Will government support ensure that the Northeast’s startup star is on the rise?Aparajita Choudhury
When any discourse related to Northeast India takes place, the first image that envelops our minds is the scenic beauty of the seven sisters (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura) that comprise this far-flung region of our country. Regrettably, the lack of an appropriate ecosystem has restricted the region from showcasing its entrepreneurial spirit.
The time has come to unveil the buried potential of startups from the Northeast and give them the flexibility to compete with their peers in metro cities. In a major move to bring these startups into the mainstream, the centre has recently announced a “venture fund” to promote startups in India’s northeastern states.
Minister of State for Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER), Jitendra Singh has said that India is on the verge of becoming a world power on the basis of the strength of its youth, who comprise over 65 per cent of the population, and are the real torchbearers of the ‘Startup India’ mission. The fund is not only estimated to boost the startup ecosystem in the region, but also draw the attention of startups from across the states to set up base in the Northeast.
A report by the International Finance Corporation revealed that the Northeast has more than two lakh MSMEs, which accounts for less than three per cent of the country’s total MSMEs. And the region contributes 2.6 per cent of the country’s total GDP, a clear indicator that the entrepreneurial bug has bit the Northeast as well.
Here is a list of startups who have shown their potential, blazed a trail and emerged frontrunners in an already crowded startup ecosystem.
Arohan Food: Guwahati-based Arohan Food works with small-holdings pig farmers across Northeast India and retails pork products nationwide. Founded by Anabil Goswami, Arindom Hazarika and Ranapratap Brahma, formerly of Tata Chemicals, Kotak Mahindra Bank, and Bank of Baroda, respectively, this integrator aims to improve these farmers’ animal husbandry practices, and ensure the highest-quality farm pigs for sourcing. Omnivore Partners invested Rs 2 crore – 6 crore in Arohan Food in 2013.
Teabox: Founded in 2012 by Kaushal Dugar, Siliguri-based Teabox is a premium tea brand that focusses on vertical integration of sourcing, branding, and distributing teas. It sources the tea blends from Darjeeling, Assam, the Nilgiris, and Nepal and ships worldwide through its online platform. Kaushal Dugar is a KPMG consultant and an alumnus of Singapore Management University. Recently, Teabox raised $6 million in Series A funding from JAFCO and others. Earlier, it also raised funds from Ratan Tata.
Giskaa: Founded in 2014 by Meghanath Singh, Giskaa is a Guwahati-based online marketplace exclusively for products manufactured in the Northeast. The site has close to 1,600 unique products, which are sourced from more than 100 suppliers and artisans. Meghanath has 13 years of experience in the IT industry in the pharmaceutical and publishing domains. The team of Giskaa has personally met artisans in the remotest villages and collected data on products, capacity, quality, marketability, and logistics. The website follows a marketplace model, of which 50 per cent is inventory led.
Elrhino: Founded by Nisha Bora, Guwahati-based Elrhino was started with the intention of using their resources to provide locals a viable livelihood, and save Assam’s 2,000 one-horned rhinoceroses. Before that, Nisha worked with Quantum as a market researcher. Elrhino produces and sells handcrafted stationery and packaging material made of recycled rhinoceros and elephant dung. It manages the entire dung paper production chain starting from collection, preparation, and processing to sale of finished dung paper goods.
Tamul Plates: Founded in 2010 by Arindam Das Gupta, Barpeta-based Tamul Plates focusses on generating rural livelihoods by producing and marketing biodegradable dinnerware. An alumnus of Delhi University, Arindam used to work for FODRA NGO. They also provide technical support and financial channels to rural areca (betel) nut producers. Tamul Plates produces and sells disposable plates, bowls and tableware made of from areca nut. It also produces dinnerware via a network of affiliates across the tribal regions of Northeast India.
WebX Technologies: Founded in 2008 by Sanjeev Sarma, WebX is a Guwahati-based professional IT consulting company and provider of complete enterprise IT solutions, which involves planning, designing, developing, and maintaining IT Infrastructure, both onsite and remotely. Sanjeev started his career with ZAP Infotech as a software consultant. The company has three full-time directors heading three divisions – Software Services, IT Infrastructure Management Services, and IT Sales and Marketing. It offers a full range of IT services ranging from system analysis to solution implementation with high-quality technical support.
Assam Silk Shopping: Founded in 2013 by Daisy Rani Nath, Guwahati-based Assam Silk Shopping is an online marketplace, which deals with all types of Assam silk like muga, eri, and raw silk. It also allows users to buy golden silk, mulberry silk, handwoven traditional sarees, mekhela chadars, and Assamese jewellery from Barpeta and Nagoan districts. The company directly sources from its own production centre at Sualkuchi, Assam. Sualkuchi is a village known for craftsmanship. The company has also tied up with North East Handicrafts, which comprises craftsmen who work with bamboo and cane.
Kraftinn: Founded in 2010 by Parikshit Borkotoky, Jorhat-based Kraftinn has a team of experts who select the right bamboo for harvest during the months of November and December. The harvested bamboo is stored till the moisture dries and is later stalked to meet production demands for a whole year. The products are exported to countries like Japan. The startup has also worked with companies like Himalaya Drugs and ONGC, providing them with corporate gifting options.
Udyan Tea: Founded in 2013 by Pravesh Gupta, Siliguri-based Udyan tea provides high-quality, single estate tea to consumers. Pravesh used to work in Accenture, Singapore, as an IT consultant. Experts procure tea directly from select estates in Darjeeling, Assam, and Dooars, which is then vacuum-sealed. It also manufactures green tea bags, tins, and boxes in both regular and flavoured variants.
Fabric Plus: Founded in 2003 by Dilip Barua, Guwahati-based Fabric Plus is a manufacturer of various types of Assam silk such as muga, eri and pat. It also offers silk products starting from cocoons, cocoon cakes, dressed fibres, tops, yarn, fabric, garments, and accessories.
Since the focus of the government, investors, and incubators has almost been negligible towards the Northeast, startups like Giskaa and Teabox have relocated to Bengaluru to get better visibility and enjoy a startup friendly environment. However, the new venture fund by the government comes as a boon for this fraternity, and will gradually put the region on the global map. We would love to see more startups, who are yet to come out of their shell and demonstrate their potential to the entire nation, join this list of their peers.