It is a great accomplishment for a private sector firm to employ over 500 people in a state that has been plagued by five decades of militancy, and that has a recorded 7,54,000 educated and unemployed youth as of 2011.
Manipur’s Thangjam Agro Industries, helmed by Thangjam Joykumar, who started his business in Imphal in 1991 with just four employees, has achieved this and made it profitable too, with an annual turnover of Rs 15 crore.
With the state failing to create enough jobs, most young people have left Manipur to seek employment elsewhere in India, and abroad.
However, some far-sighted individuals with an inclination towards entrepreneurship have succeeded in bringing about a change.
The journey to establish Thangjam Agro as a small scale industry began in 1991, when Thangjam Joykumar realized the potential of the humble pineapple, a fruit widely available all across Manipur.
In fact, Manipur happens to be the second largest producer of pineapple in the country. The visionary entrepreneur started his venture at Chingmeirong in Imphal, where he and his four employees started retrieving and packaging juice from pineapples.
At first, Joykumar used to sell pineapple juice from his courtyard, just informally, by himself – but then he decided to turn this into a formal business.
He received Rs 5 lakh from Manipur Industrial Development Corporation (MANIDCO) and Rs 1.5 lakh from Imphal Urban Co-operative bank as loans to start up.
With a total investment of nearly Rs 10 lakh, Joykumar started the business which then had an annual turnover of around Rs 4 lakh.
“There was not much momentum in the business for the first four or five years,” says Joykumar. “During those days, I used to drive a Jeep, taking the juice products for sale around the city and far-flung areas myself.”
Eventually he introduced Likla, his brand that offered packaged drinking water and bakery items, apart from fruit juice and other beverages.
Literally meaning ‘dew drops’, under the brand Likla, Joykumar now produces more than 1,000 tonne processed food and drink products annually, including bottled pineapple juice with which Joykumar began his venture.
Today, Likla claims to hold the largest market share in Manipur in the business of packaged water and fruit juices, and Thangjam Agro Industries also exports 10 tonnes of pineapple juice to Kerala annually.
The industry runs for at least 300 days a year, the staff working 12 hours a day in three shifts. A workaholic himself, Joykumar works nonstop, through weekends.
In 2010, he steered the company through a massive expansion project, financed by Bank of Baroda, Imphal with venture capital assistance from Small Farmers’ Agri-Business Consortium, New Delhi.
“We established a manufacturing plant at Nilakuthi Food Park complex, located 7 km from Imphal,” he says.
Speaking about difficulties and hurdles at the beginning, the soft spoken entrepreneur said he had faced severe marketing and logistical problems during the initial stages, in the 1990s.
“Frequent economic blockade along the NH-27, which passes through Nagaland and is the major lifeline of Manipur, along with periodic general strikes in the state by various organisations, made it difficult to work,” explains Joykumar.
Irregular power supply used to be another main disturbance, as 90% of power requirement was harnessed from generators – only 10% was covered by the state’s power supply.
“In the last few years, however, the situation has improved,” says Joykumar with relief, “we have better power supply now.”
Joykumar always wanted to do his own business. He was inspired by his late father Th Birachandra.
“My father ran a grocery shop and sometimes used to sell local handloom products to neighbouring states like Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh,” he recalls. “His job motivated local weavers.”
He took the decision to start an agro-based industry that gives employment to locals on his journey back home after completing his Master’s in Economics from Bhopal University in 1983.
He wanted to start his business even earlier, after his graduation in Business Management from Mysore University, but, he listened to his elder brothers and pursued a master’s degree. Joykumar is the seventh of 10 siblings and his elder brothers had a big role to play in his life.
“It wasn’t as easy as I had thought,” he smiles, “and in the beginning I had to settle for running a ready-made garment shop but I started my venture as soon as I could.”
For his outstanding contribution to India’s economy through the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector, in 2010, the Chamber of Small Industry Association (COSIA) honoured Joykumar with the Entrepreneurship Appreciation Award.
Joykumar is also the recipient of Best Production Award by the All Manipur Art and Culture Sports Development Society and the Governor’s Trophy for Best Entrepreneur, 2012.
He says the net investment for 2016 was nearly Rs 10 crore, with financial assistance received from North East Industrial Development Finance Corporation and State Bank of India.
“The company was able to achieve a turnover of Rs 15 crore,” he says.
In his early 50s, Joykumar is glad to see the growing industrial sector in Manipur, which can today substitute various imported products with locally manufactured products.
“Once upon a time packaged drinking water was at the top of the list of imported items but now nearly all of it has been substituted with state production,” says Joykumar.
At Thangjam Agro Industries, 98 per cent employees are locals, including technicians and machine operators, and 70 per cent of the staff is female, which Joykumar thinks is a reflection of how spirited and empowered Manipuri women are.
The entrepreneur now plans to establish a child care centre within the plant’s premises so that married women employees can bring their children, who will be taken care of by trained nurses.
“Manipur is a virgin land for aspiring entrepreneurs, there is a lot of scope,” says Joykumar, encouraging youngsters to come out and realise their dreams.
Source: The Weekend Leader