Sushma Leimapokpam is the bright, bold and beautiful entrepreneur behind Manipur’s very own organic Lotus Tea. Lotus is a widely available flower in Manipur, mainly seen on serene ponds and other wetlands throughout the valleys area and we see these flowers on sale on various auspicious days carried by women and children of Manipur to place them at the feet of the gods at various temples. But who would have thought we could utilize lotuses as tea! Sushma Leimapokpam is one person who saw the possibility both as a lifestyle drink and as a business. Here is the excerpt of an interview with Sushma Leimapokpam of Bright Enterprises to hear more of her innovative journey:
FPSJ Review: What inspired you to start your company? Please talk to us about your journey.
Sushma Leimapokpam: Manipur has many treasures, and medicinal herbs and plants are among these. Since I was young, I was always read many journals and I always dreamed of doing something on my own. I was never interested in doing a government job. I grew up in a poor household. My mother and father urged me to study hard and enrolled me in Haobam Marak Girls’ High School in Haobam Marak Keisham Leikai. I studied hard and always got first in class every year. I have always been aware of unemployment and poverty in Manipur. When I read in one of the journals that lotus flower has a lot of medicinal properties, I was beyond curious and started to research more into this. I sought out social scientists such as Oja Dhanabir Laishram and Oja G. Tomba Sharma and acquired from them ample knowledge of the pros and cons of the lotus flower as an edible thing. I went to Kolkata to train as a tea manufacturer. I learnt many useful things there for my trade. I learnt the knowledge of how to turn a plant flower into tea. I never sought profits out of this when I initially thought up about this. I researched well into this because this is something that is going be consumed as a beverage. It took three complete years to make it possible. We sent our products for food tasting to New Delhi. We know that the lotus flower with 108 petals (which is found in Manipur) has healthy properties scientifically, but we just did not want to do it for it to trend. We wanted to avoid the trending culture in Manipur and wanted to manufacture a beverage that is genuinely healthy and unique.
At the launch of a product of Bright Entreprise
FPSJ Review: What are the challenges you faced as a fresh entrepreneur in Manipur?
Sushma: In Manipur there is a bad culture of copying a new thing and making it a trend. For example, if someone has a unique idea and launches it, then someone from the same place will assume that this idea will work for them also, with the same kind of product but they will start copying someone’s idea. In my opinion, this is bad because we are not helping the economy of Manipur grow with this way of doing business. If everyone started selling lotus tea in every household, less people will be interested in buying lotus tea.
There are many possibilities in Manipur, and it would be wonderful to see many entrepreneurs producing and manufacturing unique products. This will help one another grow also and maintain a healthy competition. Some people assume that new entrepreneurs are minting money with new business enterprises, but they hardly see through the minute details and study and research and hard work we put into this so that we maintain our genuineness.
Another thing is that out here, nobody is interested much in helping out a new enterprise with money. Hence, many people want to start something, but they are unable to because of lack of money. We hardly had any money when we started this, but we were fortunate that one of our family friends believed in us and trusted us and loaned us the sum to start our enterprise. Also, we had to purchase all our machines from Gujarat and even for servicing we must send them far away. I wish that these machines would be available in Manipur too.
FPSJ Review: Please talk to us about the process of production and marketing and how far have you reached on the national and the global market?
Sushma: We are currently working with farmers from Mayaang Imphal, Thoubal and Moirang. My husband, Nongmaithem Sujeshkanta who is the CEO of Bright Enterprises and I go with vehicles and collect the fresh lotuses from these farmers and with the help of our 40 employees, the flowers are sent for drying and prepared systematically to be made as tea. It takes full four days to manufacture one batch of the teas from farm to finishing.
Lotus flower growing season is June, July, August and September. Thus, the remaining months, we must store the flowers in a cool and secure place. Our company comes under Micro Small Medium Enterprises and we have been selected amongst 56 other MSMEs by the Central Government under Revenue Scheme this year.
A big thanks to our Chief Minister for this. Five years ago, we started our enterprise on 25th November 2015. We have battled many challenges and we have gained happy moments too. We are happy that we are able to sell our products through E-Keithel, Keithel Express, Yumpham, Potpham, Radiant Arambai and Big-Mart.
At the national level, we get orders mostly from Delhi and Mumbai and on the global stage, we can say that we have just stepped in since we have newly gotten the import-export license. We have started importing to Singapore and we have met some Japanese businessmen and they too liked our product and are interested in it.”
FPSJ Review: What would you tell young entrepreneurs today?
Sushma: Many youngsters call me up today and tell me that are inspired from me, so I am very glad that they feel that way and when they call me, I always tell them to come over to have a chat. I would tell them that it is not an easy road and always ask them the most important question that is whether they want to be a businessman/ businesswoman or an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is different from doing business. Being an entrepreneur means to have an eye for ordinary things that can be made into a unique product for luxury use. It is not just about making money. We must be patient and dedicated and be altruistic. I would like to give jobs to other people through my enterprise. I would like people to be self-sufficient. My dream is to give jobs to the unemployed.”
Sushma no doubt is doing a great job in creating an atmosphere of entrepreneurship, the spirit of which others can also learn from and pick up dues. As Adam Smith wrote in his book – The Wealth of Nations, “When a landlord, a weaver or a shoemaker has greater profits than he needs to maintain his own family, he uses the surplus to employ more assistants, in order to further increase his profits”. Thus, a Collective wealth of a state could possibly be increased by the developments made by private enterprises.
Writer at IRAP