The Tale of a Visionary Entrepreneur: Sangeeta Mohapatra
Starting from Entrepreneurship to successful stints at some of the biggest Tech firms, Sangeeta Mohapatra has left no stone unturned after graduating from NIT Rourkela in 2001 from the Department of Chemical Engineering. Currently the Managing Director & Founder of one of the most leading startups in the textile industry The Signature Attire, Sangeeta is a true inspiration.
Team Monday Morning had the opportunity to interact with the inspiring and charismatic entrepreneur to know about their journey and what lies ahead.
Sangeeta is a native of Rourkela. Born and brought up in Rourkela, Sangeeta did her schooling in Desouza's School, Rourkela. Sangeeta was a bright student during her school days.
Sangeeta is an alumnus of the Department of Chemical Engineering. Just as in her school days, she was also a distinction holder in her college days.
Recalling some of her fondest memories during college life, Sangeeta said-
We used to be a group of 7 students and have a lot of fun during our college days. But we learnt a lot of things during the time of campus selection. This time taught us a lot of invaluable lessons. Even if you have 100s of friends, but at the end of the day, it's you who matters the most for your career and success. This has been the pillar of my success during my upcoming days in the corporate sector and as an entrepreneur.
Life After NITR
Excelling the Corporate Life
After graduating from NIT Rourkela, Sangeeta had short spells in various Tech giants, namely Honeywell, I-flex solutions (currently Oracle Financial Services Software), Hewlett Packard. Being from a non-IT branch, she managed to also be the Tech Lead of the companies mentioned above.
Talking about her start of her corporate life, she said-
I had a distinction in Chemical Engineering during my college days and had always wanted to pursue a job in a company of Chemical Engineering. But at that time, girls weren't allowed to sit for campus interviews for core chemical companies. Since I wasn't left with any choice, I was forced to try my luck in the IT sector. When I-flex asked me why I wanted to pursue my career in the IT sector, I gave them the reason mentioned above.
When asked about the struggles she faced during her time in corporate life journey and how she managed to overcome that, she said-
It was a whole new world when I joined I-flex solutions, where I had to start a new phase in my life. It was a learning phase where I had to learn and graph new languages and systems and deliver just like any other person in the company. But as an NITIAN, I had done that in the college days and also had the belief that I can cope up there as well.
Well, at the end of the day, you need to put in more efforts than a computer engineering student and work harder. Moreover, getting more money is the biggest inspiration after all. So I had to put in more time to excel in the field.
Entering into the Field of Entrepreneurship
MM- What fascinated you to work in the field of entrepreneurship? How did NIT Rourkela help you recognise your vision?
Sangeeta Mohapatra(SM)- I came across the word entrepreneurship back when I was in 7th grade. It was a bit difficult on my part at that time to spell out the word. And back then, I had also told my mother that I would also try to be an entrepreneur in the future. Moreover, I wasn't the kind of person who would pursue a 9-5 job and had certain desires to do that I couldn't pursue in my job life. So I wanted to try out something new to implement my ideas and see if society accepts those initiatives. So that's when I thought of switching my career from corporate life to a job in entrepreneurship.
The lessons which I had learnt over the four years at NIT Rourkela helped me a lot. NIT Rourkela is a conglomerate of various types of students, and interacting with them gives you a lot of invaluable experience. You learn to handle various types of pressures at the same time.
Inception of The Signature Attire
MM- What inspired you to start the firm, ‘The Signature Attire’? How did you come up with the name ‘The Signature Attire’?
SM- When I was in some of the pocket organisations I had these findings that inspired me to start the firms. Many women who travel abroad or come to India have to change their way of dressing. Moreover many companies, too, don't care about minute details of clothing or the quality of the product. Moreover, the clothing of Indian women changes over time which the Indian market is unable to cater to those needs. So that's when I devised to add the foreign tinge into the Indian clothing market.
We wanted our firm to be a signature entry into everyone's wardrobe, and that is how the name the Signature attire came into my mind.
The initial few years are crucial for any startup and the sustainability of the startup in the early days later determines its success. The Signature Attire, too, had its fair share of hardships during its early days. Talking of those early days, Sangeeta had to say this-
I didn't buy any clothing for myself for 3-4 years. It was important for me to get my product out first, and I wear it. I waited patiently and did so. I had recently become a mother also at that time, and it was a Herculean task for me to manage both lives, i.e. professional and personal, at the same time. Moreover, I lacked previous experience in the field of the textile industry. To get contacts, knowledge about the industry, I had to toil a lot.
I used to walk 20-30 km every day to factories to learn various technologies, understand their work and get phone numbers. I had to face some setbacks in my initial days, but ultimately my determination paid off.
The Signature Attire is a fully independent setup and doesn't have any investors right now. The company will be soon raising funds as it will have its 2nd unit at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Currently, the company is working on its own.
The Exemplary Journey
MM- Please share some of your fond experiences of working as the head of the startup.
SM- Whenever people refer to me as the head of the startup, I feel that I am the head of the organisation. Otherwise, I feel like one of the normal employees of the organisation as in the end, we all draw a salary at the end of the day.
I still vividly remember that when I started the company with a single person, and today, three years down the lane, we have 42 employees in our company. My team believes in me, and what better motivation can that be? I am supporting 40+ families via the startup, which gives me immense happiness and satisfaction. We are also trying to develop our rural community in the upcoming days in various other states. We are devising new concepts and products to bring to the market.
MM - Ever since its inception, your venture has been generating employment opportunities for many, empowering women to be self-sustainable, which has consequently also resulted in your company employing a majority of women now. So how did this thought come to your mind, and how do you think this objective of yours has been fulfilling up until now?
SM - In my opinion, in the current world, financial independence is the most important thing. It's everything we strive for in the end. But in our country, there's a taboo where men are supposed to be the bread earners, so I wanted the women to be financially independent and share the economic load. So as my company progressed, I employed a majority of women as men could do any possible work, but women shine in these works being financially independent in the end as well.
MM- You had a successful career in IT and also as an entrepreneur. So how do you see women empowerment shaping up in these fields?
SM - The scenario of women empowerment is improving in these fields over the past few years. Due credits to the COVID pandemic, there has been a surge in the number of women entrepreneurs. Women are utilising their skills as a part-time job, and there is not much time left when women and men would be on the same level.
The global pandemic has affected everyone, and many people have lost their jobs. On asked as the head of the startup how did Sangeeta make sure that the company employees are not affected by any means by this dreaded pandemic, she said-
Last year, when the government had announced the lockdown, it was in a tight condition with 18 employees of ours. But we didn't cut down the salaries, rather shared the salaries. As the lockdown was lifted, we faced difficulties finding clients, so we changed our strategies and started with the kids wear department, which gave us a big boost as we gained reliance as our client. We also helped the husbands of our employees who lost their job in the pandemic as we required more employees for our new department. With this, we have been able to keep up properly even in the pandemic.
MM -What does the future look like for The Signature Attire?
SM-The future looks quite beautiful for our company. We are not rushing our growth but still growing in quite a distinct way in a beautiful place. So Signature Attire will soon grow to be something big and beautiful.
Along with The Signature Attire, Sangeeta is also a founding member of two other firms. When asked how does she manage to strike a perfect chord amidst all these responsibilities, she said-
When I started in the IT sector, I was the CTO in those companies. I currently give my 99% in building the Signature attire and act as a silent investor in those companies until it's required to meet a client or some other important work.
Enlightening Future Entrepreneurs
MM - According to you, what are the most important factors behind the success of a brand or a startup?
SM- The most important factor when you begin a startup is that you need to believe that you need to be the consumer of your goods. The vision and ethics with which you are building the products are more crucial than marketing and branding. The people with which you are working together are the pillars of success. With zero marketing and branding, we have managed to attract customers by virtue of ethics, love and passion for our work.
MM-How do you think the Indian Startup scenario will be in the next ten years, given the current trend of global economic slowdown and pandemic? How should startups tackle this kind of unexpected event?
SM- As of the current scenario, the startup scene is really beautiful and blooming. The small and medium enterprises will be creating more than 90% of jobs as well. The future belongs to the current generation, which needs to believe in startups for their organic growth and bloom in India.
MM - Would you like to mention some people who have been an advisor/supporter in your accomplishments so far?
SM- Initially, I faced some criticism when I moved into the field of entrepreneurship like my engineering seat was a waste, the high grades were worthless, etc., but my family always stood by my side. My family has always been my constant support. The biggest support I have is my son, who would always be by my side from the start.
MM - Has the alumni network helped you in your endeavours? How important are alumni relations to an Institute like ours?
SM- Well, I have never been in touch with the alumni network initially, and even when I was connected later, I didn't take the opportunity to discuss my plans. But definitely to stay connected and use the alumni network is the most important thing needed in the current scenario that I plan to do in the near future for other purposes.
Words to the Wise
MM - What advice would you like to give to the present students here at NIT Rourkela?
Entrepreneurship is not a job but a lifestyle. If you are a person who wants to do things in your way, then you should know what your strengths are and work towards them. The most important thing would be to never give up; even if things don't work out and there's only a single rupee in your hand, never give up as you never know when that single rupee will turn out to be big in the future. So don't just give up.
Team MM was delighted to have Sangeeta Mohapatra on board and wishes her all the best for her future voyages.