From a school drop-out selling samosas on the streets of Chennai to a businessman producing frozen, ready-to-cook, snacks for upmarket clients, its been a hard pull to success for J Haja Funyamin, Proprietor, Hafa Foods and Frozen Foods.

Sitting inside his factory office at Red Hills to the north of Chennai, Haja recounts his growth in business. He first acknowledges the continuous support of the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that helps entrepreneurs secure finance to start ventures.

“Just about a decade ago I was a street vendor in Pudupet selling samosas and other fried snacks to support my family. I have studied only up to sixth standard,” says Haja. It was while selling samosas in the narrow lanes lined with automobile repair and spare parts shops, that he got an opportunity to handle a job work for a food exporter. But the initial money to get the business going was hard to come by.

A chance link to BYST which arranged a bank loan of about ₹1 lakh without collateral helped him get going.

After he completed the contract, Haja approached BYST for financial support to start out on his own. “With about a ₹7.5 lakh loan I rented a place in Red Hills and bought a freezer in 2008 and kicked off the business,” he says. Over the next three years business grew to about ₹75 lakh and he was employing over 25 persons. Today, he runs a ₹1.5-crore business and employs 40-45 workers. He makes vegetarian and non-vegetarian, raw, frozen snacks such as samosas and rolls. These have a shelf life of about six months. The factory makes about 40,000 pieces of frozen snacks daily.

The business mostly caters to institutional sales to flight kitchens, theme parks, malls, restaurant chains, educational institutions and industrial and wedding caterers. It has not been without challenges.

“While I knew the production technique, marketing and arranging funds were tough. BYST’s mentoring helped. Also, I suffered initially when I sold on credit. But I learnt my lesson and now it is only cash-and-carry. Yes, I lost some customers in the process but my business has improved,” says Haja. It is important to plough back the money into the business for growth. “I retain a portion of the profits for my bare necessities and family needs. Everything else goes back into the business,” says Haja.

Business is thriving and Haja hopes to start exports and retail sales soon.