From laundry service to e-commerce to recycle businesses 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Being a Desuup and having served on the frontline during the second nationwide lockdown, Tandin Tshewang saw the absence of personal protection equipment (PPE), especially surgical facemask that were mostly imported.

It made him realise that there was a need to do something to fill the gap, even if it was a small step.

Today, Tandin Tshewang, after months of hurdles, is an entrepreneur that took up a business to produce surgical face masks in Thimphu.

“I took every opportunity to learn about the production and machines including raw materials to produce surgical facemask,” he said.

Called “Bhutan Health Care”, it manufactures about 40,000 medical-grade facemasks in a day. Although the company aims to export in the future, Tandin’s focus now is to supply the masks to hospitals and the general market in Bhutan.

He has also employed seven people. “We aim to develop and introduce a diverse range of PPE products. This is with the hope that we bridge the gap of PPE essentials and lack of local producers and suppliers.”

However, Tandin said that it would not have been possible to start the production had it not been for the National Credit Guarantee Scheme (NCGS)  that acted as a guarantor and National CSI Development bank (NCSIDB) that approved the loan. “I had a tough time to start the business and had almost gone into non-performing loan,” he said. “But NCGS came at the right time to help and approved my business idea.”

His project is one among 81 projects that NCGS approved since its establishment in October last year. The projects are spread across 15 dzongkhags.

The NCGS facilitates to avail credit facilities from financial institutions by providing collateral-free loans for investments in the cottage and small category. The government guarantees a portion of the loans availed for establishing a viable business.

The approved loan amount of the 81 projects stands at Nu 274.50 million (M).

Going by the sector, 30 projects are in agriculture amounting to Nu 52.70M approved loan, 29 are in production and manufacturing with133.42M loan approved, and 22 projects in the service sector with 88.38M loan approved.

However, depending on the progress of the projects, only 36.677M has been dispersed for 34 projects so far.

The loan was dispersed through three participating banks of Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL), Bank of Bhutan Limited (BoB), and NCSIDB.

Sixteen projects are approved under the BDBL, 43 projects under BoB, and 22 projects under NCSIDB.

NCGS’s director, Sonam Penjor, said that all the projects were approved, keeping in mind the objective to substitute import of various products and various tools. “We aim to have at least one project in each dzongkhag by June. We’re trying to help in services like E-Commerce to help export local products.”

The proposals are screened and approved through screening tools like financial sustainability, employment, economic impact and value addition, and technology and innovation.

There were a total of 11,882 queries till last Friday since the NCGS was launched. Almost 40 people approach the office in a day with various business ideas.

Sonam Penjor said that although the biggest challenge was the availability of raw materials, the proposal shows that if finance is facilitated there is no dearth of business ideas among Bhutanese.

“We also plan to visit east and trigger business ideas among communities soon,” he said, adding it would also create awareness on the scheme and partner with the banks.

Going by the approval rate where only 17 percent of the projects were approved in the first batch, followed by 47 percent in the second batch and 74 percent in the third batch, the director said it indicates that only proponent with genuine proposals is applying for NCGS.

Another proponent Nima Yoezar has been going around looking for old furniture, home appliances, electronic gadgets, and gears to start his business, “The Revival Store.”

Also approved by the NCGS and loaned by BoB, Nima Yoezar aims to recycle, revive and resale the products.

Nima Yoezar, who lost the job after the pandemic hit Bhutan could not stay idle. He got his business idea when he saw many offices, institutions, homes, and hotels had their old furniture piled behind the house or balcony.

“It’ll be like a sell of second-hand stuff, but my partner and I wanted to improvise to recycle and refurbish to sell again like a first hand good,” he said. “But it wouldn’t be easy to get things on free so, we would have to buy from them, and we’re glad that NCGS accepted our proposal.”

Nima Yoezar added that anyone who wants to sell their old furniture could reach them.