Indian culture

how these entrepreneurs are monetizing Indian culture and craftsmanship

Winners of the recent NICE (Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises)Aarohana Business Plan Competition 2021 were announced for start-up and growth-stage cultural businesses. Co-founded by Sanjay Anandaram, the Network of Indian Cultural Enterprises (NICE) aims to build an “Indian brand” through its cultural and creative economy.

It supports entrepreneurs who exploit the business potential of Indigenous culture, heritage and knowledge through a transformed product, service or experience by promoting startups that respect the principles of authenticity, innovation, diversity, sustainability and inclusion. Target areas include wellness, food, fashion, decoration and tourism.

NICE Aarohana is a free, online, three-month program for distinguished entrepreneurs, with the support of experts and mentors. It includes workshops and peer learning opportunities on branding, fundraising, supply chains and operational scaling.

Out of more than 100 applications received earlier this year, 10 were shortlisted for the early stage category. the jury composed of Ritu Verma, Suresh Bhagavatula, Naga Prakasam, Chintan Bakshi and Madan Padaki.

Winners also receive cash prizes, certificates and publicity. Three overall winners were declared in the early stage category.

AyuRhythm is a personalized holistic wellness digital platform based on Ayurvedic health assessment principles. NativChefsis a multi-cuisine platform promoting traditional and local delicacies prepared by home chefs. tamala (“evergreen tree”) is a social organization that works with 150 rural and tribal artisans, and brings the aesthetics of Indian craftsmanship and art into homes.

In this article, the founders of these organizations share knowledge on spotting issues, traction, pandemic resilience, future plans, and success tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs.

The NativChefs team

Tracking problem

“In the world of fusion and innovation, people are moving away from where they came from. Despite the diversity of Indian cuisine, the nativity is dying out. Home chefs have exceptional cooking skills but don’t have a platform to showcase them,” says Leena Dixit, founder of NativChefs, in a conversation with Your story.

She previously worked at Persistent Systems and Madison PR, and participated in the Women’s Startup Program at IIM Bangalore. She graduated in technology and branched out into marketing, human resources and entrepreneurship.

“We have been friends and neighbors for 15 years and share common interests such as racing, cricket and golf. We could only notice that there were a lot of people who hated calorie counting and bodybuilding, but still aspired to look good and stay healthy,” says AyuRythm. founder Abhilesh Gupta, explaining how its founding team spotted the market gap.

Their idea was to create a durable and always available solution for users. The trio evaluated several wellness methods and focused on the traditional Indian method of Ayurveda to meet the needs of this market segment.

“Ayurvedic wellness is based on simple do’s and don’ts and does not require extensive logging of food and calorie intake,” says Abhilesh. The idea was to bring a technology corner for the simplified solution, with personalized advice and to go beyond the segment of believers.

Abhilesh has a background in engineering, manufacturing and marketing, and is an avid user of health gadgets and devices. Co-founder Sandep Acharya is a computer engineer with a background in finance and analytics, while Ramanath Padmanabhan has extensive experience in the field of health and wellness.

AyuRythm Team Sandeep, Ram, Abhilesh (LR)

“We are seeing a reduced use of traditional Indian products in interior decoration, which will impact the livelihoods of artisans as well as the continuity of the arts and crafts itself,” says Vinay Prashant, co-founder of Tamaala art studio (see previous PhotoSparks review here).

The next generation of artisans is gradually leaving the trade for jobs in the cities. “If the earning potential was equaled with working in town, then more artisans would prefer to stay in the comfort of their villages and towns,” adds Vinay. But for urban families who want traditional arts and crafts as decorating options, the number of unique offerings on the market is scarce.

Vinay Prashant is a management professional with 18 years of experience in retail, telecommunications and media. Co-founder Suvarna Kamakshi is also an artist with a background in customer service and does design and curation (see previous photo essay here).

Co-founders of Tamaala Vinay Prashant (L), Suvarna Kamakshi (R)


AyuRythm’s Abhilesh says his wellness app has around 60,000 downloads and 30,000 users, with 13 minutes average engagement time per user. “Although before revenue, we still saw nearly 90 paid transactions,” he adds.

Monetization is done through a commission on products, services and the content market. He shares some Customer testimonials as well. Some users even offered suggestions such as adding features for group meals and family recommendations.

“Simple, easy to navigate. Offers quick analysis of Vat Pitt Kaph balance. Huge amount of data shows that someone built it with love and great knowledge of Ayurveda.”

“I find my body, my diet and my sleep cycle resonate with the results and suggestions provided by the app. Brilliant work, definitely must have an app.”

AyuRhythm app

Vinay de Tamaala claims to have about 3,500 customers on the storefront as well as on the website (which became active during the pandemic). They also have ten institutional clients. Some of the design-based crafts and innovations have also received customer testimonials on social media.

“It’s a general apprehension that artisans can give you a functional product and not an aesthetically designed/packaged product. But, you have to see Tamala’s work. They bring back to the world of forgotten Indian board games and puzzles.” – Ramesh Kumar, Technical Director, Eduquity

“The founders of Tamaala – Suvarna Kamakshi and Vinay – are giving it back. In their own way. Changing lives for good.” – Chandra, DRDO Scientist

NativChefs now has over 70 chefs on board in Nagpur, who have sold over 10,000 delicacies. Some customers praised specific dishes and said it brought back childhood memories. Others appreciated the on-time delivery and packaging design, and said they had not missed visiting restaurants during the lockdown.

Tamala Craftsman

Price advantages

The NICE Arohana program and awards have a number of benefits for winners and runners-up. “Finally, culture startups get a platform. Although their growth may seem slow, the impact is enormous,” Leena from NativChefs explains. Being part of the program also helps with networking and mentor connections.

The award will bring more visibility, retail customers and institutional leads, according to Vinay de Tamaala. They can benefit from access to mentors and thought leaders, as well as growth funds.

AyuRythm’s Abhilesh believes the awards program will help connect with the global cultural business ecosystem. Access to expert mentors and quality capital can help build and scale the business.

NativChefs customer testimonials

Impacts of the pandemic

The ongoing COVD-19 pandemic has had negative economic and health impacts, but has also accelerated certain sectors and channels. “The pandemic has reduced barriers to digital wellness coaching and DIY methods. It has renewed and revived interest in our age-old wisdom like Ayurveda and yoga,” says Abhilesh from AyuRythm.

The work-from-home culture has also significantly reduced operating and travel costs. “We could connect to mentors and VCs online without incurring travel costs and time,” he adds. However, there were significant disruptions in product development and launch due to the lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic.

“People are eagerly waiting healthy homemade meals, who gave us an opportunity,” observes Leena.

“We suffered from lack of appointment in the studio during confinement. More importantly, all our artisans were short of money since we were unable to support them without income,” recalls Vinay de Tamaala.

Although they reached out to a few customers to donate money to artisans where there was an urgent need at the start of the lockdown, charity was not a long-term solution. “We first worked on the activation of our e-commerce platform”, explains Vinay.

“We have seen how our customers’ lifestyles have changed dramatically and we have looked at how to make staying at home more enjoyable for families. We also took the opportunity to contact other craft organizations and NGOs to expand our impact and collaborate on the design front,” adds Vinay.

For example, the acoustic amplifier project won them a craft scholarship from the Indic Academy in Hyderabad. This was used to work on design improvements with partners such as Maya Organic (now Faircraft Creations), according to Vinay.

Other notable projects included Terracotta Rakhi, traditional games (with the Hosa Belaku craft foundation), the Ganesha ecological project (2,500 idols delivered to homes in Bangalore), and the making of Ramanagara Deepavali lamps and other pottery groups.

Tamaala Works

The road ahead

Looking ahead, AyuRythm’s Abhilesh plans to increase the number of downloads, registered users and engagement. They also plan to target markets beyond India, such as the United States and Europe. Based on customer feedback, the product will be improved and monetized.

NativChefs plans to launch in several cities and thereby create job opportunities for home chefs to show off their talent.

“We would like to achieve 10,000 retail customers in India and around the world. We would like to integrate at least 10 other institutions”, explains Vinay de Tamaala. They plan to improve the income of their artisans and seek more collaborations with NGOs.

Founder’s Tips

The founders also offer ideas and success tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs. “Nothing is good or bad. Make a decision and make it happen. advises Leena from NativChefs.

“Try to see the creation of value for the consumer at every stage. Collaborate, the era of competition is over,” advises Vinay de Tamaala. “Having an effective day-to-day approach to entrepreneurship,” he adds.

“Make quick decisions, but verify them with data. Embrace change, adapt,” advises Abhilesh from AyuRythm. “Don’t be afraid to receive constructive feedback and criticism,” he concludes.