Kiran Bala Choudhry comes from Ganjam, Odisha. She was born to a well-established family and lived with her parents and younger brother. Her father was a government official, giving them a lifestyle of comfort and happiness. Unfortunately, the happiness was too short-lived for the girl. At the age of nine, Kiran lost her father and the entire responsibility of raising two very young children fell on her mother, now a single parent. To say it was an uphill task would be an understatement.
Nine-year-old Kiran became her mother’s ally in raising her younger brother, as it pans out in our country. Though she was always very ambitious and interested in her studies, her brother, being the only male member in the family now, came first. After she cleared her higher secondary examinations, she was informed that only one of the two siblings could attend college. And so, Kiran sacrificed her college education for her brother.
Not just that, as soon as Kiran turned eighteen, her mother forced her into getting married as well. For Kiran, this meant an end for all her dreams and ambitions. But she did not quite give up yet. Her husband was a small businessman and with him, she moved to Bhubaneswar and bore two children. Despite the pressures of domestic life, she kept trying to complete her graduation. But her in-laws were too conservative to let her go through with her plan.
Sensing her dejection, her husband extended a supportive arm. He encouraged her to join him in running his small eatery together. Kiran was happy to utilise her time doing something fruitful and accepted the proposal, gaining valuable experience, and developing management skills in the process. Her dreams were making their way back to her, again.
Things took an interesting turn in 2020 when with the onset of the pandemic, her husband’s business collapsed, and it became very difficult for him to manage household expenses. Kiran saw matters spiralling downwards and realised this was her chance to do something. After much discussion and brainstorming, she decided to start a new venture of her own – a facility to manufacture and process snacks.
Not one to waste time, Kiran started knocking on the doors of several banks to avail funds but was unsuccessful. Though she already had some pending working capital at Bank of India, banks were hesitant to give her a loan. They would ask for collaterals and other paperwork which Kiran found difficult to provide. During this process of facing rejection after rejection, one of her friends suddenly informed her about the BYST-FCDO Youth Entrepreneurship Program. BYST provided her with a two-day EDP training programme, post which her loan of Rs. 23 lakhs was processed from the State Bank of India. She used the funds to purchase the pieces of machinery and raw material.
BYST also assigned a mentor to Kiran. Mr. Rajwardhan Dhoul Mahapatra, Kiran’s mentor, became her friend, philosopher, and guide, monitoring her progress and supporting her with expert advice on the production process, loan repayment, subsidies, market analysis etc. He mentored on several things, from the importance of maintaining the quality of her products to fixing the rates of the eatables. He also helped her to confidently address the questions related to the pricing of her products. Kiran expanded her business under the name of ‘Som Veg’ and came up with a complete packaging solution as well.
Som Veg manufactures a range of snacks like, sew bhaji, ghantia, mixture etc. Kiran focuses on maintaining quality and taste for the eatables she manufactures. Currently, she manufactures three varieties of snacks targeted to customers from different segments. They also run a flour mill aided by the Pulverizer (milling machine) that Kiran purchased. The differentiator for Som Veg snacks is the usage of the besan from her own milling machine. This besan is pure unlike the adulterated version used by other products.
She sells the products from the counter of her hotel. She also supplies to various grocery stores and snacks stores in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. A hardworking entrepreneur, she visited every store personally to get the orders. The attractive packaging she uses also helps appeal to customers. Starting just in April 2021, Kiran is already earning a monthly turnover of INR 3 lakhs today, eyeing a yearly turnover of INR 20 lakhs. Her loan repayments are regular, and her financial records are updated diligently. She is now focused on expanding her business to four districts of Odisha.
While it just seems like the little ambitious girl whose dreams were put on the backburner is finally turning her dreams into reality, the reality is different. Kiran is working so hard, not just to fulfil her own dreams, but also to ensure that many more unfulfilled dreams like hers find a way to materialize. She wants to become a job creator for people from marginal backgrounds, especially women. For her, business expansion means the opportunity to create more employment. She has taken up the taks of motivating many young women around her, especially those living in the nearby slums, working as maids, earning paltry amounts in return of their hard work. Kiran wants to create opportunities for them through her business. Just the way BYST showed faith in her abilities and supported her venture, she wants to be able to discover the potential of women around her.
“Our society treats women as the weaker sex, pushing them into the homemaker role. But I want other women to know that its not true. I am an example of that. Though I struggled a lot, I did become an entrepreneur. There may have been other business opportunities for me, but I chose this one to be able to engage more women employees,” she says.
The hallmark of a progressive society is the way it treats its women, including women entrepreneurs. While a lot has been achieved, instances of patriarchy, discrimination and lack of independence still shackle potential women entrepreneurs in the country.
Kiran’s efforts towards her independence and achievement have inspired many. Limited resources and conventional views can make starting up as a woman in small towns in India a tough task, but Kiran never minded these factors as her obstacles. India is brimming with talented women who can contribute a huge amount of wealth to the country’s economy, and empower others along the way, Kiran is one of them and we are proud to have her as our entrepreneur.