Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently
Godavari Satpute, 33, from Nari Village in India’s Maharashtra region, founded and runs Godavari Akashkandil, a thriving start-up business which turns waste material into decorative paper lamps. As a result of what she has achieved with her business and for her community in just four years, Godavari was named YBI Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in September 2013 by Youth Business International (YBI) and Barclays at the YBI Young Entrepreneur Awards in London. The Awards promote youth entrepreneurship, celebrate the achievements of young entrepreneurs around the world, and show how the contribution youth entrepreneurship makes to local communities.
What made you start Godavari Akashkandil?
Providing financial security for my family and financial independence for myself were the main reasons. I was a housewife before starting business and completely financially dependent on my husband. But his income from running a vegetable shop wasn’t enough for the family to operate on so I was determined to find a way to help generate additional income for our large family.
Another part of my vision was to create a business that could help other women in my situation – I wanted to employ women from impoverished backgrounds, enabling them to become financially independent.
What struggles did you face trying to get Godavari Akashkandil off the ground?
It was very challenging to get financial support. Commercial banks rejected by proposal and I wasn’t offered any business support. In the end I started up with a very small $700 loan from a relative which allowed me to make a prototype and explore routes to selling this. But then YBI’s India network member, Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) stepped in, providing a $3,600 loan and mentoring. This transformed Godavari Akashkandil from a one-woman business to an enterprise employing 79 people with an annual turnover of $50,000.
I also struggled to raise the awareness of the need for a new environmentally-friendly product which would stimulate sufficient demand. I made the rounds of local shops to discuss my product, often giving away samples for display. Marketing the product was also challenging, but with guidance from my BYST mentor, after several months, I had generated interest from a few shops and that’s how it all began.
Where did the decorative paper lamp idea come from?
I was very artistic from childhood and I wanted to use this creativity in my business. One day, I saw a paper lamp in a shop and thought – I could make that. I made an exact replica of the product and from there my husband encouraged me to think about manufacturing lamps on a commercial basis, believing it could be a real money spinner during festivals and celebrations when demand soars. Now I can apply my creative flair to ensuring we always have the latest designs to help us keep ahead of competitors.
How many employees do you have?
At the moment I have 79 employees, 50 of whom work full time. Because I wanted to help women in similar situations to myself, almost all my employees (75) are women.
What is the workforce behind Godavari Akashkandil like?
Primarily, I employee women from poor backgrounds, training them up so they can become financially dependent like I have. I provide crèche and education facilities for my employees’ children to help them get a better start in life. I’ve also appointed a doctor for any medical emergencies that might happen on site.
Tell us a bit more about the self-help group you have launched?
I couldn’t have got to where I am now without the support and guidance of my mentor. This is something I want to pass on to other women. The group means women can get together to learn how to start up a business and discuss ideas and opportunities – it helps make them realise that entrepreneurship can be an option for them.
I hope to extend this by establishing a women’s care centre where women in need can stay and learn how to generate an income for themselves.
How did it feel to win YEA 2013 – Women of the Year?
It is amazing to have this kind of global recognition for what I’ve achieved with my start up. Entrepreneurship is the way forward for young people who want to be a success. I’m very pleased to have been part of the Awards. I’ve met and learnt from so many other entrepreneurs from around the world on my UK trip. Thank you to everyone who has supported me, including YBI, Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) and Barclays. I’m excited about the future.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Obtaining financing and support were big challenges. In addition, while my husband was encouraging, other members of my family were apprehensive. They thought trying to start up a business of my own was a futile venture at first.
What’s been your greatest achievement personally?
Getting the business off the ground properly and making money was a huge milestone for me. When I found out that I had been chosen as the winner of the international YBI Woman of the Year award by Youth Business International it was a really rewarding moment too.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
I like to think I would have started up another business – there’s certainly no way I would have been sitting idle. But in reality, I would be a housewife raising my seven children and still struggling with my husband to make ends meet.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
There are a number of business houses in India, like Reliance Industries, which have succeeded and today have a global presence in spite of not having their own funds at the beginning – this gives me the confidence that I can also reach that level.
What does the future hold for you?
I started operating from Pune and have already expanded into the rest of the major towns in the State as well as increasing manufacturing activity to cater to markets in the rest of India. This is something I’ll build on. But the export market is the next big future step for me. I’ve already sent samples to the USA and am expecting orders for customised lamps in the next few months. I’m sure winning the YBI Woman of the Year Award will help me reach my target of at least doubling my business in the coming year. I’m also interested in following my husband into the food sector – it’s something I’ve already started researching as I’d love to start a second business.