Philadelphia students have a taste of India

PhilaU MBA students catch a ride in a rickshaw.
PhilaU MBA students catch a ride in a rickshaw.

Three Philadelphia University students are continuing to explore new opportunities for food system business models in Philadelphia and India following a six-day trip to Delhi and Mumbai.

Students Myeshia Townsend, Andrienne Remener and Julianne Allman, accompanied by associate professor Natalie Nixon, collaborated with six students at ERA Business School in Delhi and four students at Welingkar College in Mumbai to research, interview experts and observe the Indian manufacturing and street food systems. The trip was part of a course called Opportunity Finding in Emerging Markets.

The students are now in the discovery phase of the project, collaborating with students in India via Skype and Google Hangouts. On their trip, their research led them to discover “pain points,” or problems, with the food systems, which will inform projects for proposed business opportunities.

While in Delhi, the students visited Haldiram’s, a major Indian snack-food company, talked to employees and interviewed the director of quality control. They learned how the company evolved from a small business to a large-scale sweets and snacks manufacturer.

The students also conducted ethnographic observations at two open-air markets to learn about how people access their food. “India is known for having one of the most ancient forms of commerce — the bazaar — and so they saw the diversity of products that were out there,” says Nixon.

Allman was surprised to see how familiar some things were on their trip. “I didn’t realize it was more of a food court-style system, like we would see here in the United States at malls,” she says.

In Mumbai, the students focused on the dabbawallah system, where bicycle riders transport homemade lunches from their spouses to workers at their jobs, then deliver the lunchboxes back to the customers’ homes. Students interviewed the head of the dabbawallah association and visited three customers. Bicycle riders apply to become part of the dabbawallah association and own a stake in the company.

Remener was interested in the importance of home-cooking in India. “Here in the U.S., people focus a lot less on home-cooking. So if that existed in the U.S., it would probably be like a restaurant-delivery system, which we already have,” she says.

Do the research

Nixon explains that students used ethnography and design thinking for their projects. “This style of understanding business opportunity by using ethnography [and] design thinking is something that is becoming more relevant. We saw that there are majors in India at some of the schools that utilize a more integrated approach — qualitative and quantitative research,” she says.

Students from PhilaU and two Indian Universities interview the VP of quality control at Haldiram's.
Students from PhilaU and two Indian Universities interview the VP of quality control at Haldiram’s.

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