The Indian startup modernising a 200-year-old industry

 

Teabox sends fresh tea leaves straight from estates to customers anywhere in the world within days

The British drink more than 60 billion cups of tea every year, and it is the second most-consumed drink in the world, after water. Yet the industry has seen little innovation in how the humble tea leaf makes it from the plant to the cup, sometimes many thousands of miles away. Kaushal Dugar, is changing all that.

“The process of getting it to the customer from the tea estate has not changed in nearly 200 years, going back to the days of the British,” says Dugar, who grew up in Darjeeling, a region known for producing India’s champagne of teas. After a corporate career in Singapore, he returned to his roots to help modernise an antiquated industry, steeped in colonial history and its archaic methods.

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Teabox, based in the West Bengal city of Siliguri, with a satellite office in Bangalore, fuses tea and tech. The sleek, modern, whitewashed walls of its Siliguri headquarters are more Silicon Valley, than colonial British. In this newly remodelled space, opened in 2016, Dugar and his 95 employees are putting the $7 million (£5.4 million) raised from investors such as Accel Partners, Ratan Tata, and Texan billionaire Robert Bass to work.

Read the full story at Wired.co.uk

 

 

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This Finnish Entrepreneur And Chocolatier Wants Food Businesses To Be Accountable For Public Health

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Jukka Peltola worked in the gaming industry before launching a food brand. He was busy developing games at Rovio, the powerhouse that created Angry Birds. He had no experience in food nor a co-founder who was steeped in the food business. But he decided to switch gears, leaving behind his gaming days for a chocolate factory. Why such a dramatic career shift?

More companies need to focus on trust and quality ingredients that are good for consumers, not just bottom line economics, he says. Health, not disease is the premise of Goodio, which produces health-conscious snacks and treats, namely raw chocolate bars.

“I was looking at food labels and had a question: “What if there was a food brand you could trust?” he recalls in an phone interview from his Helsinki offices. “It felt a bit crazy, at least for the people around me, since I don’t have an entrepreneurship background in the food business.  But personally I didn’t care, I just had a passion and I thought it might be my advantage to see things outside the box to make the change I felt was so important.”

In 2011, he began tinkering with chocolate. “I rarely ate chocolate because I was interested in sports and keeping fit. I thought it wasn’t good for you. Turns out it can be.” 

As a health food enthusiast, Peltola researched the benefits of cacao — an ingredient that is often overlooked as being gluttonous, not nutritious. Though chocolate sales fetched $98 billion in 2015, they were primarily for the sugary candy type.

Read the full story at Forbes.com.

Why Ratan Tata Is Backing This New Brand That Fuses Tech And Tea Estates

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Kaushal Dugar left an office job to modernize a stagnant, colonial era industry. Tea growing regions in eastern India have conducted business in the same way for the last 200 years. While there are notable premium tea brands, such as Twinings, there isn’t a single Indian one. Dugar raised $6 million to change that.

His startup Teabox combines technology with tea to create India’s first global premium tea brand. Much like other subscription box enterprises, Dugar developed a monthly service that caters to a customer’s palate. Each month, customers are sent an assortment of teas. They provide feedback after each box. And after the first three boxes, the company has developed an understanding of what their customer prefers.

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“We use technology and algorithms in a smart way to solve the discovery journey,” he says from his Siliguri headquarters.  The online storefront sells over 250 varieties of teas — all sourced from different regions of India, several offered in organic varieties.

Read the full story at Forbes.com.

How One Self-Funded Home Decor Brand Is Challenging Big Box Retailers With Their Supply Chain

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Last month, Target decided to pull all the bedsheets, manufactured by one supplier in India, Welspun Inc. Could this be the beginning of a transparency revolution at big box retailers?

“I’m surprised that Target was surprised about their bedsheets not being Egyptian cotton,” says Scott Tannen, CEO and co-founder of Boll and Branch, an organic cotton home essentials brand. “There isn’t enough Egyptian cotton being produced for global demand and that’s pretty well known in the industry.”

Egyptian cotton, once highly-regarded for their long fibers, is rarely produced in Egypt any more.  According to the US Department of Agriculture, less than 1% of the world’s cotton supply comes directly from Egypt. It’s largely marketing, says Tannen, when companies tout their bedsheets as the highest-quality Egyptian cotton. “It sounds nicer to think of it as cotton, growing in small farms on the banks of the river Nile. In reality, it’s a company-owned 4,000 acre farm in China.”

Turns out, Target wasn’t the only one in the dark. Walmart and Bed, Bath, & Beyond also sourced their “Egyptian cotton” sheets from Welspun India. Both retailers are now questioning, and rethinking, their business with the manufacturer. For Welspun, which reportedly brought in nearly $1 billion sales from American retailers last year, this is could be crippling for the business.

Read the full story at Forbes.com

Why Hemp Is Still Controversial In America And A Challenge For Entrepreneurs

When this entrepreneur quit his day job to sell hemp products online, he ran into trouble with Facebook, Shopify, and more.

Why?

Hemp, though not marijuana, is often associated with it. While it originates from the same plant, cannabis sativa, hemp does not have significant levels of THC, the ingredient that gives you a high. In fact, hemp has less than .3% of THC; marijuana has anywhere from 10 to 30%.

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Yet, the plant is nutrient-rich, contributes to the health of the soil, and grows in drought climates well.  The fibers of hemp have been used for centuries to produce weaves, suitable for clothing or home decor items. Elements of hemp are healthy for the body as well, making it a popular health food and an essential ingredient in soaps and lotions.

Despite its eco-friendly nature, hemp is still not allowed for widespread cultivation in the US; rather only small-scale pilots are allowed in a few states around the country.

Gunhee Park founded Ministry of Hemp, an online marketplace of hemp brands, using his own funds, to promote hemp-based products products such as clothes toiletries and food. “Our vision is to popularize this plant and its applications among the mainstream,” he says.

Read the story at Forbes.com

Food and Politics: Why This American Entrepreneur Wants To See A Conflict Zone Aisle at Whole Foods

Amit Hooda wants to see a conflict zone area in Whole Foods. No, it’s not a playground for adults to break out in food fights. Rather, it’s an aisle devoted to food companies, sourcing from conflict areas of the world — a way for refugees, and victims of political conflict to earn a living while providing nuts, seeds, grains and more. In Hooda’s case, it’s all about honey.

Heavenly Organics procures honey from wild hives in Northern and Central India and the Himalayan region. Photo Courtesy of Subject.

The Iowa-based entrepreneur and co-founder of Heavenly Organics grew up in India in the 1980s, an era filled with stories of Maoist violence throughout the country. Naxalites ate up the headlines back in those days, Hooda recalls. Families were told to keep their girls inside the home, protect them from being harassed or kidnapped. “Yet, why were these men engaging in violence? They were incentivized to create violence in villages and towns across the country. You made money by robbing people because someone stuck a gun in your hand and told you to do,” he says in a phone interview.

While India’s history of Maoist uprisings is contentious and long-standing, Hooda was less interested in playing policymaker, and more so in learning about the root cause of such politically-charged violence: poverty, and lack of jobs or opportunities.

Read the full story at Forbes.com.

How This Coffee Entrepreneur Is Overcoming Hurdles To Build A Mission-Driven Company

Around the world, coffee shops have become meeting points for “urban tribes,” creative types, freelancers, and pour-over junkies. In India, though, running a coffee business is still a tricky pursuit, riddled with challenges.

Blue Tokai, which I reported on last year in Delhi, was trying to bring that global coffee culture to India by freshly roasting beans, sourcing from single estate farms, offering organic varieties, and educating north Indians on Aeropress, Chemex, and French Press brewing techniques– a new language for a region that lives on chai and instant coffee.

Since their mail order business took off, Blue Tokai founders, Matt Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana, opened a cafe in South Delhi last year.  The approach to the coffee shop is a bit tricky, especially for non-locals: down a few alleyways, off the main road, Blue Tokai sits in a village within the city.

 

Read the full story at Forbes.com