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.

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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

How To Start A Business With No Contacts And Little Money: American Lawyer Launches Shoe Brand

A former California lawyer and television host, Michael Paratore started a shoe business with no supply chain, no formal funding, and no contacts in the business. That too, sourcing from the villages of India.

Paratore’s story is movie material. In 2012, after having worked at a law firm for nearly two years, post a career in television at Current TV, Paratore was ready for something else. “It was now or never,” he says.

With no children at the time and a supportive wife (who had a full-time salary), he began on a journey to turn a beloved leather sandal, made by artisans in villages on the outskirts of Kolhapur, into a business.

Read the full story at Forbes.com

How Two Entrepreneurs Turn Waste Into A Business

Forty-five minutes outside of Coimbatore, India, a Finnish company is producing a new kind of factory which will turn trash into a fashion business. 

Jukka Pesola and Anders Bengs run Pure Waste Textiles. Their business model is simple: take leftover fabric and turn it into a new, usable piece of clothing. However, the clothes don’t scream recycled.  The tees, sweaters, and pants they produce out of excess or waste textiles are fashionable and well cut staples.

This year, they’re opening a new unit in Tamil Nadu.  The facility houses a production unit where fabrics are opened, carded, spun again and woven into new knits.  By the end of the year, the palm-lined land will include their flagship recycling unit, already operational CMT manufacturing unit, and facilities for staff.  Once fully operational, the plant will fill 200 jobs — employment that Bengs says could be beneficial to a poor local population. The unit will be fueled by renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

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Read the full 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

Social Enterprise Accelerator Solvey Gets Over 3 Million Views On YouTube

In May, I met YouTubers Dave Erasmus and Louis Cole in Delhi.  They were on their third stop on a fast-paced world tour called Solvey, to find entrepreneurial individuals, interested in giving back and solving problems in their home countries.

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Erasmus, a serial entrepreneur, and Cole, a travel vlogger on YouTube with a massive global fan following, hit 8 cities in 30 days. Two months later, I spoke to Erasmus, now back home in England, to see what the results were of that mega trip.

“I’ve finally recovered from my travels.  Today, I woke up with a spring in my step,” he says, laughing.

That’s one month after their whirlwind tour ended.  While it may have been ruthless on their bodies, it did yield the results they were hoping for: 145 people applied from around world and that too across generations (ages 12 to 67).  Plus, the vlogs garnered over 3 million views on YouTube.

Read the full story on Forbes.