I don’t want to begin this piece by using the phrase “sun, sand, and sea” in a pathetic attempt to introduce Goa but unfortunately, that’s exactly how many understand the place. Alas, cliches, it seems, are cliches for a reason. We might know of Goa for its water sports, annual music concert every December, cheap alcohol or possibly for its hidden treasures that only come alive during its off-season monsoon showers. But beyond its sandy beaches and glorious sunsets, an underground revolution has been unfolding – one that’s being led by some of the most creative minds this country will ever see.
Goa has recently emerged as a hotbed for contemporary startups that are willing to take the plunge. From environmentally conscious fashion boutiques and concept stores to quirky hostels and even quirkier ateliers, the region has seen the growth of many new entrants determined to stray away from conventional industries and explore newer horizons instead.
We’re not sure if it’s the intermingling of culture and commerce or the economic benefits that the state seems to offer, but there’s definitely some ambition floating around in the Goa breeze. So here they are, chronicled and compartmentalised. Contemporary, creative ventures that are out to create a space for themselves.
I. Tea Trunk
India’s first Tea Sommelier Snigdha Manchanda started out like any other entrepreneur – bootstrapped and looking for ways to adequately fund her start up. “It’s why I moved base to Goa after being born and brought up in Mumbai,” she says. “I moved so that I could start my own homemade tea company called Teatrunk.in with low overheads and cost of appreciation, which is something you can’t do in Mumbai.”
In 2013, Snigdha started Tea Trunk as a primarily e-commerce store. Today she ships not just across 250 locations in India but also to her international audience. Tea Trunk works directly with the farmers to make unique tea blends, not just in terms of flavours but health as well. “I have always focused on bringing the most unique tea experiences from around the world to the Indian audience. Because even though, in India, we make some of the finest tea, we still don’t have a strong tea brand as such”, she tells us.
It was Snigdha’s education in Sri Lanka, where she studied tea blending, that opened up her world to the myriad possibilities that tea has to offer. “It’s the kind of blends we do that makes us stand out.” Looking back, Snigdha only wishes she could change one thing and that’s exactly what she would advice emerging entrepreneurs, “I used to spend a lot of time just wondering about whether or not I should approach this person for collaboration. Instead, I wish I’d just picked up the phone and found out for myself.”
II. Terra Conscious
After studying Biodiversity, Conservation & Management form the University of Oxford and working with prestigious animal non-profit organisations, it was only natural for Puja Mitra to channel all her knowledge and creativity into setting up her own venture called “Terra conscious”—a conservation-oruented social impact enterprise based in Goa, that offers responsible marines and coastal travel experiences by working with local communities.
“We started in February 2017, and it was basically born out of a need to address gaps that I had observed during my time at WWF-India, where we found that there was a need to transform the existing dolphin watching industry in Goa into being more responsible, ethical and sensitive to the marine species on which it depends. The current style of dolphin watching being practiced in Goa is by and large detrimental to the safety and conservation of the focal species.” says Puja, who co-found the enterprise with her husband Roshan Gonsalves.
Having left behind the nine-to-five lifestyle, Puja’s life, ever since Terra Conscious happened, has looked very different, “Marine tourism is seasonal in Goa and runs only from November to May, so during that time we would be out on a dolphin watching/diving trip in the morning, followed by an outreach activity in the evening. During the offseason we work on our capacity building programmes, workshops, outreach events etc.”, she shares. Her advice to budding entrepreneurs would be: “Just be patient and follow every opportunity and lead that may come your way. Stay true to your passion and focus on the quality of your work, rest will follow.”
III. The Village Studio
Laila Vaziralli first moved to Goa to do something she loved – paint. She felt attracted to the greenery, the silence, and the abundance of goan fish thaalis. However, what she discovered was a lack of art space that was welcoming to emerging artists and a wider audience. So she went ahead and created one herself by launching The Village Studio in September 2017. “The Village Studio is set in a sleepy village in Parra, it’s where I live too. I started it because I wanted to be more hands-on with my life, cooking, creating, gardening, making coffee and engaging with people.”, she says.
The Village Studio has two parts to it: an all-day cafe that serves home cooked healthy food along with a bar, and a studio that has two rooms which can be rented out by people. It’s also on AirBnB and for artists and creative professionals looking to rent it out on a long-term basis, they also offer discounts. Along with this, the studio also presents musicians every Friday and hosts talks, movie screenings, book launches, dance and theatre performances.
A typical day for Laila looks something like this, “I get to the café by 9am, greeted by cats and dogs. Coffee is always first on the agenda, in the garden. The rest of the day is a mix of cooking for customers, buying fresh fish, baking, interacting with guests.”
And although that sounds so much like a dream (for me at least), Laila can’t help but share the difficulties that pop-up every now and then. “Goa comes with unique challenges, staff for one. Most people stay for the season and leave when it rains, or are in Goa for a ‘break’ from the city. Starting a business on my own wasn’t easy too, I self funded it, and that comes with limitations and challenges. I had to be really creative to work within a small budget.”
Her advice to budding creative minds would be to collaborate as much as they can, even before they’ve built a brand. “Go out there and meet people, partner with people who have experience, it makes a big difference when you share responsibilities. I plan to do more of this.”
Alternative views in the areas of culture, politics, environment, business, art and music are the forerunners of change and progress – yet discerning them continues to remain a challenge. A Goa-based venture called ‘thus’ is doing exactly that. Founded by Nilankur Das, thus curates programs that strengthen the connection between artistic practices and social activism, by encouraging participation and engagement through spaces that promote constant exchanging and evolving of ideas. From live gigs, talks, presentations, to film screenings, theater, and performances, thus tries to bring together the best of creativity that might often go unnoticed in the real world.
A typical day for Nilankur involves brainstorming and coming up with content ideas, and coordinating with his fellow team members. However, it is the “sharp content” that makes thus stand out from the crowd. In fact, Nilankur is a big believer of the fact that the customer/consumer is in fact the ‘king’. “That audience is intelligent and we need to constantly keep up to the expectations”, he says.
When asked about who he thinks would be the ideal mascot for his venture, his answer is crisp but unlike what we usually hear: “I believe mascot/ idea of mascot will be evolving with time, right now it is Father Bismarque.”
With feet firmly grounded in crafts, sustainable practices and an understanding of where the world is headed, Paper Boat Collective was founded as a platform to showcase works of talented designers from India in 2013 by Bhagyashree Patwardhan, an NID graduate who has worked immensely in the contemporary design and branding space. “ Paper Boat Collective was the culmination of my 15-year art & design journey. It’s a unique concept lifestyle store, showcasing diverse handmade products that portray a contemporary and responsible India”, says Bhagyashree.
But Paperboat is not just a concept lifestyle store; it is one that showcases products by Indian talent across multiple categories. In fact, everything sold here is made using natural or organic materials that contibute to the modern way of living.
Bhagyashree has a keen eye when it comes to curating a selection of products that reflect the perfect contemporary aesthetic that seamlessly blends in with our everyday life. But it’s her undying belief in herself and her ideas and thoughts that has got her through the worst of times, even when it felt like everything would come crashingg down. “I am a creative entrepreneur. My strength lies in creative thinking, I do things differently and I feel for them a lot more than people governed more with a business mindset. Understanding the running of a business, weighing the pros and cons of emotion led versus analytical decisions and finding the right balance was a tough journey.”, she tells us.
Five years into this journey, she has managed to put various systems in place which now gives her the chance to focus more on the growth aspect of her work. But even then, she swears by one word always — “believe”.
As someone hailing from a background of art and music, Dinesh Garg never imagined himself as a sports person, let alone a ‘combat’ sport person. But fate works in fascinating ways. It was a chance encounter that led Dinesh to enter the world of Capoeira, a combat sport that has served as a cultural bridge between Africa and Brazil during the colonial era.
Once he had developed an interest in the game, there was absolutely no stopping him. “Once I moved to Goa in 2013, I started teaching Capoeira just to keep myself in practice. Two years later, two of my friends – Sucuri and Chico along with Mestre Chicote of CDO Paris, helped establish the group Capoeira de Ouro Mumbai. So it was only natural for us to come together and make the sport grow in Goa as well”, Dinesh tells us.
But trying to promote such a niche sport is not a cake walk. In a country that barely understands contemporary sports dynamics, taking up a martial art and making people aware about it is quite a big challenge. And once you bring in the commercial aspect, things can get even more difficult.
“The biggest challenge we face is funding. Capoeira is only a decade old phenomenon in India, although its popularity as a fitness activity is growing, most of the senior and more experienced teachers live in Brazil, Europe and North America. To have these masters come and teach in India and to be able to actively involve our students from our social empowerment initiatives, we need sponsors for workshops and events, not just big businesses but even individual contributions and volunteering go a long way in keeping this group alive and kicking”, Dinesh tells us. But it’s the social impact and the value it adds to the lives of many children. Capoeira works with many underprivileged children and orphans in the country, keeping them from straying into the world of drugs, violence, and self-loathing.
VII. Goa Brewing Company
34-year-old Suraj Shenai never realised the amount of watered down lagers he had been consuming all his life until an opportune flight to the states, when he realised the beauty of authentic, flavorful craft beer.
Fast forward to his acquaintance with a scientist and colleague named Ash, “We hit it off and he believed in the idea of brewing beers that would challenge us both creatively and technically instead of brewing (wheat) beers that would be fast selling. We used to brew on the weekends in a homebrew kit and eventually scaled it up in a nano brewery”, says Suraj, who founded the Goa Brewing Company in 2017 to make exclusively non-conformist beers that rid craft beer of all its preconceived pretentiousness and focused greatly on customising it for a unique, flavourful experience.
But life at a brewery is quite different from what any of us might imagine. Suraj often begins his day as early as 5:30 am. “Brewing goes on till 1 am the following day. The whole team is in the brewery lending a hand as the work is very physical. On other days, I start at 9 am and the morning is spent checking beer.”
Regardless of such rigorous work hours, it’s Suraj’s passion that keeps him motivated, “You have to be really passionate about your product. It should be your undying desire to make the best product”. That and a profoundly worded quote by Herman Hesse, “Everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast” — because Suraj believes that there is a good chance one might have to do all three.
VIII. No Nasties
Interestingly, it was the unfortunate plight of farmer suicides that urged Apurva Kothari to take on the responsibility of becoming a socially conscious entrepreneur — something he felt most other brands were lacking. Armed with a sense of purpose and his wife, Shweta Deliwala’s support, he launched ‘No Nasties’ an organic clothing brand in 2011 in Mumbai. It’s only recently that No Nasties was relocated to the serene shores of Goa where Apurva found the perfect environment to grow even further.
Despite having shifted base, No Nasties continues to garner loyalists that come from world over as it sells primarily through it’s online website, with occasional pop-ups in Goa. In an interview with Herald Goa, Apurva says, “Our promise is that ‘No Nasties’ - no genetically modified (GMO) seeds, no carcinogenic pesticides, no toxic dyes and no unfair business practices goes into making our products. In fact. we believe in transparency and share our supply chain model. Our focus is on collaborating rather than competing.” In fact, their supply chain can be accessed anytime by anyone on their website.
But organic, eco-friendly alternatives are not all this couple has on its plate. Apurva and Shweta have recently launched a non-profit organisation as well — called ‘Once Upon A Doug’, which works to engage with and support women belonging to the cotton farming community in Vidarbha.
IX. The Goa Project
48-year-old Udhay Shankar N found The Goa Project in 2013, but his tryst with the world of entrepreneurship began much before that. He was a part of the first Indian startup to get Silicon Valley funding in 1998, followed by two stints in the Venture Capital space. However, his most-recent start-up, The Goa Project, is quite unlike anything he has done before. “An annual ‘unconference’ that happens in Goa, The Goa Project was born out of a series of conversations between the founding team on how to pull together interesting people across locations and backgrounds. From there, we have gathered a few hundred of the most interesting people in the world 5 times in a row, this being the sixth year of The Goa Project.”, he explains.
What makes the organisation stand out is how it curates interesting people across backgrounds and helps them converse and collaborate with each other. Regardless, challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Being an all-volunteer run organisation probably being the biggest one. “Putting together a team that is distributed across the country, with just volunteers, is the biggest logistical challenge. Making sure everyone’s motivation is high and relationships within the team are strong is the only way to pull it off”, he shares. “I think my mascot would be an eagle that soars free.”
The fact that while running an organisation like The Goa Project that functions in such a dynamic environment means that there is not such thing as a “typical day” for him. Each day begins with a different set of hurdles to overcome and ends with even more fulfilling learnings. His one advice to budding entrepreneurs would be just this: “In my time as an entrepreneur, I’ve learnt that if you build, they will come. All you have to do is focus on validation of the problem you are solving first, before building anything.”
X. And So
While home decor is always a treat for the eye, not everyone possesses the kind of skill and knack it requires. And hiring an interior designer to do up your room too doesn’t always seem like the most affordable option. But with this new furniture store opening up in Goa, those worries are going to be put to bed very soon.
Anjali Mody’s flagship store located in Porvorim in Goa was set up with the idea of selling not just furniture but entire interior designs that people could walk in, choose, and take home immediately. Working with quirky brands like Art & Found, Botl etc., And So is Anjali’s attempt of bringing a certain ease to shopping that normally doesn’t exist. Here, people and come and shop for everything they need under one roof – they can even pack up entire rooms if they’d like!
Affordability is of course a huge part of Anjali’s venture. As someone who has been associated with the industry for almost 8 years, she wants to bring in that factor of accessibility by ensuring that things fall within a certain price range and don’t go overboard like most bespoke furniture stores.
We’ve all heard of people and places trying to minimise waste but Ecoposro, in Goa, is taking that idea to whole different level by not creating waste at all!
India’s first ‘Zero Waste Grocery Store’, Ecoposro is the brainchild of Jonah and Eldridge. A homely little shop tucked into a quaint hamlet in Parra, Ecoposro not only sells organic products but also handpicks the vendors and suppliers it works with, ensuring that there is no waste generated in the supply chain. “For example, our vegetables come from a vendor who only packs using cloth or jute sacks. Being fussy about no plastic from source has made it more difficult for us, but the satisfaction is overwhelming”, they tell Homegrown.
From providing ample parking space right next to the store to selling glass bottles and jars which can be brought back for a 50% refund to home delivering groceries — Ecoposro is trying every possible method to tackle waste generation without letting it affect the cost of their products. But in the long-run, Eldridge and Jonah have a much larger goal of transforming Ecoposro into a centre where people can come and learn how to make their own products, a space where local artisans can come and showcase their work, and an integral player in the ongoing environmental movement in Goa.
Feature Image Courtesy: The Village Studio Goa (L) and Tea Trunk (R)
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