Being an alumnus of prestigious institutions such as Aligarh Muslim University and an aircraft engineer by qualification, instead of a blessing, turned out to be a subject of criticism for 27-year-old Sarwar Malik when he returned back to Kashmir from Mumbai in 2012.
An attempt to study business administration at the Kashmir University went awry due to the deteriorating situation then, making young Sarwar to be at the receiving end of curious queries from people. Ups and downs of his life made Malik prove himself as an able businessman and eventually owner of a bottling plant.
"What people kept asking me was that after being in AMU and Mumbai what are you doing here in Kashmir. I was zapped for an answer but I did not want to give up and starting knocking the doors of financial institutions and EDI for financial support to start a business," Malik says.
According to Malik the financial support being offered by EDI was not sufficient for him to start a business since he wanted to set-up a water bottling plant. "I did not have anything to offer as mortgage neither did I have the guarantors. All I could tell the bank was take my fathers pension as a guarantee for a loan but they refused since he was above 70 years of age," Malik says. The grit and determination of Malik didn't let his enthusiasm die down as he went ahead to acquire two kanals of land at Industrial Growth Centre in Lassipora.
"I borrowed money from near and dear ones and ensured that I secure a piece of land. My brother has been a tremendous support in my journey," Malik says.
Refusal by banks and financial institutions to fund him became the tipping point for Malik to inquire about various government schemes for entrepreneurs. Malik who has worked with Air India for six months and holds a license for repairing a jet engine says a solid business plan helped him achieve new heights.
"I left the aviation sector because as a Kashmiri even getting an airport pass used to be a subject of repeated verifications. I did not want to be in a profession where my identity raised many an eyebrows. I couldn't finish my MBA because of certain reasons but I believed in self awareness and thoroughly studied government schemes which finally helped me avail financial support from bank," Malik says.
It was the Credit Guarantee Scheme under Credit Guarantee Fund Trust For Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSC) of the central government, which helped Malik to finally get bank assistance. "Under this scheme an entrepreneur does not need a guarantor or mortgage for seeking a loan for SSI. All you need to pay is just 1 percent fee of total project cost to the nodal office of CGTMSC. They even become your guarantors," Malik says.
A solid business idea and banking support was enough for Malik to not look back. He soon launched his firm Huckleberry in 2014 and started producing 'Proactive premium water'.
"I remember having just a few hundred rupees in my pocket during tough times but things witnessed a vast improvement soon after I started off. I had just seven employees in the beginning but today have a team of 20 which includes machine operators, marketing professionals etc," says Malik.
With a production capacity of 20,000 litres per day, Malik's company has supplied more than one million bottles of bottled water across the state. "Doing business in Kashmir is completely different from what is taught in B-schools. Here incentives and schemes are not followed in letter and spirit while on the other hands frequent unrests literally breaks the back of an entrepreneur. The total cost of my plant set-up is double the loan sanctioned. One is hesitant of making any new innovations and additions, as there are so many hurdles. Single window clearance is the need of the hour if we want businesses to flourish here," Malik says.
Malik who is the general secretary of Consortium of Young Industrialists says he along with few other entrepreneurs are doing every bit to ensure that budding entrepreneurs don't face the problems which people such as Malik encountered while setting up their business.
"There are so many marketing related and other schemes young entrepreneurs are unaware about. We are doing handholding to a great extent but it is them who need to come forward. We are also working towards getting a MSME office in Kashmir which is missing right now," Malik says.
Malik has organized industry visits of students from IUST to his plant and is keen that government promotes skill development so that people such as him running high-cost machines don't have to hire manpower from outside the state.
"When I started my enterprise, floods hit Kashmir and my bank liabilities increased. I did not even have funds for employee salaries but I went ahead with a great perseverance. I paid all the liabilities within one month of starting my plant and have been running a profitable venture since then. I hope more stress is laid on imparting skill based training among youth," says Malik.
Malik who has applied for trademarks and patents for several new products is hopeful to launch several beverages such as juices, soda, pulp and even dairy products at his plant. "The fully automatic RO and filling machines in my plant along with the extraordinary quality of water one gets in district Pulwama has helped me to come up with a quality mineral water product. I have even earned praise from my competitors which really overwhelms me," Malik says.
Malik signs off with a message for youngsters that don't get complacent and come out of your comfort zone. "Be a job provider rather than a job seeker. One cannot afford to be cynical about government schemes but must study these incentives and sops in detail to avail them," he says.
Box1:The total cost of my plant set-up is double the loan sanctioned. One is hesitant of making any new innovations and additions, as there are so many hurdles. Single window clearance is the need of the hour if we want businesses to flourish here
Sarwar Malik, 27, entrepreneur