Shalu Nathani’s startup, Swazen and Company, sells organic confectionery made from traditional fruits and vegetables through online and offline channels.
Living in a small town is in no way a deterrent to dreaming big. Shalu Nathani’s story is proof enough. The young woman’s journey started in a small, almost-nondescript place called Tamkuhi Road in Kushinagar district, Uttar Pradesh.
From Tamkuhi Road, Shalu moved to Banasthali Vidyapith, a university for women in Banasthali, Rajasthan. It was here that she found her moorings in entrepreneurship, where Swazen and Company was born.
But before that, Shalu narrates a personal anecdote that spurred her to start up. “My mother suffered from haemoglobin deficiency and the doctor suggested she eat beetroot and take iron supplements. She did not like the taste much, and as someone who loved food, cooking, and experimenting, I thought why not come up with an organic, tastier alternative by reintroducing traditional crops in our diet?” Shalu says.
Shalu was still a student in the second year of her management course at Banasthali. But she was at the right place - the university houses the Atal Incubation Centre, a Niti Aayog Initiative that encourages innovation in entrepreneurship. Shalu began research in the college premises and came up with the idea of confectionery using traditionally abundant crops like beetroot and the fruit, karanda (Christ’s thorn). She used them to make jam, jelly, and candy, under the brand name Swazen.
“Being in Tamkuhi Road gave me the opportunity to identify local, nutritious but underused traditional crops. Also, business is second nature to residents of the place. The investors I have met believe entrepreneurs from small towns appear to be more charged to succeed and willing to put in more hard work to make their startups flourish. Swazen wants to lean on this tradition to grow,” Shalu says.
Swazen began operations in May this year. Shalu explains the concept. “We conserve traditional crops that sustain the nutritive value of food by providing chemical-free organic products. We believe food is inspiring; it delights the senses, excites the imagination, brings people together, and creates pleasure. So, we are making palatable, nutraceutical-rich, chemical and preservative-free, attractive range of confectionery products like jam, jelly, salsa, and candies. These serve as a healthy way to eradicate the problem of nutrition imbalance. We are helping people get back to their roots by reintroducing traditional crops in their daily diet.”
While the startup has been incubated at Atal Incubation Centre, it still faces a paucity of funds. Investment plays a significant role in business. “We received a fellowship trench, which has helped us in operations. Currently, we are working on a contract-manufacturing model with Morarka Foundation, Jaipur, who are supporting us and providing assistance. The revenue generated is pumped back into the business. We have applied for certain grants; also, our association with SSE India will hopefully help us grow.”
Swazen works closely with the Morarka Foundation in procuring raw material directly from farmers in Nawalgarh; the products are manufactured at a processing unit in Jaipur. People in rural areas are trained in production and packaging, and the products are sold through the Foundation to suppliers and through various exhibitions. As it is a B2B model, products are marketed through different channels like suppliers, meetings, hostels, hotels, catering companies, and other organic online and offline portals that deal in healthy and organic business (Greens and More, Organic Shop, Morarka Organics, etc.).
Swazen and Shalu have big plans for the future. “We want to develop our own distribution network and marketing strategies to acquire more clients and make our products available in five more cities in Rajasthan. We want to create more awareness about traditional crops, and become a leading confectionery brand dealing in organic products, thereby creating a harmonious balance between health and nutrition.”
Shalu understands entrepreneurship is tough, as it combines education and work. “It may seem simple but getting the right amount of funding and investors is a tough job. If you are a woman, people think twice before investing simply because of the misconception that women aren’t as competent as men in terms of business and that family is a priority for them.”
“Hitch your wagon to a star,” she advises, adding, “Be yourself, and have confidence in who you are. this helps deal with adverse circumstances and succeed as an entrepreneur."