[Assam] Boston Bengalis hunt for business ideas

Malabika Brahma malabikabrahma at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Feb 2 10:40:39 PST 2006

Gargi Gupta in New Delhi | February 02, 2006 01:43 IST

Somnath Chakraborty thinks he has a big idea. The 22-year-old resident of Katua, Bardhaman, about 150 kilometres from Kolkata, wants to market a health drink made from extracts of two local herbs, basak and kulekhara, traditionally used in Bengal to treat cough and cold, and anaemia, respectively.   "These herbs grow wild all over the Bengal countryside and I have always felt that these present a huge commerical potential," he says. "If colas, which have no nutritional value, can sell, I don't see why a local drink made of these herbs will not," he adds, hopefully.   Nothing much would have come of it had a friend not showed him an advertisement in a local tabloid inviting entries for a business plan competition being conducted by a group of NRI Bengalis.   If he wins, he will get Rs 50,000, plus expert advice on starting a business, and a sponsored visit to Houston for the annual North American Bengali Conference.   And so Chakraborty set to work, taking the help of a friend, Sanjoy
 Ghosh, to draw up the detailed chart of the expected revenues and expenses, and sent it off to the email address given.   Far away in Houston, Chitro Neogy of The Boston Pledge has received about 20 such business proposals from remote corners of West Bengal in the three months since the NABC 50K Business Plan Competition got underway.   While some ideas, like a food-processing machine developed in collaboration with Jadavpur University, make a lot of sense, others like Pradip Sarkar's idea of an urban transport system centred around a hanging bus, or that of a goat selling centre from Arghya Barman of Gaighata, North 24 Parganas, are too difficult to execute, to say the least.   For Neogy, however, the do-ability or otherwise of the plan is not the moot point: it is the care that has gone into formulating a business plan and presenting it to evaluators. Most members of TBP are former management consultants, and it helps to package plans just the way consultants like.   "I expect
 another 20-30 more to come in by July, when it closes," says Neogy.   The competition takes its name and modalities from MIT's famed 50K Entreprenuership Competition (indeed, Neogy and many TBP-ians were at MIT themselves).   Its objective, in the words of its chairman, Partha Ghosh, is to "nurture and develop the spirit of entrepreneurship in the rural areas of the state". Even a small start would do, according to Ghosh. "We'll be happy even if we can help two people."   Earlier this month, TBP struck an agreement with the Indian Professional Service Organisation, a charitable trust that volunteers the professional expertise of its members like ex-army chief Shankar Ray Choudhuri; former chief secretary of the West Bengal government Tarun C Dutt; and Bharati Ray, former MP.   This group of luminaries will not only judge the entries, but will also offer mentorship to the winners in their quest for success.   And if Somnath Chakraborty is among the lucky few, his herbal drink might
 actually get commercialised. 

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