Graduate from college and look for a job. That's the drill, right? Wrong. For this group of 20-something women, the next natural step has been turning entrepreneur. Divya Kumar and Anusha Parthasarathy take a look at what drives these young businesswomen who dare to dream big.
Mansi Hemdev (23)
Company: Ox and Tomato
USP: Hand-stretched pizzas and lip-smacking desserts
It's hard to believe that Mansi Hemdev is only 23 and she's already been in the food business for two years. “I graduated from college and worked for a year-and-a-half. My parents had a property on St. Mary's Road, which was a commercial space. So I decided to do something with it. Sandesh from Sandy's helped me set up Karma Café and there it began. We are a franchise of Sandy's and get our desserts from there,” she says.
The café has recently undergone a makeover and has emerged as a neighbourhood pizzeria — Ox and Tomato. “The café was so named because ox refers to buffalo cheese, which usually goes into pizzas, while tomato is a universal ingredient,” says the entrepreneur, adding, “we make thin-crust pizzas and take pride in our quick service. We want this place to be like a neighbourhood pizzeria where people just drop in between lunch and dinner to have a snack.”
What's next? Revamp Ox and Tomato's menu and think of opening more outlets.
Pavithra Muthalagan (almost 25) and Divya Kymal (25)
Company: JointFamily Design (Logos, branding, brochures and murals)
USP: Uncluttered design
JointFamily Design was started by two undergraduate classmates, who went their own ways, had stints in advertising and quit their jobs at the same time. “JointFamily Design was just a silly name suggested by a friend, but we thought it would work well in the long run,” laughs Divya Kymal. “Pavithra and I decided we didn't want to pursue careers in advertising but continue with art. So, we became graphic designers.”
Started in April last year, the twenty-somethings say it wasn't all that difficult to get the brand going. “When we started, we would do some work for free and ask for our logo to be placed visibly. We then collaborated with theatre groups in the city and did artwork for them free of cost. This helped spread the word about our brand; it grew by word of mouth,” says Pavithra Muthalagan.
What's next: “There is no graphic design movement as such in Chennai. People usually assume that graphic designers are in advertising,” explains Pavithra, while Divya adds, “we'd like to meet others like us and do something to promote graphic design because when people want logos, they go to Mumbai or other places. We're also thinking of organising an exhibition in our office where we could sell merchandise.”
Nikkita Talreja (22) and Archana Ravindran (23)
Company: Yukti (wedding and party planners)
USP: Fresh ideas and youthful enthusiasm (think ‘Shaadi Mubarak' from the Bollywood hit film “Band Baaja Barat”)
These two young journalism graduates sure don't believe in wasting time. Just a month after they passed out of college, they started Yukti in a small office, off Pantheon Road. That was two years ago. Since then, they've done about 40 events including weddings, theme parties and corporate events.
“Weddings are our passion, but since they are seasonal, we do other events to gain experience,” says Nikkita.
So why wedding planning? “We both wanted to something on our own, and we felt there the business of wedding planning had huge potential in Chennai,” she says. “Besides, it's rather like we're getting married each time,” smiles Archana. “We plan for months for that perfect moment when it all comes together.”
However, youth can be a double-edged sword, at times, for Chennai's own ‘Band Baaja Barat' pair. “When parents meet us for the first time, they're often sceptical — they want to hire someone older,” says Archana. “But once we click with a particular family, they tell others about us and this has worked really well for us,” says Nikkita.
What's Next: Building the Yukti brand in the city. “We wouldn't mind achieving the sort of success ‘Shaadi Mubarak' did in three hours in our third year!” laughs Nikkita.
Pavitra Mohan (27)
Company: Masala Chai (jewellery, accessories, magnets, coffee mugs, T-shirts and more)
USP: Designer desi kitsch, with plenty of colour, attitude and style
It all began with a blog. When art management student Pavitra returned from Singapore after completing her degree three-and-a-half years ago, she started a blog ‘Masala Chai' featuring little-known, but cutting-edge contemporary artists across South Asia.
“I wanted space online to showcase the contemporary ‘brown aesthetic' from the region,” she says. “I'd disappear into my room for days, to do research on obscure artists — it was just a passion. I had no plans of doing retail then.”
Cut to a few years later, and Pavitra was at a crossroads in her art management career. That's when Ashvin Rajagopalan, good friend and owner of Ashvita Art Gallery suggested she open a store.
“Just for a lark, I went online and asked some of the artists I'd featured if they could send me some of their work, explaining that I was starting with no capital and couldn't pay them upfront,” she says. “To my surprise, they agreed!”
The store was launched in November last year at Ashvita, and the rest, as they say, is history. “I scour the country for designers — not big names, but the small guys who come up with cool, interesting stuff,” she says.
What's Next: Develop the Masala Chai blog into a web magazine, and open an online store.