Incubating Ideas

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A few years ago during the peak of the IT boom, the first international workshop on technology business incubators in India was organised in the city. The workshop was aimed at evolving a network of angel investors in India and the Asia-Pacific region and spelling out a ‘Bangalore Declaration-2001’ - a vision statement for working out a plan of action for the government and the corporate sector to launch business incubator programmes all over the country. That was the last anybody heard anything about angel investors and incubators!

Despite much brouhaha about the great intentions of helping entrepreneurs in information technology, biotechnology, food & agro industry and hi-tech manufacturing, there has been little or no activity in this direction. In this gloomy scenario it is a pleasant surprise to hear that a business incubator has been functioning here in city since 1992!

A business incubator allows an entrepreneur’s idea to be translated into a product and allows room for analyzing initial marketing potential. Entrepreneurs need huge investment in infrastructure to manufacture any product, which is the first hurdle. So a central facility with all basic infrastructure can allow a startup to confidently try out the idea and improve upon it before investing in property and machinery. This is exactly what Asia’s first business incubator facilitates at the premises of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE).

How did this innovative idea happen? Indira Gowda, the present chairperson of the Awake Business Incubator traces the origin. “Our founder president, Madhura Chatrapathy, was a well travelled person and had seen such an incubator functioning when she had travelled in the US. Since many of our women entrepreneurs have great ideas in food processing, but have very little funding, she decided that a common central facility would empower them. So in 1992 a central manufacturing facility came up in the industrial estate of Rajajinagar in Bangalore.”

Awake incubator houses all equipment on a pilot scale capable of processing various kinds of value added food products like spices, dehydrated food, cereals, fruit extracts and bakery products. Businesswomen bring their raw material, produce and package the product and then market it. The incubator facilitates:

1. Entrepreneur Development Programme in food processing

2. Standardizing and quality testing

3. Market skills upgradation

4. FPO licensing

Nearly 250 women have used this facility since the past 12 years and Indira herself was one of the first beneficiaries. She narrates, “I started off as a client in 1996 and have now become the chairperson. I had my grandmother’s recipe of ‘Ragi Huri Hittu’ which is a nutritious food made of Ragi. It was difficult for me to produce large quantities so I used the incubator facility. It was tough to get a hold on the market, but since I was not worried about production, I could focus on the marketing and sales. Now I am producing around one ton of Ragi Huri Hittu and about 2 tons of tomato sauce and fruit jam at my own factory.”

It was difficult for me to produce large quantities of 'Ragi Huri Hittu'.  So I used the Awake incubator 

 
“Every year around 20-25 entrepre-neurs use the facilities regularly and some producers also come in for large scale production. They can also use it for one-time purpose, for research or test marketing of the product. We help them with sealing and packaging facility, quality testing, corporation, weight and measurement certifications, and even FPO licensing. The inspection by investing banks, clients and government authorities can be done in the premises. A nominal charge towards facilitation fees and processing fees is charged,” states Indira.

Apart from these facilities, if there is a need for technology transfers, Awake provides access to DFRL, UAS, IIHR, CPF and other research organisations. For instance, Shoba Prasad, the entrepreneur presently using the incubator is into processing sugarcane juice with a technology transfer taken from CFTRI Mysore.

Some of the successful food brands that have utilized the Awake Incubator are:

1. Vellichetty foods who do Andhra delicacies and pickles

2. Wondernut producing nutrition coated groundnuts

3. Roasalia producing rose products

4. Maha Gevan Foods producing jams for diabetics and soya products

5. Indira Foods doing Ragi Huri Hittu, tomato sauce and fruit jam

Awake also conducts regular EDP workshops to create awareness about marketing, guidance about funding agencies, identification of products, quality control, technology transfer, hygiene and proper packing methods. Though Awake does not market the products, it gives support by conducting exhibitions during holiday seasons. The recent ‘Mix ‘n Match’ trade fair was highly successful in bringing together buyers and sellers from all over the country.

“In such events businesswomen get an understanding of consumer behaviour,’’ says Veena Suresh, the EDP Coordinator. She reminds us about the ongoing month-long EDP workshop on food processing, where entrepreneurs can get a deeper insight into the business. Women from all strata of the society, be it housewives or MBA professionals - all are participating. The good news is that even men can join in!

Issue BG39 Jun04