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Leki Dawa
Leki Dawa

From waste to a Nu 22M company

Five years ago, a young entrepreneur molded an outlandish idea into a startup. He collected wasted printer cartridges, refurbished them and sold it as an eco-friendly technology.  

Today, the startup, Bhutan Alternatives (BA) is a Nu 22.6M company. It is the first company to raise equity from crowdfunding.

Leki Dawa’s story is that of an entrepreneurial journey – of perseverance and will among numerous failures and rejections. “This is definitely not the end. I am still a struggling entrepreneur,” said the 38-year-old entrepreneur after the closing of the crowd sourcing yesterday.

Without collateral, financial institutions turned down his proposal. He borrowed money from relatives and friends to kickstart. A year later, Loden and DHI entrepreneurship programmes supported his venture with Nu 3M, without collateral.

Bhutan Alternatives began by re-manufacturing printer cartridges, which otherwise goes to the landfill. Technically, the drum and other components have longer life. Those damaged are effectively refurbished and toner is filled with ink powders.

Every BA Toner and Cartridges bears the trademark of official approval and ratification of intellectual property department.

Leki Dawa, the man behind BA is driven by three values in business- Contribution to the economy, environmental preservation and employment generation. 

The BA, last year alone has collected more than 15,000 waste printer cartridges and sold them in the local market. BA is also employing and training underprivileged youth for the job. At one point, he employed about 30 youth. “But circumstances has forced me to retrench last month to survive. Currently I have 17 employees and I will employee more,” he said.

The Bhutan Power Corporation, he said, is the first company to give all its used cartridges across its offices in the country to BA. While the Cabinet and other institutions have supported the move, he said still many cartridges go to waste and land at the landfills.

The bigger dream and crowdfunding

Leki Dawa has bigger plans, to headway BA as a one-stop firm to purchase eco-friendly, high quality and affordable electronic gadgets, alternatively reducing the pressure of e-waste. 

BA will collect e-waste like television, mobile phones, laptops or washing machines, refurbish them and sell it at an affordable price. This is both upscaling and diversification.

The plan would need more investment. Leki Dawa, during the BEFIT conference learnt about Bhutan crowdfunding. He was also selected for the Jyabchor platform, similar to angel investors. “But I didn’t agree to the terms which basically pushes us to slog and investors take their cut,” he said.

“With the crowdfunding, BA is not Leki Dawa’s property but a public property,” he said. “This is my dream-to go for an IPO eventually.”

 Bhutan Crowdfunding aims to provide an alternate financing model for start-ups, new business ventures and startups in the country to raise small amount of funds from a large number of individuals while providing new investment avenues for the public. It is an equity financing, similar to buying shares. Investors would be rewarded with returns on the equity, should the business prosper. 

The advantage in crowdfunding, Leki Dawa said, is that he will now have more than 50 ambassadors to market his products, who have a stake in BA.

The chief executive officer of the Royal Securities Exchange, Dorji Phuntsho said that it is perfect for small businesses because they can’t go for initial public offering (IPO). However, he said unlike public listed companies, investors of crowd funding cannot dictate the terms of business. This means that the promotor or the founder can implement their ideas without any objection from investors. 

Since the launch of the platform last month, three ventures, Bhutan Alternatives, Freelancer Bhutan and Himalayan Food have been raising funds. While the other two are also attracting investment, BA has sold out its entire share a month before deadline.

The online crowdfunding platform was developed inhouse by the RSEBL over a period of nine months.

Leki Dawa has diluted 834,000 shares to its investors at a face value of Nu 10 per share. His paid up capital is about Nu 6M. The market capitalization, informal size of the company is about Nu 22.6M. 

Officials from the RSEBL said the BA will now have to disclose its financial and management information to its shareholders. “But it is a historical breakthrough for a startup to transform into a formal corporate culture from a sole proprietorship,” said CEO Dorji Phuntsho.

Given that the startups are untested in the economy, he said that it also becomes the responsibility of the stock exchange to protect investors and ensure success. However, investors in crowdfunding suffer least shocks if the business fails. This is due to a small amount of investment. “This is the risk investor have to take,” the CEO said.

From the macroeconomic perspective, when small companies scale up, the immediate impact is on the employment generation. Subsequently, there would be demand creation and through the revenue and taxes, it will contribute to the fiscal balance of the government.

Scope

According to trade statistics, Bhutan imported only about 418 printer cartridges from India, China, Singapore, Thailand and United Kingdom in 2018.

Leki Dawa collected more than 15,000 waste cartridges in the same year alone. “Where is the tax money going?” said Leki Dawa. 

As far as he is concerned, most of the cartridges brought in from India are refurbished too, sold with the price tag of original ones.

BA plans to venture into Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi market riding on his competitive edge – using e-waste as raw materials. Quality is their, top priority. But there is one concern – the economy of scale.

Tshering Dorji

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