Startup Bharat: How these student entrepreneurs from Jaipur are pushing innovation in terracotta craft, empowering potters
What better way to study entrepreneurship than to jump into it headfirst? Abhinav Agarwal from Jaipur, Rajasthan, was doing his undergraduate studies in entrepreneurship from the city’s Global Centre for Entrepreneurship and Commerce when he realised that entrepreneurship does not lie between the pages of a book alone.
Even before completing their graduation, Abhinav along with his friend Megha Joshi, launched, a startup with the aim of reviving the dying art form of terracotta pottery.
Started formally in January 2021, Mittihub is working with pottery artists in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. For Abhinav and Megha, both 20-years-old, the mission is to revive the dying art of terracotta, and empower the artisanal community of India.
“We are working with artisans on the ground, and helping them with designs, training and market linkage, whilst also ensuring their hard work and talent get the right pay,” says Abhinav.
Mittihub is also one of the seven startups under the Atal Incubation Centre’s Catalyst cohort, and is already shipping its products across India, the US and the UK.
From campus project to enterprise
It all started in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit India, when Megha and Abhinav were brainstorming for their college assignment. The task required them to build an ecommerce platform that would address any prevalent issue in the current society.
The duo thought of addressing the gradual depletion of the traditional handicrafts industry, and the degradation in the living standards of the artisans associated with these crafts.
“The Indian handicraft industry is the second largest income generator in the rural sector. But unfortunately, due to the advent of mechanised goods and industrialisation, this sector faced many repercussions. This resulted in mass unemployment in the artisanal community of India, and also major loss in the tradition of Indian handicrafts. Therefore, to resolve this prevailing issue, our startup Mittihub came into existence,” says Abhinav.
Terracotta, or burnt or baked soil, is a tradition that traces its roots to the 8th century. Abhinav says the startup works with terracotta artisan colonies across Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to make products for Mittihub. “We also ensure that some of the artisans are skilled by master artisans if necessary,” adds Abhinav.
A casual college assignment soon turned out to be a fulltime venture. With a seed fund of Rs 50,000, that came from the founders’ friends and family, the duo launched Mittihub.
In January 2021, the startup was shortlisted for the Atal Incubation Centre (AIC) Catalyst, and therein, its formal journey started.
In the beginning, Mittihub was sourcing handcrafted terracotta goods from the artisans and selling them to the consumers. Eventually, Mittihub extended its capacity and reach to work with the artisans to innovate new kind of products, apply design thinking, and so on. In a short span of a few months, Mittihub has engaged more than 200 artisans and assimilated several types of potteries in its product range.
Products at Mittihub span across home decor, kitchenware, planters, and tableware. Some unique products like a dinner set consisting of a plate, two bowls, and a glass costs Rs 820; a casserole with a lid is priced at Rs 1450.
Speaking about how Mittihub differs from the likes of Amazon and , Megha shares that while Mittihub is a for-profit organisation, it stands out for sharing a fair part of the earnings with its artisans. Other players in the market include Clay Mango, Terracrafts, and Mitticool. Megha says, “Mittihub also experiments with designs and is offering products that can be easily used by today’s generation.”
Talking about how the team helps the artisans, Abhinav says artists are encouraged to try out new products such as soap holders, saucepan, coffee mugs, and so on, which he claims, are not typically available as terracotta products. As of now the Mittihub team consists of 17 people.
“Our competitors who are dealing in contemporary designs have products that are mostly machine-made. In contrast, our startup aims to deliver authentic and uniquely handmade products that are sturdy, encompass contemporary designs and also uses new technology. We also ensure that the products are safe for the environment,” says Abhinav.
Business centric yet social
Mittihub is a for-profit business that follows a simple ecommerce business model where it earns revenue from selling its products through websites, different partners, and channels. Abhinav also tells that besides B2C, Mittihub also has a B2B model where it collaborates with retailers and corporates for gifting.
Since its formal inception this year, Mittihub has collaborated with about 20 ecommerce platforms and physical stores altogether, besides its own online store. The startup has also been shortlisted for Climate Launchpad India, a cleantech-focused startup competition developed by the European Union’s ClimateKIC which runs in 35 countries.
While Mittihub is still very much in its early stages, Abhinabv says that the company has shipped products across India including to Tier I and Tier II towns. “We have also shipped big orders to London and some parts of the US, clocking a revenue of Rs 1 lakh per month,” says Abhinav. Mittihub, which runs its office out of the Atal Incubation Centre, runs on an extremely lean operational cost. Also, other than its founders, the startup has a few interns who work as team members.
As a founder, Abhinav wants his brand to achieve global recognition, and towards this, plans to acquire more international customers in FY22. He wants the company to remain bootstrapped for now, and continue supporting the business with its revenue alone.
Abhinav and Megha also plan to expand the product range with different forms of terracotta pottery like black pottery, khavda pottery and so on. “We are also working on bringing tech advancements like 3-D imaging to enhance the user experience,” says Abhinav. “As India is known for its beautiful handicrafts range, in the years ahead, Mittihub is looking to gain global recognition so that its artisans can also go global,” says Abhinav.