Founder: Banita Panigrahi
Place: Cuttack, Odisha
Turnover: Rs 15 lakh
Baniha Panigrahi, a Cuttack-based entrepreneur, invested Rs 5 lakh in 2001 to launch Soft-Ed, a company which sought to upskill people through a computer training institute. After her company came in contact with the local Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Institute (MSME DI), Panigrahi also started on-ground government-sponsored training under various programmes.
In the process of growing the business, Soft-Ed won various awards for entrepreneurship, including a national award from the MSME Ministry for its work in the service sector. “Each person who comes to us is treated with the utmost care and top service. We treat customers like Gods in disguise and attempt to train and help them in every way possible,” says forty-one-year-old Panigrahi.
Excerpts from an interaction with SMBStory:
SMBStory: What problem area does your business address?
Banita Panigrahi: We work for the growth and prosperity of people, primarily entrepreneurs, both upcoming and existing. We upskill them by providing skill training, guiding them and helping them in various processes like financial project preparation, Udyog Aadhaar Registration, GST Registration, ROC Registration, Balance Sheet, GEM Registration and more.
These help entrepreneurs avail finance from different financial agencies and banks to facilitate growth in their respective sectors.
SMBS: How did the company diversify into providing different services?
BP: Our diversification is based on the changing needs of entrepreneurs. Initially, we had a computer training institute to help people develop skills. Since 2005, with the help of the MSME DI in Cuttack, we started providing services in addition to computer training.
These new areas were the Government-sponsored Entrepreneurship Skill Development Programme (ESDP), Management Development Programme (MDP), Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP) and Skill Development Programme (SDP).
SMBS: What were the key milestones in your journey?
BP: Our first milestone was achieving the capability to provide computer training to different sets of people, from kids and students to senior citizens. Then we ventured into government-related programmes, where one of the highlights is our work under the Prime Minister Employment Generation Programme. We also did work for the National Mission on Food Processing and Ministry of Food Processing through Director of Industries, Odisha, in areas like Cuttack, Sundargarh, Balangir, Ganjam and more. We also worked with the State Urban Development Agency.
We have won many awards. In 2011, I won a national award for ‘Outstanding Entrepreneurship in the Service Sector’. In 2012, I won the ‘Best Woman Entrepreneur Award’ from the Odisha Assembly of Small and Medium Enterprises. Soft-Ed has also won other young entrepreneur and cultural awards.
SMBS: How are you differentiating from the competition?
BP: It is clear that the market is large and competitive. We strive to be unique by never compromising on the quality. Our main focus is not the quantity of work, but in ensuring that we provide genuine services. I always emphasise on a single window of work.
This work, we hope, creates a strong impact on our society by boosting the values and spirit of entrepreneurship. We are all wholly committed to this approach.
SMBS: What are your challenges in terms of sustaining and growing the business?
BP: On a larger level, it is hard to grow in a society, which is constantly evolving. It is also hard being a woman entrepreneur in our patriarchal society. To think that a woman can achieve so much is almost impossible.
However, I still cherished the positivity wherever I found it, and was highly determined to keep moving ahead with the business. Taking risks is another challenge for me. Sometimes I worry that the risks might prove to be deadly. Still, I rely on sincere and dedicated hard work to stay in the game.
SMBS: What is your advice to people who want to set up their business in the same sector?
BP: The main thing is to keep focussed on the goal and correct mistakes. Managing cash flow and suppliers is also important to succeed as an entrepreneur. It’s important to personally inspect the items to be supplied and ensure smooth service, like I do. It is also critical to ensure a consistent flow of working and fixed capital, where precision and being active in decision-making will help avoid unnecessary difficulties.
All such entrepreneurs should also seek direct and strong support from the government in terms of awareness-building and provisions. This way, we can all come together and create a large number of skilled entrepreneurs.
(This story is published in partnership with the MSME Ministry to showcase success stories of SMEs)