Startups from the NE region of India that will be worth watching out for in 2021

Kunal Doley
Contd from previous issue
That, combined with our newly-forged partnerships with local communities and authorities, sees us poised for exponential growth in the coming year.”
Runway Nagaland
Runway Nagaland started in 2012 as a platform to provide space to local artisans to promote and market their creations. Gradually, the startup got into manufacturing handmade accessories, using indigenous techniques and designs, with a motive to preserve and pass on the art of the region.
“Our revenue model is based on channel partners, retail, online, wholesale, etc. We have a varied profile from jewellery to home furnishings to decorative and gifting,” says 33-year-old Nengneithem Hengna, a first-generation entrepreneur hailing from Kohima in Nagaland.
Runway Nagaland’s ‘Gou-lu’ tribal jewellery brand has made a visible mark in the fashion world and the startup has shown healthy growth in the past three-four years, with a revenue of `40-67 lakh. “Nagaland is well known for its creativity and craftsmanship, but we didn’t have any systematic way of doing business. I took the opportunity… and based on my favourite quote ‘Winners don’t do different things, they do things differently’, I created Runway Nagaland as a platform for our artisans,” says Hengna, a Delhi University alumna, who worked with Dabur India and HDFC Life in various capacities before starting her own venture.
However, it was never an easy journey. From people not taking a woman entrepreneur seriously to facing societal taboos and judgments to funding her business were some of the challenges that she faced while starting up. “I knew it’s difficult to sustain business in Nagaland due to many factors. So my focus was always to market our local products outside the State and this strategy has proven to be successful, mitigating other drawbacks,” she says.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic. “Business operations were badly affected due to the lockdown. So, for the moment, we are concentrating more on our social media presence and working on developing new designs. We have also taken up interior designing projects and training sessions,” she says.
Hengna also utilised the time in researching, experimenting with and understanding banana fibre, its usage and sustainable ways of harvesting it without harming nature. “With our new project on banana fibre, which is projected to make at least 35% profit within the first financial year, we are hopeful to break even by the third year. We have high hopes and are looking forward to 2021,” she says.
While working with various organisations in Delhi, Assam native Jitu Pegu realised that travellers were eager to know more about the North East and were ready to travel there, but were unable to do so due to lack of professionalism in the region. Safety is a major concern for hardcore adventure travellers, as they tend to venture out only where certified and trained professionals are available.
“There are high chances of diversion of tourist flow to this region,” says 35-year-old Pegu, a master’s degree holder in tourism and leisure with adventure tourism as specialisation from the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management in Noida. And so Pegu started his adventure travel company based in the North East with co-founder Supuraj Gogoi in 2016. “We specialise in cycling and trekking tours in this part of the country. Besides, we also do outdoor educational tours for school children and corporate outdoor training programmes,” says Pegu. Natventure, which was awarded the ‘Best Adventure Tour Operator’ of Assam in 2018-19 by the State Tourism Department, generates revenue mainly from cycling and outdoor educational trips. “In the next two years, we are planning to introduce water- and air-based activities to our itineraries,” explains Pegu.
So far, the co-founders have invested around Rs 20 lakh, a majority of which was spent on equipment and product development. Natventure has just completed its third operational year. While it made a transaction of around Rs 8 lakh in the first year, it increased to Rs 13.5 lakh in the third, adds Pegu.  “We have handled international travellers, but our main target group is the domestic adventure traveller. Within India, our clients are mainly from Delhi, Karnataka, West Bengal and Maharashtra,” adds 43-year-old co-founder Gogoi, who graduated from Gauhati University (To be contd)