Meet the 15 women entrepreneurs from Bengaluru who are rewriting the rules of the F&B industry
A mother of three and a widow, Subbamma arrived in Bangalore in the late 1930s and leaned on her culinary expertise to raise her children. She began by going door-to-door to sell her homemade snacks, pickles, masala powders and chutneys. She soon became a household name and rented a hole-in-the-wall shop in Basavangudi’s Gandhi Bazaar. There has been no turning back ever since. Nearly seven decades later, Bengalureans, especially old-timers crowd her shop to stock up on their favourites from over 200 snacks and condiments. Even today, though the shop run by her grandsons is officially known as Srinivasa Condiments, people still refer to it as Subbamma Angadi (Subbamma shop). In an era when women entrepreneurs were almost non-existent, Subbamma’s story stands tall.
Like Subbamma, the city is home to several women entrepreneurs, many of whom are micro or small-scale women entrepreneurs in the food and beverage sector. And, to recognise and reward these women entrepreneurs in the F&B sector who have braved the odds to get their business up and running, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) and Facebook India launched the Futurepreneur Grand Challenge 2019-2020. The challenge was open to women entrepreneurs running cafes, bakeries, those making home-cooked or pre-packaged meals, and selling jams, pickles and other homemade products. While these businesses could be run single-handedly, the only criteria was that the team size should not be bigger than 20 as the challenge was open to only microentrepreneurs.
GAME is a platform for mission-aligned partners to learn, innovate and collaboratively build a self-sustaining mass entrepreneurship ecosystem. By identifying and scaling breakthroughs with partners, they want to build a movement for creating and sustaining 10 million job-creating ‘mass entrepreneurs’, half of whom will be women. The organisation focuses on the “missing middle” of the entrepreneurship spectrum, those who typically employ 5-20 people and have been the engines of job growth in a majority of dynamic economies.
In addition to recognising, rewarding and supporting 15 winners, GAME through Futurepreneur Grand Challenge aims to provide an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to tell their stories.
The challenge saw participation from over 600 microentrepreneurs from Bengaluru with 30 of them getting shortlisted and 15 emerging as winners.
Introducing the 15 winners of Futurepreneur Grand Challenge 2019-2020
For Radhika Timbadia, a former trained ecologist who worked in the field of conservation for 10 years, Champaca, her cafe, has been an effort to bring to the fore a unique experience around books, through food, curation and a strong community. The café serves tasty, hearty food with a focus on locally-produced and seasonal ingredients, as well as deeply satisfying coffees, perfectly-brewed teas and fresh juices. A key highlight of the cafe, apart from the curated menu is its collection of books that speaks of diverse experiences, places and perspectives from around India and the world. For Radhika, the biggest strength has the power of word of mouth.
“The larger struggle for me has been not being taken seriously by vendors and also retaining employees. I am overcoming these challenges by helping them feel the connected to Champaca and the vision we are working towards,” she says.
Returning to India after living in the US for 12 years, Durga Menon, a former software engineer, opened a whole-wheat bakery, borne out of a desire to bake healthy. Today, more than a decade later, Lluvia Bakery has become popular for its healthy breads, cookies, granola bars, and gluten-free snacks.
“Lluvia Bakery has been an effort to find the perfect balance between keeping the business viable and providing a quality product at an affordable price to the consumer,” says Durga.
But that has proved to be one of the biggest opportunities and challenges. “It’s a challenge to make businesses and consumers understand why we cannot provide a snack box of healthy snacks at a hugely discounted price just because of the principle of economy of scale or because it is a bulk order,” she adds.
3.Anshu Archit Jhunjhunwala
Pockets and Bowls is a gourmet brand and a subsidiary of Food for Thought, a bespoke Global Cuisines and Catering. The person behind the brand is Anshu Archit Jhunjhunwala, a former designer and styling consultant. Almost a decade ago, Anshu started her journey as a home caterer. And, soon she was conducting workshops, cookery classes and putting together food hampers. Building on the continued popularity, she started Food for Thought to tap bigger opportunities in catering to high-end home parties, corporate events and high end pop-up events. And, at these events, most customers spoke highly of their Burmese khao suey, Lebanese falafel and Mexican bowls. Realising that these specialities deserved a brand of its own, Anshu started Pockets and Bowls in 2016. Pockets and Bowls is working towards becoming a gourmet retail brand, by building a network of central kitchens, satellite kitchens and pick-up points to be able to service corporate and retail clients.
Quitting a well-paying job, Sandhya decided to pursue her dream of starting her own cafe specialising in desserts. Even though she came from a business-oriented family, there were none in the F&B sector. So she pursued a diploma course in baking, worked in the kitchens and even manned the cafes to learn the tricks of the trade. Putting in all her personal savings, she started Desert Rose in 2019. The bakery specialises in customised cakes, cupcakes, cookies, macarons, brownies, tarts, dessert jars, ice creams in addition to keto and sugar-free cakes. After starting and running the business successfully, Sandhya now wants to scale-up and start more outlets and kiosks.
5.Akshaya Ravindra Baby
Sihi is a single origin couverture manufacturer. As the manufacturer of couverture chocolate, it offers cocoa beans, chocolate paste, cocoa powder etc. with the single origin cocoa beans directly sourced from the farmers. And, the person fronting this business is Akshaya Ravindra Babu, a chocolatier with a decade of experience. Akshaya started Sihi as a B2B business in October 2018. In the last 18 months, the startup has grown exponentially. “The biggest challenge was to get our first customer onboard. Even though we were listed on B2B marketplaces and got a lot of leads, the potential customer came onboard only after a number of industry players recommended us,” says Akshaya. The other big challenge was to partner with farmers.
“It is easy to assume that they will come onboard, because as a business, you are offering a great value for their produce. But, it gets difficult for them to trust you when you are a new player.”
The entrepreneur is addressing this challenge by continuously working with farmers and innovating constantly so that the customers stay engaged and loyal to the business.
Coming from an agricultural family, Chandana worked towards becoming an entrepreneur, even though she could not pursue her education beyond grade 12. Chandana first attempts at entrepreneurship which included starting her own BPO and a small hotel,did not find success, but she refused to accept defeat. During a chance encounter with an employee of The Taj in Delhi, she convinced them to try her mother’s homemade papad. That proved to be the turning point in her journey. Today, Chandana is the owner of SLN Enterprise, a papad manufacturing venture that counts The Taj in New Delhi among its customers. Chandana is now focused on creating a brand for her papd business and also expanding their distribution channels to retail stores.
“This will help women in rural areas to earn from the comfort of their homes,” she says
7. Ikshita Tewari
Ikshita Tewari is the co-founder of Nutriplate India, a home-grown business that offers a wide offering of breakfast cereals, healthy namkeens and mixtures, protein powders, low calorie bites and ready-to-eat meals. Their product line is divided under two buckets - healthy packaged goods and healthy cooked meals. Packaged goods include healthy granolas, healthy namkeens and mixtures made from millets, seeds and other superfoods, granola and seeds nourishment balls, millet breakfast flakes, and high protein and diabetic atta. Their cooked products include burgers, wraps, kebabs, salads bowls, and Indian meals to name a few.
“We give a healthy twist to all our recipes by using only millets, multigrains, healthy vegetables etc. in the products. We do not use preservatives in any of our products. Additionally, all Nutriplate products are calorie counted and curated by our nutritionists keeping in mind the nutrients required by our body,” explains Ikshita.
The seven-member startup which has been completely digital so far, now plans to make its presence in retail stores.
8. Gaura Pushkarna
While conducting cookery classes for kids in her apartment, Gaura Puskarma did not have the slightest inkling that a few years later, she would be serving 600-700 meals everyday and count corporates like Sapient, HP, CGI, Walmart, Budweiser, Zetwork, and Deloitte as her clients. The secret to Gaura’s success lies in her mother’s teachings, says the entrepreneur. “She taught me food is ‘Naivaidhyam’ – an offering to the almighty. That’s why the home-styled cooking venture that she started in 2016, stands a stark contrast to the style of commercial kitchens. It functions like a community kitchen and the food is prepared to adhere to the principles of swad (taste), swaroop (presentation) and sad-bhav (passion). The biggest challenge for the entrepreneur is to hire resources who can adhere to home-style cooking, but she says it will be a work in progress. Gaura is now looking to find funding, be a part of startup mentor programmes, and get government subsidies and marketing support required to build a global Indian food brand servicing through state-of-art cloud kitchens serving traditional vegetarian meals passionately cooked and served.
9. Meghana Ravindra Patil
Starting out as a home chef, word of mouth led to Meghana Ravindra Patil receiving her first catering order for a birthday party. Soon one thing led to another and she began catering to birthdays and catering requirements week after week. Knowing how people enjoyed her pizzas and garlic bread, Meghana opened a tiny restaurant - Megna's Gourmet - in February 2019. The restaurant is popular for its handcrafted pizzas in a variety of flavours, crusts and sauces, and stuffed cheese garlic breads. After moving from a home-based business to a restaurant, Meghana now wants to explore further. She is working on making ‘DIY pizzas and frozen pizzas, and reaching retailers, supermarkets and stores across the city.
10. Sandhya Parthasarathy
Sandhya Parthasarathy’s entrepreneurial venture, Cake My Heart offers a wide range of baked products and desserts. The biggest USP of this venture, which began operations in 2013, is that it specialises in egg-free products. They also now have vegan and gluten-free options. In addition, the venture also organises bakery classes for enthusiasts. The biggest challenge for Sandhya has been educating customers on why a freshly baked cake is a whole lot more than just another regular cake. “It is not only made with the best ingredients but also tried and tested recipes, which means it is not going to come cheap. We often explain to our customers about the ingredients that go into each of the recipes and their health benefits as opposed to the locally mimicked counterparts, says Sandhya. Cake My Heart has been a home-run studio all this while. The venture is taking a step further by setting up its commercial space in the heart of the city.
“My vision to set up a bakery that offers premium cakes at a more affordable price points and also teach the fine art of baking,” says the entrepreneur.
11. Meher Randhawa
Meher at first found that baking without gluten was as good as making a house without brick and mortar as it was the key ingredient that bound everything together.” Her biggest challenge were the months of trial and error, where she failed to create the perfect recipes. But she persisted and it paid-off. Today, she is known for her gluten-free cakes and bakes across Bangalore. Armed with perfect recipes that are tasty and healthy in every possible way, she is looking to grow the business and expand her repertoir.
12. Roopa Rajan N
Spending close to a decade researching Indian food and culinary wisdom, Roopa Rajan launched Raswath in May 2019, a venture that specialises in wellness food products. “We launched a range of packaged ready to make Indian soup using indigenous ingredients that had tremendous health benefits.” This included the likes of moringa lentil soup, agathi soup, rose barley soup among others. These products have been tested for macro and micronutrients, have a shelf life of a year and are preservative-free. The biggest challenge for the venture has been winning customer confidence that their products are indeed free of preservatives and thickening agents. “The other challenge is that soups are not part of a regular household meal. If they are, customers want something that tastes similar to the chinese variants.” The venture is overcoming this challenge by hosting live demos and tasting sessions for families, friends and corporates.
“Today, we have onboarded a co-working space as our first corporate customer. We are also retailing on e-commerce marketplaces. The journey has just begun and we are excited,” says Roopa.
13. Surabhi S Shivamath
Surabhi S Shivamath runs a food venture that retails theplas, sprouted whole grains, pickles, jams, chocolates, vegan desserts, snacks, masala powders, and nutri bars. The venture partners with women farmers to procure the raw ingredients they need for their products. The venture has leveraged WhatsApp for Business and social media to reach out to their target audience. In addition, they have also leveraged offline channels such as food stalls, and partnering with food trucks to reach out to their customers. All this has helped the venture gain loyal customers. Surabhi is now looking to start a subscription plan to leverage its connection with its customer base, expand its product portfolio and at the same time also reach out to an increasing number of women farmers, because they believe it’s a win-win.
14. Diya Jojan
Diya started off as a home baker in May 2015 making customised fondant cakes. The years to come saw Diya developing expertise in cakes, pastries, desserts, and confectionaries. In August 2019, she took the big step of starting a cafe - The Sugar Therapy. The cafe in addition to retailing Diya’s signature cakes, pastries and desserts also offer pastas, pizzas, salads, soups and the likes on the menu. Diya is now working on running the businesses and strengthening its growth story in Bengaluru’s competitive food scene.
15. Aeliya Ali
Becoming a mother to a differently-abled child coupled with a sudden lay off, the future looked bleak for Aeliya. Gathering strength to put on a fight, she decided to seek happiness in one thing she loved - making things with clay. But, the difference was that this time she was toying with sugar clay (fondant). She put them out on her FB page which soon brought her very first order. Her passion then turned into an obsession that saw her polishing her culinary skills. She went on to develop her own cake mix, which was ready to bake, after adding a few wet ingredients. Today, Aeliya is known for her homemade vanilla and red velvet cake mixes, theme-based cakes and even Indian sweets. In addition, she also handcrafts lipsticks, lip balms, kajals and soaps.
What’s in store for these winners
Radhika Timbadia, as a winner of the Futurepreneur Grand Challenge 2019-2020 is being awarded Rs 1 lakh as prize money. The next four finalist entrepreneurs, Durga Menon, Anshu Archit, Sandhya S and Akshaya R are being awarded Rs 50,000 each in prize money. The rest of the entrepreneurs are being awarded Rs 20,000 each.
GAME, Facebook and its partner organisations will also support these women entrepreneurs in many other ways, including mentoring and training market linkage support (such as connecting to online food delivery platforms, online marketplaces, corporate catering companies and opportunities to sell their food at stalls in melas, food stalls in companies, etc.), financial linkage support (through small loans, social security products such as shop insurance, etc.) and learning workshops, among others.