Chocolate making to fig farming: Meet 3 women entrepreneurs from Telangana

WE HUB has rolled out three programmes to encourage women entrepreneurs, including an exclusive Rural Incubation Programme for 25 businesswomen across Telangana.
Shwetha Ravula, Lakshmi Ambati and Mudunuri Varalaxmi
Shwetha Ravula, Lakshmi Ambati and Mudunuri Varalaxmi
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Traditionally, when it comes to encouraging entrepreneurship among women in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the focus has been on creating self-employment for skilled people. However, Hyderabad-based incubation platform WE HUB is taking this a step further and using this strong foundation to create businesses that can become employment generators.

With this in mind, WE HUB has rolled out an exclusive Rural Incubation Programme for 25 women entrepreneurs from across Telangana with a clear emphasis on five sectors. The goal is to create Role Model Enterprises in these sectors and enable these entrepreneurs to be investor ready. 

Here are three women entrepreneurs from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities that have been supported by WE HUB: 

Srilaxmi Ambati

What started as a humble effort to make chocolates for near and dear ones got Srilaxmi Ambati to venture into the chocolate-making business in 2019. “The experiments gave me confidence and pushed me a little further to start a business,” says Srilaxmi. She started Bournswick, based out of Boduppal in Medchal-Malkajgiri district of Telangana. 

Srilaxmi’s idea was to sell homemade chocolates without any chemicals, added sugars or preservatives. Most of her ingredients are sourced from West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. While she gets her cocoa beans wholesale from Secunderabad, she plans to source them from Nunna in Vijayawada in the future. 

The chocolates are made, in a small kitchen with two employees, on an order basis. Srilaxmi adds that around Rs 2 lakh has been invested till now, but they haven’t achieved break-even yet.

“Since Bournswick’s inception, we have kept on improvising the products to suit Indian taste buds. Now we have around 20-30 different types of chocolates,” she says. 

While making the chocolate wasn’t an issue, keeping up to date with current market trends was a challenge but the push from her family helped. “The sole reason I feel so equipped with understanding the market is because of my son. He was the one who helped me apply for the Her&Now program with WE HUB. Further, WE HUB supported me with industry links, statutory requirements, a sector-specific mentor and EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Programme) sessions.”

Srilaxmi is in the process of taking her business to the next level by identifying and getting machinery, more space and raw materials etc for this and plans to start an Artisanal chocolate cafe in the future. 

Mudunuri Varalaxmi 

Mudunuri Varalaxmi got into the business of fig farming in 2018 after taking 12 hectares of land on lease for 5 years. “Our first idea was to do fruit trading but that later changed into making fig desserts and eventually developing a jam spread,” she says.  

The idea evolved in 2013 when they were involved in papaya farming and had good profits. However, it was a time-consuming process. “It took three months of growing, three months harvesting plus six months product marketing. Crop cultivation was taking too much time, hence, we planned an alternative crop. Fig, being a year-long crop, was more viable,” she adds. And thus they started making fig based products, like their popular fig jam among others. 

Her startup, Varma Farms, is based out of Makthal in Narayanpet district of Telangana. There are 10 permanent employees and others are brought on depending on the work.  

Mudunuri says the feedback has been amazing so far and they have accelerated outreach strategies. A total of Rs 12 lakh has been invested since 2018, including in machinery, research and development.   

“Since there are not many fig related products in the market, our R&D team is working on how to introduce new value-added products. We use natural sweeteners like jaggery and honey. Being in a Tier 2 city actually helped us a lot considering the abundance of fig crops, water, human resources,” she says.  

“We plan to expand our production capacity, and make sure our product reaches all households of Telangana and also develop new value-added fig products,” she adds.  

Shwetha Ravula 

Explaining how she got into the business of silk reeling and silk yarn in April 2020, Shwetha Ravula says she was inspired by Shilpa Nemarugommla from Suryapet, who is the first woman sericulture farmer in the state of Telangana and the second person in the Telugu speaking states to run an ARM (Automatic Rearing Machine) unit. 

The process of silk reeling involves buying cocoons from the silk market. “Then with the help of a twisting machine, we extract silk thread depending on the customer’s requirement. The extracted thread is then sold to weavers and weaving villages like Jangam/ Pochampally,” she adds. Her business is based out of Yadadri Buvanagiri district in Telangana.  

Shwetha has so far invested around Rs 55 lakh in her venture called SR Silk Reeling Unit, which includes machinery, land for setting up the unit. Nearly 25 people are employed, half of them from the local villages around the unit and the rest are migrant families from Chhattisgarh.  

Talking about WE HUB’s contribution, Shwetha says, “ We received tremendous support from our mentor and the WE HUB team is continuously pushing us to our limits and making us work towards success.” 

But, how sustainable is her business? She says, “In India, sericulture has been promoted as an agro-based, labour intensive, rural oriented cottage industry, providing gainful employment. The existing weaving markets like Pochampally, Jangam need a continuous supply of silk, and the initiatives the government is taking to support rural industries make it sustainable.”

On plans for the future, Shwetha wants to make the whole process automated and shift to ARM, which will increase the production capacity from 18 kg silk threads a day to 150 kg. 

To help women entrepreneurs like Srilaxmi, Mudunuri and Shwetha grow their businesses, WE HUB CEO Deepthi Ravula says that the concept of equity and investments should be taken to Tier 2 regions of the country. And they have created a programme to bridge the divide between urban and rural entrepreneurs. “In view of this, we have created WE Corner – a space for women entrepreneurs to showcase and sell their products at retail/ hyperlocal stores. The vision is to develop this concept as WE Marts in districts across the state, so that market accessibility is readily available for women entrepreneurs,” says Deepthi.

WE HUB is also running two other ongoing programmes for women entrepreneurs in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. In the first, 100 tribal women entrepreneurs from three ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Agency) regions in Telangana, are going through an incubation programme and 300 tribal women are going through pre-incubation programmes. Pre-incubation is for bringing together a team to build the ecosystem, while incubation provides support and access to resources that result in the economic viability of the startup. 

Meanwhile, in the second programme, 500 women-led businesses are being supported through skill up-gradation, and by enabling digital and financial inclusion.

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