Lockdown gave rise to new breed of entrepreneurs

Meet young girls in their twenties who used Covid crisis to start their own ventures

Indu Kumari Sahoo, 20, at her tea stall | Photo: By special arrangement

A hot cuppa tea!

It’s not yet six. Only a few people are out on an early December morning winter day when some adolescent boys and girls on their cycles whizz past the regular walkers on the CRP square-Ekamra Kanan road in Bhubaneswar (Odisha). On the footpath, 20-year-old Indu Kumari Sahoo has already prepared tea. She is waiting for the first customer of the day. It’s the fourth day of her first venture – a makeshift tea stall.

Indu’s investment: just Rs 180, her savings from pocket money, which she has spent to buy milk, sugar, tea powder and paper cups. While her vegetable vendor father and mother live in the port town of Paradip, her two brothers have electronic goods businesses in Ghaziabad and Bhubaneswar respectively.

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The old plastic table, on which the tea container, gas stove and other materials are mounted, belongs to the hostel where Indu lives. “I requested the owner and he obliged,” tells the B Com student.

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On the first day, her tea found no takers. Instead of wasting the drink, she distributed it for free among some daily wagers and collected their feedback which she used to improve her output the next day. “Yesterday’s sale was the highest, crossing Rs 200!” she informs with a smile.

Indu says she always wanted to be self reliant. With college closed since March and staying indoors becoming a boring activity, she decided to take the first step. “No job is small for me, I want to work hard and make it big,” said the undergraduate student.

Indu seeks customers’ suggestions to know what other jobs she could take up. “However, it should be different, not the regular type,” thinks Indu, who says the tea shop helps her learn the practical lessons of running a venture, intricacies of loss and profit and also the basics of dealing with customers. Indu is sure that when she starts a different business, this experience will come in handy.

A couple of women, post-walk, approach her shop to enjoy a cup of hot tea. One of them suggests Indu to keep a bin nearby so that the disposables are not littered around, while the other, advises that she should add coffee and lemon tea to her offerings. “I will, ma’am,” promises Indu as she gleefully accepts a 10 rupee note.

Covid may have rendered millions jobless, but, it has emboldened many youngsters, importantly girls like Indu, to stride happily into a hitherto lesser chartered territory. Full of confidence, they aren’t scared to meet challenges, if any, on the path of their entrepreneurial journey.

Baking her own cake and selling it too

Rebika Sahu, 21, an MBA student, is running the RB Amelie’s bakery unit from her two-room house in Bhubaneswar’s Baramunda locality for the last four months.

Meet Rebika Sahu, 21, an MBA student who is running the RB Amelie’s bakery unit from her two-room house in Bhubaneswar’s Baramunda locality for the last four months. Her mother, Sasmita, informs that Rebika hasn’t slept well last night as she prepared to complete four orders for cakes. By 9am the next day, the cakes were delivered promptly.

If the order is from a nearby place, Rebika walks or takes an auto and does the delivery, by herself. Otherwise, she hires the services of two of her school friends, who run a home delivery business.

The only child of a businessman — David Samson Sahu and Sasmita — Rebika says she learned the tricks of baking cakes from her mother during Christmas. She attempted to make baking cakes a business in 2018, but due to poor response and also with ‘education in mind’, she folded up the unit in January this year. During lockdown, besides studying, she learned and tried different bakery items and gave them to friends and relatives to taste. Their appreciation pushed Rebika to have another tryst with her baking skills. This time, it clicked.

“The response has been very encouraging, it’s at least three times of what I experienced during my earlier effort,” she points out. Her average monthly profit has been over Rs 20,000. Her initial investment was just Rs 3,000, which was used to procure necessary food ingredients. Rebika’s business set-up is neat and simple with family’s tiny sized dining table and oven as helpful tools. Tech-savvy Rebika puts her smartphone to full use – taking orders over calls and learning recipes on YouTube. She also uses social networking site Instagram as the platform for advertising her products.

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“Orders are coming from different places in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. Yesterday a gentleman carried two cakes to Keonjhar, about 240 kms away,” says Rebika with excitement. Though she began with making different types of cakes, Rebika has also added a do-it-yourself (DIY) Pizza Kit to her offering — a buffet containing ingredients to prepare ready-to-eat pizzas at home — meant especially for kids. She intends to offer packaged snacks shortly.

“I am not serious about a 10 to 5 job anymore, I am really enjoying my work,” she says with a lot of conviction. “Once this gets bigger in a year or two, I can employ some youngsters,” she shares her plans.

Growing mushroom to keep migrants from going back

Rajalaxmi, Premalata and Sipra (L-R) | Photo: By special arrangement

In tribal Keonjhar district, Rajalaxmi Dehuri (21) Premalata Paida (18) and Sipra Dehury (19) of Karanjiapada village in Kapundi panchayat under Saharapada block seem to be in a hurry. A day after the completion of their training conducted by Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), a leading NGO, they are busy collecting rice straws to take up mushroom farming as a career.

Hailing from poor families with negligible landholdings, today they aim to earn more, script their own success stories and more importantly, involve in their enterprise, their brothers, who are migrant workers.

“Covid has scared us. We have seen in our locality and also on TV the miseries of migrant workers during the pandemic,” Rajalaxmi said. “We will cultivate mushroom and our brothers will look after the marketing side. If we are able to earn at least Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000, they will not be required to migrate,” she added.

Difficulties at home had cut short Rajalaxmi’s school education; she has been working as a daily wager in the vicinity to support her parents.  Premalata and Sipra are lucky though, they are pursuing their higher secondary studies.

While Rajalaxmi’s mason brother, Sailendra, 35, worked in Delhi and more recently in Bhubaneswar, school drop-out Anil (20) served as a helper at a fabrication unit in Chennai and supported his sister Premalata’s education. Both Sailendra and Anil returned home days before the national lockdown was enforced.

However, Sipra’s brothers, Sipun and Ramu — labourers at a plastic goods manufacturing unit near Bangalore — preferred to stay at their place of work. Sipra is very happy her brothers are coming home in January next year for the Makar Sankranti festival. “They have promised to gift me a good dress for the occasion,” she says shyly.

Besides imparting training to 1800 youths- men and women- in three districts (Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and coastal Jajpur), CYSD is setting up a mushroom spawn (seed) unit to ensure supply of better quality seeds to growers. It’s already begun real-time mentoring through WhatsApp.

Its senior project associate and the agri-allied skill training programme for rural returnee migrants, in charge, Nalini Kanta Sahoo, claims that all the trained 600 youths are in different stages of learning the art of growing mushroom, a few have begun selling their produce. Factors such as lesser input cost, better profit ratio, quick return and higher demand have attracted their attention to mushroom farming.

“The objective is to arrest distress migration and so far the response has been overwhelming. Please visit this area after two months and you will notice mushroom being exported from here to other places,” bets Sahoo.

Sociologist Dr Navaneeta Rath is impressed with the new trend of youngsters showing courage to try out new ventures. “One of the positives of Covid is that it has given us a new laboratory to experiment and young minds have learnt to shed the stereotypes and explore newer opportunities. The best part is that a situational constraint has been transformed into a situational opportunity by these young entrepreneurs,” puts Rath.

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