Jabchor—a tale of angel investors and young entrepreneurs

Choki Wangmo

After college, Kuenga Dendup, who pursued computer applications, went to his village in Trongsa to try his hands on organic farming. That was five years ago.

With his partner Pema C. Gyaltshen, he is a budding entrepreneur in aromatherapy. He is the founder of Kingdom Essenses (KE) in the country.

Things weren’t easy, he said, adding that he believed that any business would flourish with time without investors. It took years before he came across jabchor and the concept of angel investors.

With the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with investors yesterday, KE’s future looks bright.

Initiated by Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) in 2018, Jabchor is a platform to support scaling up of cottage and small-scale businesses by enabling connections to angel investors through equity financing model.

Kuenga Dhendup said that in the beginning, he thought the jabchor platform was a funding and not an investment scheme.  “We weren’t too keen on participating but soon realised our business lacked good partnership.”

He pitched his business idea during the second season of jabchor last July. After repeated negotiations and discussions with investors, KE signed an MoU with Naturally Bhutan and private investors.

“More than investment, we needed strategic partners and chose them carefully. The investors are experienced individuals and we look up to them as our mentors” said Kuenga Dhendup.

The founder of Naturally Bhutan, Rabsel Dorji, said that the country had passionate, knowledgeable and capable entrepreneurs but lacked proper packaging, distribution, networking, financial and accounting skills to run businesses properly.

Through strategic partnership with KE, Rabsel Dorji’s team expects to help KE explore unreached potentials of essential oil business with larger social impact in the country.

Thinley Choden, a private investor, said that she wanted to help set precedent in impact investment and build faith in young entrepreneurs, while at the same time working towards value addition of the products.

In the beginning, KE faced hurdles due to lack of public knowledge on essential oils. “It was difficult to get the right information but with His Majesty’s support. We were trained in Thailand which helped us kick start the project successfully,” Pema C. Gyaltshen said.

Pema C. Gyaltshen and Kuenga Dhendup expect to do well and, more importantly, to replace imported synthetic oils with local essential oils. “We are known as the land of medicinal plants and we have all the resources at our doorstep,” she said, adding that in the future KE would upscale production and explore market opportunities in the tourism industry.

Currently, KE produces essential oils, bath bombs, body butter and herbal salve from pine, juniper, cypress and medicinal herbs grown in Nubi in Trongsa.

“We are also promoting sustainable harvest of forest products and ensuring a sense of ownership among communities,” said Pema C. Gyaltshen.

The past two seasons of jabchor helped young entrepreneurs, particularly among the startups to access formal alternative source of financing by bringing together entrepreneurs and angel investors.

In the future, RMA expects to improve the platform by formally institutionalising jabchor with Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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