Ten young aspiring entrepreneurs will bring their business solutions to the table to solve the challenges created by COVID-19 pandemic.
Loden Foundation in partnership with UNDP has selected 10 entrepreneurs and they will address emerging challenges posed by the Covid-19 through agricultural production, job creation, or tackling new needs using innovation, technology and nature-based solutions.
Entrepreneurs can avail loan amount maximum of Nu 1.5mn from the Loden-UNDP Bhutan Covid Response Fund. It is interest-free and no collateral is required.
UNDP Bhutan and Loden Foundation teamed up to roll out this special funding window as a part of efforts to support the government’s round-the-clock response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Executive Director of Loden, Phuntsho Namgay said that the impact on the global economy including on Bhutan as well and young startups has been seen.
“With limited funding we had, we managed to support 10 out of 95 business ideas. From the 10 entrepreneurs, seven are in the agriculture sector – particularly vegetable production and three are in other areas of education and logistics to support social distancing.”
“These ten proposals are timely and important because all of them address challenges to COVID-19 in a prompt and effective manner such as supply of fresh vegetables, supplementing the efforts of the government in ensuring continuity of education and maintaining social distancing,” he said.
He mentioned that in addition, the support was given to most determined individuals who, given their experience, were in a position to start their projects immediately. For instance, it’s been less than a month and all the projects are already underway.
He said that supporting entrepreneurship at such time, they are creating an opportunity for the country to be less reliant on other countries and be able to innovate and come up with solutions of in home turf.
He said entrepreneurs are coming up with solutions using digital tools to create platform for education to continue despite temporary closure of schools, creating mobile phone apps to maintain social distancing and do contact tracing if there is a community outbreak. They are also producing using local raw materials including vegetables to substitute import.
An amount of Nu 7.6mn has been invested on the 10 entrepreneurs.
The founder of Druk Kha Ray, Dargay, 27, from Wangduephodrang said that during COVID- 19 pandemic, there has been an increase in demand for face masks therefore to meet the demand; he came with the idea of making face mask with local cloths and fiber. As a tailor, making face masks is right up his alley.
He said that he is planning to supply free facemask to elderly people and children in three gewogs of Wangduephodrag. In each gewog he will supply more than 100 facemasks.
In a day he can produce more than 50 facemasks. It costs Nu 35 to Nu 25 each.
“I hope my contribution will help reduce the import of face masks and in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
The founder of Thunder Dragon Horticulturists, Eupel Dakini Dorji said that they have taken up a new project which is vegetable dehydration and products made from such dehydrated vegetables.
She is a passionate agriculturist and runs an all-women farming business called the ‘Bhutanese Thunder Dragon Horticulturists’ based in Thimphu. Her business focuses on dehydrating vegetables.
She said that vegetables are perishables. It has very short shelf life. “Since at present, we have access to our own local produce along with the Indian produced vegetables, I am taking this as a precaution measure to dehydrate vegetables and package them and make them available in the market.”
“Dehydrated vegetables have a very long shelf life. My family dehydrates vegetables for consumption and it even lasts for two years,” she said. She said that there is a huge wastage of vegetables when farmers or sellers are unable to sell all the produce. “If we can dehydrate these surplus produce, then it would ensure there is no wastage of food.”Through the Loden-UNDP COVID-19 Response Fund support, Eupel and her team will scale up their business using high-tech equipment. Besides vegetables, the team will now dehydrate fruits and mushrooms. The team plans to distribute their products to schools as a part of their social responsibility.
The founder of the Eco-Villa Garden, Ngawang Tenzin, said that they are running family group farming, in Sershu Wang Bama village, under Gene gewog, Thimphu. He said although they wanted to do mass farming, due to lack of irrigation system and other required amenities they had to leave most part of their land fallow.
Hequit his spa therapist job to become a farmer in 2017. Together with his father, a retired civil servant with experience in the agriculture sector, Ngawang is scaling up his farming business through the Loden-UNDP COVID-19 Response Fund support.They will grow vegetables on almost 10 acres of land in Thimphu. The two will use part of the fund support to invest in an automated greenhouse that’s equipped with technology to control temperature for better and higher yield.
Eco-Villa Garden joint family aim to substantiate food supply by working harder to plough all remaining fallow land into food production not only until liquidation of loan but will continue its diversification through innovation and adapting other best modern technology and combat mass imports in the long run.
The founder of Druk Waste Management, a social enterprise which provides waste management service in Paro from quarantine centers, Ugyen Dorji, 33, said that they work closely with Paro Dzongkhag and its community to keep the valley clean.
“We collect almost five tons of garbage daily from hotels, resorts, airport, business entities and few households,” he said.
He said that they also manage the only landfill in Paro and recover at least 20 tons of reusable and recyclable resources from landfill in a month. Apart from these, they also engage in social services, clean up campaigns and advocacy programs.
He said as most of their clients are the hospitality industry in Paro.
The founder of Kinnleymo Horticulture, Kinley Mo, said that she will grow organic vegetables in large scale and supply in the market to substitute import from India.
The single mother of two has been in the small-scale farming business for two decades now. She is now ready to take up large scale farming to help meet the increasing demand for vegetables in the wake of COVID-19 situation.
Meanwhile, Sangay Needup, 29, based in Thimphu, has started Bhutan Smart Shop since April 2018. It deals with collection of fruits and vegetables from local producers and delivers to vendors at their store besides distributing directly to consumers.
With the outbreak of the pandemic in the country, he has initiated Vegetables on Wheels to deliver the essentials vegetables to the consumers to prevent gatherings. Kamana Gurung, 33, has started PK organic farming at Samtenthang in Sarpang in 2018, with an area of 7.46 from the support of the organic flagship program. This year, she extended her farm area with the land of 3.26acres. Though she has completed BA in English Honors she takes an interest in farming.
“In this situation, we are giving the highest priority to farming than other activities. We want to produce more vegetables to contribute in import substitutions with chemical free products,” she said.
Through the support of Loden-UNDP Bhutan, she plans to construct a water reservoir for the benefit of all. It will help her to grow more vegetables, which will contribute towards meeting the demand for locally grown vegetables as imported vegetables are to arrive due to COVID-19 restriction measures.
Rigpah is a virtual learning environment (VLE) initiated by Namkhar Degyal Gyeltshen, an entrepreneur based at Thimphu. VLE offers learning resources of different subjects at very affordable rates. As an online learning platform, the resources are available on their website which allows users to study topics of interest.
“My vision is to facilitate learning in a more interactive and immersive way, with the latest technology and information to provide excellent educational material to everyone,” he said.
He said they are providing free courses for all the students till the end of a year so that they can continue with their courses. “As students are in difficult times, we think Rigpah can help them to make a difference.”
Through the funding, they are structuring courses with high content, exercises, and animation for all grades. “Currently we have courses for class IX to XII. With the help of the funding we’re trying to come up with more courses for lower classes,” he said.
Tenzin Wangdi, 28, is a farmer based at Thinleygang, Punakha. He had established Apaza organic farm in 2019, with support from his family. “We practices different vegetables with the idea of mechanization over physical effort,” he said.
“To be self-sufficient in food supply is the important thing and if I can make the youths passionate and willing to take up agriculture I would feel like my work has been accomplished.”
He has taken land on lease and is working towards employing and developing more infrastructures for food sustainability with the aid of the Loden-UNDP Bhutan. “This has taken us a lot of time but now we are able to work like we envisioned.”
Greener Way, an integrated waste management business based in Thimphu, initiated by Karma Yonten since 2010, also focuses on recycling and diversion of waste from the landfill.
“All the quarantine waste are safely collected, treated and disposed of. The collection and disposal of quarantine waste in Thimphu is being managed by us,” he said.
With only one vehicle for the transport of quarantine waste, it was difficult and time consuming for them. Waste is collected every day, taking up to 12 to14 hours a day. From the support fund they were able to afford one more vehicle that will help in collection and disposal of quarantine waste.
Dechen Dolkar & Tenzin Lhamo from Thimphu