C Balagopal, former IAS officer, who served in Tamenglong in Manipur, and Kerala for six years (1977-1983) took to entrepreneurship when he founded the blood bag manufacturing company Penninsula Polymers in 1983 after resigning from his job. Also, the Founder-President and Charter Member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), Kerala, a non-profit global network of entrepreneurs, and Member of the Industrial Promotion Board, Government of Kerala, his latest preoccupation is to develop a business incubator in Imphal, Manipur, called Startup Cafe.
“The best and brightest of Manipuri youth leave the State as there are not enough jobs. In December last year, I returned to Manipur after 31 years, this time not as an IAS probationer but as an entrepreneur to create a startup incubator,” says Balagopal who was recently in the city.
He has partnered with Niranjan Singh, 38, a local from Manipur who has more than a decade’s experience in Retail Management albeit outside Manipur, to develop the incubator. Singh holds an MBA from the reputed ENPC School of International Management, Paris. Among those who have agreed to mentor Balagopal’s incubator are Jose Dominic of CGH Earth, a group of hotels based in Kerala, Shivadas Menon of Sterling Farm Research and Services, John K Paul of Popular Automobiles, and Zulfikar Marikar of Marikar Group.
“I have received some interesting ideas and more are coming in as I speak. The startup ideas include bicycle courier services, travel and escort services, a database for domestic help and another for Imphal tourism,” he says. However, nothing has been finalised on paper. He further explains that due to the hilly terrain, gridlocks are a common feature of road transport in Imphal, hence the idea of a bicycle courier service seemed attractive to him.
“There are these floating islands in Imphal in the Loktak Lake where families of fishermen live. This startup idea for tourism came from that. Providing home stays there would be a brilliant idea,” he adds.
When Balagopal visited University of Hyderabad in September last year and talked to students from the northeast about his book On a Clear Day, You Can See India — The Little World of the District Official, the conflict situation in Manipur, government breakdown, The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and how it affected the social fabric of the State, among other issues, a young student asked him what his contribution to solving any of these issues was. In the spur of the moment, Balagopal replied, “I am going to develop a business incubator and contribute to entrepreneurship in the State.”
To realise what he had actually said, Balagopal went back to Manipur to get things off the ground. He says his venture could well be the ‘first-of-its-kind’ in Manipur. He has already met the Chief Minister of Manipur Ibohi Singh and says he has promised support to Balagopal’s venture.