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Thejaswi Shivaram is a Bangalore, India-based entrepreneur who wanted to create a healthy and nutritious snack. Shivaram noticed that traditional Indian diets were changing, and that an increased number of highly processed snack foods were entering the market and becoming staples. Her company Koko Boost sells nutritious snack bars that use traditional ingredients and are as she puts it, “Very desi, i.e. very Indian.” Today Shivaram is focused on growing her business while also dealing with the many challenges that come with being a female entrepreneur in Indian society.

Shivaram’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

The concept of nutrition in the modern world is a misnomer, as consumers are faced with fancy nutrition labels, high sugar content, and false promises. Nutrition is a science of nurturing our body in order to keep it healthy and functioning as it is supposed to. With changing lifestyles and eating habits, its hard to keep up with the right nutrition intake. This is when I had the idea for Koko Boost, a nutritious energy bar and snack. We didnt want to use whey, oats, rice crisps, soy, cornflakes, starch syrups, granola, quinoa, etc., etc. We pledged to make it very desi, i.e. very Indian. Thus, the formula was designed using Millets and Moringa (natural immunity boosters) and those are the major ingredients in our bars. So, with no guilt and no confusion, you can pick the KokoBoost bars whenever you feel exhausted, weak, bored, hungry or even as a snack bite and it will be satisfying and healthy.

We are working towards the goals of SDG, one of the UN’s important indexs on malnutrition. We want to fight against hunger, malnutrition and especially to provide proper nutrition to women.

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To Indians nutrition is not a new concept, it has been taught to us from our ancestors, it is only due to modern lifestyle changes we have lost track of it. We are trying our best to bring back a return to our old eating habits and to achieve that change through our product and reaching as many consumers as possible.

Before I started this company I was working as a talent acquisition professional in India. I had zero knowledge of the food business; I would also be the first entrepreneur in my family to work in the food industry. We have made all efforts to conceptualize our product to the revenue stage by bootstrapping. For our unique selling proposition we were one of the delegates at the Global Entrepreneurship summit spearheaded by Mr Narendra Modi (PM of India) and Mrs Ivanka Trump. We were featured live on the Washington Post’s site. For us this is the biggest success so far, but hopefully there are many more successes still to come.

I have faced many challenges starting my business. People told me I was too young, or that I was a woman and should just get married. But my parents stood by me when I made the decision to start this business and I have been fighting against all the odds to make it work. This is my biggest challenge. But it has also been challenging bootstrapping our venture. We unfortunately were not able to get a loan for Koko Boost, despite our best efforts. It seems as though the government and financial institutions here are not ready to lend to women; your credibility is questioned despite having good books.

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Procuring raw materials has also been a challenge, because traders are not willing to give you small quantities at a reasonable price. So we try to reach out to the producers directly for the best quality and for a better price. These day to day challenges provide lots of lessons but we are determined to reach a larger customer base through word of mouth, marketing and social media.

My Parents are my role models. They have had to undergo a lot of struggles, since they gave birth to daughters. This made them strong though and they decided to give us a good education, good morals, to make the right decisions, and to lead meaningful lives. It is their struggle that made us dream to achieve in our life. I am doing my best to move on the path that they have taught me.

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