Like many entrepreneurs, Archana KC, MBA ’13 stumbled across her business idea not thinking about business at all. She was in the Whole Foods in Cambridge, looking at a bottle of green cardamom. Black cardamom, its cousin, grows rampant in Nepal, her native country, and happens to be the second most expensive spice next to saffron. So when she saw the green cardamom selling in the U.S. for $6.99 an ounce, it hit her: “Oh my gosh, here was this opportunity to make money and create jobs back home,” she recalled thinking. She was in her first month at the MBA program at Brandeis International Business School (IBS).
She played with the idea: She could start a company that bought spices, particularly raw black cardamom from Nepalese farmers, process and package the spice in Nepal, and sell it for even more than the green cardamom. It would be a way to keep the farmers employed during the off-growing seasons and create jobs for others as well.
Before she knew it, her idea catapulted her into the limelight. She earned the Leonard J. Asper Startup Award and won the Bunson Investment Challenge, two heavy-hitting honors granted to budding entrepreneurs whose ideas showed the most promise in terms of global marketability as well as sustainability and social impact. Winning the awards was her turning point: “OK, I need to start this.”
Kunda Foods (initially Kunda Organics) was born. Now, months later, KC is on the unnerving zig-zagging path of a bootstrapped startup. Initially, she was set on distributing the spice solely to the U.S. But a recent meeting with potential investors suggested she crack the Middle East first, a market already hot for the spice.
KC—the family surname was once Khatri Chhetri but has been KC for generations– knows she was lucky growing up in a middle-class family in Kathmandu, Nepal. Initially, KC wanted to be a doctor. But circumstances led her to the U.S., where she received a scholarship for environmental sciences studies. After working a bit, she turned to Brandeis IBS to focus her energy on becoming an entrepreneur. “I wanted to create something that would help me give back to Nepal,” she said.
While KC reflects on comments made by investors and mentors with regard to her next steps with Kunda Foods, she is also looking for a full-time job that would abet her startup experience and help pay those graduate loans.
“We were so sure bringing it here was the best thing we could do,” she said. It still might be. Her vision is to expand the repertoire beyond cardamom, other spices, tea, coffee, honey, maybe more. “But we’re just starting,” she said. “That’s a long way to go.”