Armed with the passion for experimental ideas and geared with confidence and determination, Zeinorin from Ukhrul is not your regular entrepreneur. What sets her apart is her insatiable appetite for success and new ventures. The young lady will stop at nothing to keep her spirit high and going! And she has a secret sauce that literally helps her do that – which involves chocolates. Here’s her story. She’s someone you’ll always find hustling – wherever or whatever the situation. Along with running multiple initiatives under her venture “Hill Wild”, she also leads an NGO called “Phiva” which trains and works with women (they have 13 so far) to make pickles and doughnuts.
- Hi Zeinorin, tell us something about yourself and How did you start your chocolate startup?
I’m Zeinorin Stephen from Ukhrul, Manipur. I often call myself a passionate entrepreneur because no matter how often I fail, I always move on with persistence. It’s almost innate. I love sharing knowledge and I have been extremely fortunate for I always end up meeting people with similar ideas and altruistic vision. So that keeps me going. One thing that motivates me is good food. Anything related to it excites and inspires me.
A chef friend of mine taught me the process to make chocolates. I managed to produce a decent amount and wondered what if I could use the nuts found in Ukhrul as one of the main ingredients in the chocolates? I gathered pumpkin seeds and thought it was unique. Turns out it was quite marketable and could actually employ people to harvest pumpkin seeds and some to make chocolates.Within few weeks, I taught chocolate making to two other people and that started rolling my small start up.
- How did you derive the name “Hill Wild” and What’s so special about the venture?
Hill Wild was incorporated in November 2017 along with Leiyolan Vashum, who is my founding partner. We realized we have a lot of products in the Ukhrul hills that are yet to turn into marketable products. We could actually do that by infusing in some other products and making it very palatable. The name is simply derived in reference to the wild products found in the hills. Hence Hill Wild. We intend to produce and market natural, agricultural and industrially processed food products. We sell local ingredients like wild black pepper, forest honey, and black rice. We manufacture chocolates using locally sourced nuts and we also take up projects to empower entrepreneurs and help in setting up market linkage. Madeinukhrul is one the events we are undertaking to promote local entrepreneurs.
It is the most satisfying of all. My passion is about empowering artisans and skilled people to become actual entrepreneurs rather than limiting to only workers for a long duration. Through Hill Wild, I’m able to live my passion. The fact that I have been inspired by others makes me want to inspire others as well. I have learnt that the only way to move forward is by being selfless and building a spirit of altruism. That is why it gives me the satisfaction and at the same time, pushes me magnanimously.
We give quality and health conscious products by supporting local at its best. We often tell ourselves, “Let’s work for entrepreneurial revolution through food.”
- How did you come up with the idea, and what was the inspiration behind it?
I am passionate about market linkages – especially since there are so many local resources and demand in the local market and outside, but all very instructed. Hence I thought it would be a great personal project to try to fix whatever I can. That’s when I incorporated Hill Wild as a company with my partner. However making chocolates was purely an overnight idea. I saw the opportunity in bringing quality to chocolates made with local ingredients. I would also like to acknowledge my Mother who created a Storm in me – this entrepreneurial spirit, ever since I was little. Most of my business ideas, inspiration still come from her.
- Biggest challenges you’ve faced, and Learnings so far.
Challenges and problems are endless. From lack of skilled people and discipline to working long hours in a factory; then there’s time involved in training someone and sometimes reaping no reward, logistics issues etc. Online orders can’t be met since the courier services are never reliable in Ukhrul so we focus more on retailers and distributors and sometimes there’s lack of resources and ingredients as everything is new and experimental. Above all, we are contributing and working towards the growth of local economy and we believe in growing together with our fellow entrepreneurs and artisans. It takes time to educate a layman and make him see the long term benefit of such a business that can bring him more profit than an entire year spent in the paddy fields.
- So tell us where we can buy these awesome chocolates!
We stock our chocolates in select stores and cafes across Nagaland and Manipur for now. The local store and DCafe in Kohima, Family Shoppe and DJ Mart in Imphal and Seven Seven in Ukhrul. We do bulk catering for Diwali, events, corporate, weddings etc. There’s always an opportunity and hope in the future that we could expand further.
This interview was first published by Roots and Leisure