venture – Satsaree.

Mandira also underwent nursing training with the help of a doctor in a local hospital to make herself capable enough to nurse her ailing husband that saved her the money for hiring a full-time nurse. The situation also demanded a private vehicle to save the expense of hiring a large car for commuting her bed-ridden husband to and fro the hospital. Though she bought an SUV on loan and learnt to drive, Mandira was still far from managing the financial constraint. Unlike what one may expect, the constraint emboldened her to break the stereotype and sign up as a cab driver.

I was least bothered about people’s opinion. At that point, all that mattered was to find effective ways to manage the finances for sustaining myself and my family,Mandira recalls.

The cab service accrued decent benefit and soon Mandira added two more cars in her cab service kit. The latent entrepreneur in her viewed her problems against a larger canvas and realized that her personal challenges in the given situation also commonly plague a large number of women like her. She started training women to take up driving as a profession and employed them to run the cab service. The business grew organically merely from single taxi service to a full-fledged travel agency with multiple car services on offer. Later on, she handed over the travel agency to her son. Two of her cab drivers, Krishna Kanta Pathak and Rinku Deka, have their own travel agency in Guwahati today.

Adroit enough to identify the gaps, Mandira also saw an opportunity to train hundreds of women like her with the basic nursing skills towards empowering them with the much-needed financial independence. Consequently, she laid the foundation of her NGO, Satsaree.

The NGO proved to be the right decision for Mandira as young women from the nearby villages began to flock to her for nursing training and the subsequent job placement. After her husband’s demise in 2001, she devoted herself completely to empowering and uplifting the financial conditions of women. Utilizing her expertise and networking that she’d gained during her training with the hospital authorities, Mandira collaborated with the local hospital to provide nursing training to the women coming to her NGO and began providing home nursing services. Starting merely as a trainee nurse, Mandira has empowered 10000+ women to date that includes catalysing women entrepreneurs as well.

Mandira Baruah is an ideal example of a quintessential entrepreneur who sees opportunities in challenges and puts every bit of energy and effort to build a productive venture that creates an impact by leading the problem-solving process for the greater good of society. Come what may, Mandira has stood undeterred by obstacles that include breaking from the cliches and social stereotypes. Today, she stands as a fountain of inspiration for hundreds of women to break free from the shells of social conditioning that confine women to being sheepish nurturers rather than emerging as dynamic leaders of change.

Lack of courage and self-belief in women are the reasons why many industries are still dominated by their male counterparts. All it takes is some courage to fight the odds and make your way,” the entrepreneur summarises.

 

8 Common Mistakes to Avoid for First-Time Startup Founders

8 Common Mistakes to Avoid for First-Time Startup Founders

Much has been said and written about the perks of starting up. Yet, wise men would say it’s equally important to stay alert about the consequences if you don’t start up right. Here are eight common mistakes many first-time startup founders commit, avoiding which will surely help taste the much talked about sweet fruits of entrepreneurship.

Think the idea is so good, everyone will want to steal it
It’s understandable for startup founders to prize and protect their ideas against presumed poaching. Cut to reality, an idea is as good as baking an exquisite pie in imagination without knowing the key ingredients and techniques to bake it or whether the people would like the taste of it. The ideator will have to go through stages of validating the idea with mentors, industry experts, and most importantly, the early adopters and prospective users who will buy the finished product. It would be foolish to keep a business idea under wraps until launching it officially for customers. Imagine the money and efforts going waste on realizing that your breakthrough product/service isn’t something the people are willing to pay for! In order for an idea to develop into a thing of value, one must speak with the relevant people who will listen and offer viable feedbacks.

Try to raise funds from investors for an idea or prototype
This is a classic faux pas committed by many first-time startups. Install this mantra in your mind that no one is going to literally buy into your idea and give you money to develop a product unless they are your dearest friends, family, or for that matter, fools. Do not waste time convincing investors until you at least have a minimum viable product ready and tried by the users. Rather look for various grant schemes, loans, or cajole the 3Fs mentioned above.

Lack of research on the existing competitors
Most often, first-time startup founders are so passionately upbeat about their offerings that they dangerously discount the relevance of the existing competitors offering similar products/services.
Resting unwavering faith in the potential of an idea without researching on prospective customers’ current hacks for meeting their needs is a blunder one has to do away with.
Rule the roost by keeping your competitors closer. Get under their skin. Know their loopholes, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses to fortify your own offerings that would be unputdownable by the customers of your rival party.

Whimsical selection of a Co-Founder
How often do you see promising startup founders roping in co-founders just because they are friends or had a sanguine game-changing discussion over a good booze in a hostel room? You may call this a death trap for a germinating startup.
To look for a co-founder is like looking for a partner for life. While passion would be the star binding ingredient, it’s equally important to apply rationale in the selection. List down the qualities you’d need in a co-founder that would fill up your gaps. If you bring in robust technology know-how for building the product, find a co-founder who is excellent at taking the product to the market.
The second flip side of getting a friend whimsically on the co-founder wagon is the possible ugliness spilling over a fallout. Two friends start a company with equal shares. One makes a lion’s share of the investment. The other walks out, pulled by better prospects. The result? An ugly litigation and a possible shutdown of the startup. Sounds scary? Think before you leap.

Poorly defined market
Imagine putting in all your time, money, and efforts to build a dream product only to know you have no market for it! While there are startups who deliver ambitious pitches, relating a sizable target market, they fail to articulate their positioning in that market. The fact is that they haven’t done their homework well. They haven’t considered gauging the demographics, geographics, and psychographics of their target buyers. The result is an anarchic attempt at offering all things to all people in the market, ending up in vain.

Vague & unscalable value proposition
Too many first-time founders work on ideas that are nothing, but trite. When asked to explain the value they bring to the table, they would often end up with lame propositions like better affordability, etc., without any significant or compelling advantages to show. No surprises that most of them get washed away sooner than imagined.
If you look to make your product investor-ready, make sure your product/service is ten times better than the existing solutions. Know that the investors will not be interested in a product that lacks the ability to scale and scale quickly.

The temptation to go big immediately
Founders of big ideas want to go big immediately. What they forget is the underlying warning: “The bigger a start, the greater the stakes at risk.” Many startups with promising ideas have failed because they tried to do too much too early. So, instead of trying to build a high-end first version of your product, it would be wiser to start small but dream big. Break your ambitious project into small, doable stages. Jam your feet into the market first and then work to expand.

Lone wolf psychology
This stems from a widespread myth that entrepreneurs don’t flock in a herd, but soar above the rest. On the contrary, studies have shown that entrepreneurs who join entrepreneurial communities and peer groups are more likely to impress investors and attract employees and advisers. Like it or not, an entrepreneur is a part of the ecosystem, and to thrive in it one must connect with every element of that ecosystem.

Food Tech Startups: Guwahati lads launch NE India’s first Food Super App

Food Tech Startups: Guwahati lads launch NE India’s first Food Super App

A few years back, two young lads saw a dream to change the way Guwahatians experienced food. Back in 2016, while the city witnessed a surge in cafeterias and boutique food joints, it was still a task to dodge the humidity and traffic to reach these places for a satisfying gastronomical experience. Rahul Hazarika was especially disgruntled by the scenario after experiencing the tap-and-order ease of getting his favourite food in the comfort of his room while studying in Bangalore. Having witnessed the effortlessness that the food tech startups had permeated in procuring something as essential and satisfying as food, Rahul decided to replicate the experience in his hometown, Guwahati. In 2017, he launched an MVP of North East India’s first cloud kitchen – One Stop Kitchen.

Rahul smartly leveraged the power of social media to start a Page for taking orders. This was a one-off phase of caution and experimentation meant to test the waters. A certified level 1 wine connoisseur, he started rummaging the internet to cull out ideas for culinary fusion experimentation. As interesting as the name sounds, OSK wasn’t going to walk the safe line with Chinese and Indian food. Apart from giving the people of Guwahati a first-hand experience of a cloud kitchen, Rahul also wanted to take the food enthusiasts on a gourmet ride with experimental and fusion food. From combining Chinese dumplings with Italian white sauce to introducing Buffalo wings, OSK was already making happy noises that reinstated that it was, by no means, going to settle for mediocrity. Winning the award for Best Cloud Kitchen in Guwahati in two back-to-back years was a testimony to the fact.

In 2018, when Abhilash Baruah joined OSK as the co-founder, sharing and reassuring Rahul’s dream of seeing OSK right at the peak among the food tech startups, OSK found the fuel to set off for an exhilarating ride from where there was no looking back. The founder duo had nurtured a dream to emerge as a one-stop-solution for everything that hovered around Food! But, to take OSK to the next level required capital and more importantly, a comprehensive business plan. That’s when the duo applied for incubation at Assam Startup – The Nest.

Onboarded in June 2019, the startup was officially registered as OSK Food & Technology Pvt. Ltd. during the period of incubation in October 2019. As incubatees, Rahul and Abhilash’s interaction with the mentors from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park helped them strategize their market positioning, especially with food tech startups like Swiggy and Zomato ruling the roost by then. It was one of those interactions that Abhilash vividly remembers, which had inspired them to stretch a little further to make a killing.

“At the end of making our pitch during an interaction with the investors, I remember one of the IIMCIP mentors had remarked: ‘They are just there.’ A small sentence, but it had left a conspicuous mark on us. We realized we weren’t really far,” recalls Abhilash.

That was the day cut to the present when OSK’s newly launched food super app is trending at fourth position in the Food & Beverage category in India. Rahul and Abhilash launched their dream app, One Stop Kitchen, on 13 November 2020 at Assam Startup – The Nest in the presence of the officials from IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, members from the media fraternity, and the OSK team. The food super app, as they call it, infuses 5 brands, catering to the needs of the diverse categories of customers.

While their flagship brand continues to curate and deliver fusion and comfort meals right at the customer’s doorstep, the House of Biryani promises to deliver a wide range of biryani in kilos to cater to the bulk orders. Treading in similar lines, the Dabba Co. would serve as a respite to meet the food requirements in offices and corporate houses. The OSK Plus could be considered as a disguised perk of the pandemic that understood the need and strives to home deliver every food essential, including exotic items like seafood, with just a tap on the phone screen. However, the most innovative and ambitious brand under the OSK umbrella is, perhaps, the brand that customizes health/diet meals for its customers – Healthy Co. One needs to subscribe to its monthly meal plan after OSK’s team of health experts prescribes him/her a plan as per the given health issues or requirements. Asked about people’s response to this rather unique offering, Rahul informs that 10 people have already subscribed to the plan that promises jaw-dropping body transformations within a few months if followed without fail.

“Given the super-fast lifestyle of people today, preparing and following an austere health diet becomes quite challenging. This is where Healthy Co. can come to the rescue. We do not just deliver you the meals, but also prescribe the diet plan most suitable for your body requirements,” Rahul explains.

Things might look rosy today, but to reach this stage, Rahul and Abhilash had to beat the thorns laid on the way especially during the lockdown. The struggle had reached a point when the founders were tempted to give up. Fortunately for them, the Government of Assam awarded the MASI (My Assam Startup ID) grant of Rs. 15 lakh just at the right time that inspired them to pull up their sagging spirit and keep going. In the meantime, the startup was also able to raise the first round of funding worth Rs. 50 lakh from the North East Venture Fund under NEDFi.

Today, Rahul and Abhilash are rejoicing the success of the launch, but they are not in a mood to get swayed by it. The seed of success that has germinated in the hometown now eyes at winning the heart of food lovers nationwide and making a place among the top food tech startups in India.

Children from Child Friendly Guwahati relishing the meal provided by OSK during an event at Assam Startup – The Nest

One may pat an argument that the founders have just been lucky enough. But looking back in hindsight, one will realize that the right things didn’t just happen to them at the right time, Rather they worked hard, held their nerves against succumbing to the anxious phases of entrepreneurship, and dared to take strides for making things happen. From being dedicated incubatees who made sure not to miss any opportunity for networking and learning from the people best in the business, to taking care of things often ignored like sending notes of gratitude to customers during festivals, the OSK founders have earned their success by dint of dedication, thoughtfulness, and indomitable belief in their dreams against every odd.

 

Startup from Assam sets the field for agri-revolution with Smart Farming

Startup from Assam sets the field for agri-revolution with Smart Farming

Smart work and smart technology are the emerging dictums for success in business. Given the agricultural dominion in India, smart farming is the way forward to push the agri sector to the next level. With the fast-evolving startup ecosystem in India, many young innovators are coming forward to address the typical challenges of the farmers and are working on a different tangent to maximize agricultural output and profit. AgSpert, a startup from Assam, is among the pioneers to introduce smart farming services in the state, leveraging IoT, robotics, drones and AI to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural output while minimizing human efforts.

Based out of Jorhat, AgSpert is founded by NIT Silchar alumni, Siddhartha S. Bora and Dhritiman Talukdar, along with the Dibrugarh University alumnus, Kookil P. Goswami, who is working on proposing a range of promising smart farming services to aid crop quality and quantity. They have on offer on-demand UAV and smart robot services for crop spraying, scouting, and planting applications; computer vision-based in-farm phenotyping, early mapping of disease/pest attack patterns, full crop cycle data-set generation and visualization; and machine learning-based yield prediction and real-time plant environment data collection systems with open-source cloud processing, etc. Apart from Siddhartha, Dhritiman, and Kookil, the founding team also includes IIT Guwahati alumni, Akash Sharma, Manik Mittal, and Nitin Chauhan.

Conventional farming is plagued by numerous challenges like labour paucity, labour price fluctuations for in-farm operations, lack of phenotype data for optimizing farm inputs, absence of accurate data for initiating better crop insurance, limitations of continuous human presence for farm surveillance and monitoring, etc. With AgSpert, the users can draw intelligence from things and transmit them over the internet. These IoT devices installed in farms can collect and process data in a repetitive cycle that enables the farmers to react quickly to emerging issues and changes in ambient conditions.

The sensors attached to the drones record observational data from the crops, livestock, soil, and atmosphere. The sensor values are fed to a cloud-hosted IoT platform with predefined rules and models that ascertain the condition of the examined object and identify the deficiencies and needs. Once the issues are revealed, the machine learning-driven components of the IoT platform determine whether location-specific treatment is necessary at all.

AgSpert is the brainchild of Siddhartha Bora, who, after completing his M.Tech from NIT Silchar, saw numerous bottlenecks in the agri-value chain while working in the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) as a Technology Officer.

“I wanted to build a unilateral platform for small farmers who account for more than 70% of our farming population. Impacting small farmers’ lives is the only sustainable way to improve dwindling productivity and plight of farmers,” Siddhartha says.

 

AgSpert gets an edge with its team of professionals pulled in from diverse backgrounds – right from agriculturists to data scientists –  all working towards a common vision of making data-driven agriculture more than just a pipe dream among small farmers of India. While the pandemic compelled many business houses to shut down their operations either temporarily or permanently, the founders were burning the midnight oil to develop an android-based multi-lingual platform (including Assamese) – AgSpeak – for farmers to smartly manage their farms and remotely monitor distress activities.

Driven by hyperlocal crop data obtained through satellite and smart IoT devices, AgSpeak considers up to 20 local crop parameters as key health indicators like temperature, rainfall, sunlight hours, soil health status, etc. to alert farmers about probable crop threats in advance and chart out best practices to tackle the incoming threats. The platform also helps the farmers manage their yield and connect to buyer pools to reinforce food traceability and transparency in the agri-supply chain.

Working dedicatedly on its mission to revolutionize agricultural methodologies through Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, AgSpert has completed its piloting with 500 farmers to date and have received encouraging feedback from the users. They are, arguably, the first to take such an initiative in North East India and are prepping up to officially launch the application by the end of November this year.

Apart from the application, the startup is also working on a smart farming product for large commercial tea plantations to monitor and survey farm health through drone scouting. It’s a one-off platform for plantation farm managers to automate scouting processes and identify areas of distress like disease and pest incidence, water stress, etc. Such a platform would save farm managers lots of time and resources in identifying crop threats and making timely interventions. The product is, currently, in the final leg of R&D and has been tested with renowned institutions like Assam Agricultural University and TOCKLAI Tea Research Institute.

With its precise and resource-efficient approach, smart farming has a real potential to usher in qualitatively better and uniform agricultural production. With startups like AgSpert effectively exploring and leveraging new-age technologies to abate the challenges of agricultural production in the country, smart farming and IoT-driven agriculture are well placed to usher in the Third Green Revolution in the coming years.

 

Read about two lads from Guwahati creating buzzes across the country with their deep-tech innovation.

5 tips to get back to work after Vacation

5 tips to get back to work after Vacation

It’s always a task to frisk back to the groove after a frolicking vacation. Yet, there’s no way but to leave behind the sun-kissed days at the beach and crawl back to the reality of the workplace. I say ‘crawl’ and not ‘jump’ because the harder you try to pull your mind out of the vacation zone, the more tasking it would get. The idea is to take your time, be lenient to yourself, gradually train your mood, allow the work reminders sweetly knock at you until you are reloaded to get back into action. Here are 5 simple, yet effective hacks to find your rhythm back to work after vacation.

 

Do not rush into doing things all at once

Ideally, it’s always a good idea to take a day before going back to work after vacation. Given that time might not be luxuriously available to many, take the day slow, even if you are getting down to business the very next day after the break. Take time to clean and jazz up the desk, order your favourite comfort food, roughly run through the pending plans, and make a few phone calls to reconnect. This way, you will allow the much-needed time for your mind to relax, recuperate, and come to terms with your demanding business schedules.

 

 

Take time to plan out the day

You might be someone who prefers going with the flow than planning the day ahead. But to get yourself back to business post a holiday, charting a to-do-list for the day and the next is a wise bet. This helps you revisit the work that needs to be done and prioritize immediate actions.

Start with the pending tasks rather than jumping straight away to the new projects. This will give you a sense of familiarity that shall help you get back to the groove early. Focus on tasks that come easy to you without taking much time. Small successes help boost confidence before setting off to strike big.

 

 

Don’t get lost in the mailbox

Expect unread mails piling up in the mailbox while you were vacationing. Do not spend too much time answering the emails you had missed during the break. It will stress you out more and you end up confusing email activities with productive work. Rather use your time strategically and only respond to the emails that are time-sensitive and need your immediate attention for yielding fruitful outcomes.

 

 

Drop a greeting to the stakeholders

Utilise the time to reconnect with your team and stakeholders, letting them know that you are back and ready to talk business. Try to stay more informal in your tone, asking them about their whereabouts, and sharing a few anecdotes from your trip. This helps restrike an immediate connection and plaster the lapse in the communication while you were bonding with your friends or family at a holiday destination.

 

 

Get back to work with a new perspective

Going back to work after a vacation is likely to trigger immediate stress considering the workload that you had left behind for that much-needed break. Yet, know that the vacation was essential for you to clear the mental impasse and come back with a bang. Sometimes, getting away from the business for a short while becomes important to give a kickstart to the work. Be open to the idea of embracing fresh perspectives post a break and you will be surprised with the gush of new ideas flowing to give your business strategies a fresh standpoint.

 

Failures are unpredictable. Being an entrepreneur, you must have especially encountered failures like no one else. From Rovio to Microsoft, there are numerous examples of how the startup founders made failure their stepping stones and rose from the ashes like a Phoenix to achieve success. Here are a few simple hacks to deal with failures.

 

 

Woman entrepreneur from Kaziranga gives plastic recycling a new face on the traditional loom

Woman entrepreneur from Kaziranga gives plastic recycling a new face on the traditional loom

From the lanes of Kaziranga have emerged a resilient voice to protect the environment from the toxic effects of plastic bags through an innovative twist on the traditional loom. One might imagine fierce activists and seasoned leaders behind the voice. However, take a closer view and you will see ordinary-looking women traversing the lanes, rag picking plastic litters, and weaving those into magic on the loom. Meet the woman entrepreneur behind this silently evolving movement – Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi.

The global popularity of Kaziranga as a tourist hotspot has an untended flipside to it. Crowded footprints to the place have resulted in increased littering, especially plastic wastes. Rupjyoti, who had silently fidgeted about it, decided to embark on a solo journey to find a solution to this. In 2004, after consulting with her mother, she started an initiative for creating awareness among the women of her locality for reducing plastic waste through an affordable, innovative, and aesthetic plastic recycling mechanism by leveraging a traditional skill.

Under her initiative, “Village Weaves,” Rupjyoti encourages the local women to collect littered plastic bags and trains them to use these finely cut plastics in weaving beautifully crafted furnishing items on the throw-shuttle loom – a household possession in the Assamese community. These plastic ribbons are used as traverse weft woven over-and-under the longitudinal cotton warp yarn. The final fabric comprises 50% each of the cotton and plastic threads, resulting in a strong and durable texture. The fabric is then used to handcraft beautiful table mats, doormats, handbags, tote bags, and other furnishing items.

A sales outlet has been set up at Kaziranga called “Kaziranga Haat” that attracts a good number of domestic and international tourists to browse through the finished products and make good purchases. The tourist seasons have especially yielded good income from the outlet. Rupjyoti mentions generating over Rs. 3 lakh in the previous financial year. There’s a tinge of pride in her voice when she says that the women weavers in her network manage to earn Rs.15,000 – Rs. 25,000 monthly (particularly during the tourist season) through sales of the finished products.

Rupjyoti’s “Village Weave” smartly and effectively serves dually to abate the environmental threats from plastic as well as empower the rural women to earn a decent livelihood. To date, she has trained around 2300 women across 35 villages of Assam as well as in Arunachal Pradesh. What more, the entrepreneur has trained international students during workshops held in Mumbai and Dehradun. She carried a portable loom fixed on a table that was designed with help from her husband, who is also an artisan. In course of her endeavour, Rupjyoti has been gradually building a community of woman entrepreneurs,  steadily rising in courage and confidence to own the boss hat towards creating an impact.

Besides creating a steady movement to save the environment from plastics by inculcating a habit for effective plastic reuse and recycling, Rupjyoti’s mission is also inclined to empower rural women with awareness, basic knowledge, and skill to earn livelihoods while indirectly playing their parts to save the environment.

Social entrepreneurs like her reinstate the belief that a genuine intent to make an impact, an ardent zeal to create value, and the courage to take the first step are the core ingredients for entrepreneurship. For the rest of the ingredients, there are business incubators to help with business knowledge, networking, and market access for nascent entrepreneurs to metamorphose into flamboyant ethical leaders.

 

By: Satarupa Mishra