[Startup Bharat] Beyond Chennai: How Tamil Nadu's towns are scripting the new startup story

This week, we bring a list of some of the unheard of yet potential startups in Tier II and Tier III parts of Tamil Nadu.

From 22-year-old matchmaking website BharatMatrimony.com to startup unicorn Freshworks, Singara Chennai is home to several prominent entrepreneurs.

But the spirit of entrepreneurship in Tamil Nadu is not limited to the capital city alone. Interesting startups with great potential are emerging from Tier II and Tier III cities and even though they may not be garnering the media attention as their metro-city counterparts, they sure are ones to keep an eye out for.

YourStory presents some such startups from Tamil Nadu.

1. Farm Again

Farm Again is an end-to-end farm solutions company that aims to increase farm yields by combining technology and traditional farming knowledge.

Ben Raja founder of Farm Again

Founders Ben Raja and Raj Kancham moved on from their corporate careers and moved to Ben’s hometown Tirunelveli to launch FarmAgain in 2012, in an effort to change the conventional wisdom of thinking.

In an earlier interaction with YourStory, Ben said, “Farmers have always lacked information; they are sold chemicals by traders, and gain knowledge from farming fairs or what the traders sell them.”

At every Farm Again field, IoT devices provide information on the moisture content and soil conditions. They also regulate a network of pipes controlling water and fertilizer inputs.The data is analysed and farmers are given required guidance.

The founders have converted over 2,500 acres of land into organic farms and created traceability of the product to the very farm the produce was picked from. The startup has on-boarded over 1,000 farmers, and has also tied up with top retailers across the country.

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2. Hoopoe on a Hill

In 2015, excess honey bought from the Adivasi community in and around Palani Hills led Nishita Vasanth and Priyashri Mani to start Hoopoe on a Hill. This Kodaikanal-based startup processes, packages, and sells organic honey and related products online and offline.

Nishita Vasanth and Priyashri Mani

The honey on offer depends on seasons, flowers, and the type of bee species that produce it. All honey is put through a filtration process before being packed in glass bottles. Hoopoe started with offline retail, but expanded to online retail in a few months. Three years later, it also launched beeswax wraps that are reusable and biodegradable.

The team has tied up with vendors in Bengaluru to source empty bottles and packaging. With collaboration from India Post’s parcel service, Hoopoe on a Hill currently ships its products across India, from hilly Kodaikanal. 

3. Buddies Café

Corporate executive Nirmal Raj decided to turn a new leaf in the tea industry in 2012 when he launched Buddies Café in Coimbatore. Buddies Café serves over 70 varieties of tea - including white, green, Oolong, black, iced teas, fruit-based and herbal infusion teas.

Nirmal Raj

Talking about the challenges of setting up and scaling the business to YourStory, Nirmal said, “We started Buddies Café with a lot of hope. But nothing went as per our initial plan. Being first-generation entrepreneurs, we made a lot of mistakes - our calculations did not reflect in our revenues, and it took many years for us to be profitable.”

Buddies Café has also started with express delivery outlets and a high-end Buddies Café Lounge. Nirmal also owns an in-house tea brand, called Danjo Teas, which is exclusively available at Buddies Café. In 2018, the company claimed to be making over Rs 12,000 per day. It currently has a team of over 10 people, which includes cafe-in-charge, tea brewers, and housekeepers.

4. Young Trendz

Batchmates from National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai, Praween KR (from Bihar) and Sindhuja K (from Hyderabad) started up when they were students.

In 2015, with an investment of Rs 10 lakh, they launched clothing brand Young Trendz targeting youth in the age group of 18-28 years. Young Trendz products feature quirky graphics that resonate with the youth.

Praween KR and Sindhuja K, Founders of Young Trendz

They soon shifted to Tirupur (the knitwear and manufacturing hub of India) to have a seamless product development channel. And in two years of starting up, the duo made a revenue of Rs 20 crore. Today, they sell on online marketplaces like Flipkart, Amazon, Voonik, and Paytm, and have their own ecommerce website.

With a team of 30 people, Young Trendz has warehouses in Telangana, Karnataka, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

5. Happy Hens

Almost 80 percent of India’s eggs come from caged hens, but Madurai-based poultry farming startup Happy Hen believes healthy eggs can only be sourced from happy hens.

Founded in 2012 by Ashok Kannan and Manjunath Marappan, Happy Hens give its birds all the space they need–to walk around and lay eggs in nesting areas, and are given feed that is based on a blend of grains, cereals, and herbal infusions.

Happy Hens claims it sells the country’s first brand of free-range eggs, ensuring the birds are treated humanely, and are not fed any antibiotics. Today, it produces and sells 5,000 eggs across India each day. The company has 20 franchisee farmers in Ariyalur, Perambalur, and Tiruchirappalli. 

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