Three teams of students from Royal Thimphu College (RTC) will represent their college and country in the much-coveted Mekong Business Challenge (MBC) 2017-2018, which is scheduled on March 17 next year in Thimphu.
RTC has been chosen as the host this year in the wake of the college’s strong performance for the last two consecutive years in the MBC, which is the leading annual entrepreneurship competition for university students involving teams from the Mekong region, which includes Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan Province, China.
Two teams from RTC first represented Bhutan in the MBC in 2016. They competed in the Round Two in March in Cambodia in 2016, where 11 entries then were selected from around 100 entries from seven countries. Team Bhutan Interlocking Bricks came second and bagged the silver medal, while the other team, Menjong Pasta, secured the 4th position.
And in 2017, a team of Bhutanese students from RTC won the silver medal at the annual MBC Challenge for the second time in the final round held in Myanmar on March 11, 2017 for its business model called “Gladden Gulli” – an enterprise based on value-added avocado products made in Bhutan.
Competing for the third time, a lecturer from RTC, who has been mentoring the students along with three other mentors from the college for the past few years, Madhav Verma, said the teams have already launched their products for the upcoming competition and have received positive feedbacks.
Another RTC lecturer-and-mentor, Victor Gurung, said he is amazed by the ideas from the teams and that it was a positive development towards entrepreneurship in the country.
For the MBC in 2018, three teams from RTC-Bhutan team will present the final business models of their entrepreneurial ventures – ‘Guram’, ‘Shogjur-happiness is recycling’, and ‘Yukim’ wine.
The Guram team members, Deepsika Chhetri, Phuntshok Dechen Yangchen and Tashi Darjey (all pursuing B. Com Finance in second year) will present their business model called ‘Guram’, a candy-making business with a version of Bhutan’s own produced candies with 40% sugar and 60% organic honey. The Bhutanese candies also come with special ingredient called ‘piper pedicellatum’, which is also known as an anti-aging agent.
Deepsikha Chhetri said their motive is not only to start a business, but also to help the farmers by encouraging them to cultivate herbs, honey and sugar cane. The team members hope to substitute the imported candies imported from other countries.
“In future, we hope to diversify our candies with different flavors. There is market for lollipops and energy bar and we hope to try our venture into these products also,” she said, adding that ‘Guram’ with the slogan ‘Happiness in your mouth’ is all about social venture with the commitment to produce healthy candies for the consumers. The very first product of the team is caramel square, priced at Nu 5 per piece that comes wrapped neatly in a transparent plastic with the logo.
‘Shogjur-happiness is recycling’ is the second unique business model of Chhimi Dema, Nima Khandu (both pursuing B. Com Finance) and Sherab Choden Dorji (BBA in Marketing) that will turn waste papers into commercially valuable jewelries and souvenirs. They will make their entry in the list of handicrafts.
According to them, handicrafts products are the most purchased items by tourists visiting the country, but not all are Bhutanese made. Many of the products are purchased from outside and sold as Bhutanese souvenirs. The main objective of the team is to curb the growing issue of waste management in the country by recycling waste.
Having learned to design necklaces, earrings, bracelets and miniature of Chortens, the team members plan to teach the art of designing to Bhutanese women to empower them and give them a source of income. The products are given more of a traditional touch to give the feel of Bhutan. The team has also kept a special basket in schools, printing shops and offices where people can dump papers.
‘Yukim’ wine is, meanwhile, the third business idea of Choni Selden with Sonam Tshokey and Neema Tamang. They intend to manufacture low alcohol wine from fruits such as plum, pineapple, pomegranates and pears in traditional ways.
Talking about how the idea occurred, Choni Selden, who hails from Trongsa, said, “During my childhood days I saw fruit trees around, but with the passing of years, I saw those trees being felled due to uneconomical gains. Then an idea to save the trees came up with using fruits as ingredients for the wine.”
“It is not only about business but it is also a way of helping the farmers back home to profit from their yields,” she added. The raw materials used are mainly fruits, yeast, KMS and sugar. However, the bottles are being imported from Bangladesh due to the cheaper rate compared to India. The team intends to start up their production unit in Bumthang and gradually expand their business after collaborating with the farmers around the country.
“As of now we just want to begin with soft production while we are still in the college and experience the taste of entrepreneurship,” Choni Selden said.
Lecturer-and-mentor Madhav Verma said what makes their idea (Yukim wine) unique is that the materials used for their products are from Bhutan except for the bottles for the wine. In fact, it is 100% made in Bhutan. There are no resource constraints for them except that they lack funding and they are hoping for small funding to carry out their business further.
Madhav Verma added that these students have been working hard for the past one year and some of them are still in the fields working despite their vacation. “It shows their dedication and seriousness towards their business ideas,” he said.
Meanwhile, there were 24 ideas in total out of which 14 teams had pitched their video presentations and six teams were selected, and during the video presentation round three teams were finally selected for the final round in the upcoming competition. Nine teams will contest in the final which will be held at RTC. The winning student will receive an all-expense-paid trip to US to compete in the International Business Model Competition in early May 2018.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu