THE PORTAL INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN TAMIL NADU

Once Upon a Slime After School

“Slime is not just for children, it’s for everyone!” declares Avi Natesan, full of zest. Her effervescent personality shines as she brings out tubs of goo, complex origami patterns, and a handmade miniature kitchen. These quirky artifacts are not just outcomes of her summer-time hobbies and passions—hours went into hands-on experimentation before she built her career as a teenage entrepreneur.

Currently pursuing her undergraduate in Computer Science, Avi has always embraced her creative side. “When I was in ninth grade, my sister was studying at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). She used to bring home fun assignments! I would get excited and ask her to teach me how to knit and dye,” she recalls, “One time she was working on an origami project. I was pretty mediocre at the rest, but I was really good at origami, and so I started trying out more intricate patterns.” Her obsession with the art form was followed by invitations from architecture and engineering institutes, and NGOs to conduct origami workshops. “My aim at these workshops would be to help people understand origami in a scientific setting.” She has conducted seven workshops at institutes around the state, such as VIT, and now even has an Instagram page under the handle @_foldit where she demonstrates her advanced level origami.

The materialisation of her primary business, ‘The Slime Space’ was more accidental. “Back when I was in school, slime used to be really popular on the internet,” Avi recounts as she stretches a red blob with both her hands, “I was wondering how I could get my hands on some. That’s when I found out that it was only available abroad and it cost about $80 just to get it shipped to Chennai.” She watched a couple of DIY slime videos on YouTube only to realise that most of the ingredients were not available in India. That did not stop her. Unable to find a suitable recipe online, she finally decided to get her hands dirty with potential substitutes available in the Indian Market.

“It never really started as a business, I was just desperate to create and feel this weird texture,” she gushes, “I would ask my mom and dad to buy 3,000 rupees worth of stuff and it took about three months of randomly mixing ingredients together before I discovered the perfect recipe. Once I made the perfect batch of slime, my friends at school started asking me to make some for them.” It was not long before requests for Avi’s ‘Made-in-India’ slime came from all over the city.

While still at school, Avi was supported by her family to build the business. “When I first started taking orders, my sister would drive me around Chennai and I would go knock on people’s doors and deliver them their slime.” The Slime Space’s Business Instagram page (under the handle @the.slime.space) is what made the product accessible all over India. With a following of 11.7K on Instagram, the Gen Z entrepreneur has embraced the benefits of social media marketing. Her primary marketing strategy is through Instagram Reels. From satisfying slime videos to combining popular trends, she does them all!

Very soon, the customer base expanded. “I was taken aback by the fact that people from Mumbai, Delhi and Kashmir were ordering from The Slime Space!” Sales boomed when The Hindu and Metro Plus covered the young company. At this time, The Slime Space was India’s only independent slime manufacturer. Avi created an online store and ran the business alongside her college courses. “I was a day scholar, so I would get back home from college at around 5, work on the business for three hours, then do college work and call it a day,” she giggles as shifting to online classes during the pandemic worked in her favour.

The slimes are sold in different shapes and sizes, at a range of Rs. 200 to Rs. 400, with a variety of scents like blueberry, raspberry, apple pie and popcorn (all imported from the U.S.) With good care, the product has a shelf-life of about 8 months. “Initially we were selling basic slime with scents, but with time we started giving importance to innovation because that’s what gets our customers excited about our product. One of our best sellers is the cloud slime,” says Avi while playing with a white fibrous and feathery substance that folds into itself to become a lump of wobbly, white goo.

Anyone who has succumbed to the slime trend would be aware of the reason for its popularity, but how did The Slime Space manage to become more than just a teenage fad? Here we come back to Avi’s first claim—slime is not just for children. Besides being a stress reliever, it also helps soothe body pain. “Sometimes we just put the slime in Ziplock bags and leave it in the freezer. My mom discovered that it worked as a great make-shift ice pack,” she reveals. Besides devising use-cases based on accidental discoveries, the young entrepreneur has also collaborated with IIT Madras Professor, Anil Prabhakar on developing Tactile books for visually impaired children, using the slime recipe. The young founder is currently working on creating further impact in the field of education, in collaboration with other young entrepreneurs from the state.

Contrary to the quintessential short-lived nature of trends, the demand for Avi’s unique slime has only increased with time. “People always ask me why The Slime Space hasn’t gone retail yet. I’ve even had investors come up to me and ask if I would be able to manufacture 1,500 products a day. The biggest challenge at the moment is matching the supply with the demand.” The brand works with a very small team at her father’s warehouse, with Avi retaining sole access to the secret sauce. Currently, the company produces about 200 boxes a week with a maximum capacity of 400 boxes for bulk orders.

In 2019, with an intention to expand the brand’s reach, some of the products were made available at R.S. Stores and Words & Worth all over Chennai. “That did not work well for us because it ended up reducing our margin on the product. A lot of effort goes into the making of our slime as we ensure that it is non-toxic and of the highest quality, unlike the others available in the market.” Instead, The Slime Space plans to sell its products on platforms like Amazon and Flipkart to further widen the reach, while attempting to cope with the existing demand.

In many ways, being a Chennai-based startup has been highly beneficial for the entrepreneur. “Most of the investors who reached out were from Pudukottai and have been open to helping out businesses run by college students,” explains Avi. Putting up stalls at college events around Tamil Nadu has also helped significantly in growing the business, expanding her reach beyond Chennai.

Recently the 20-year-old entrepreneur gave a TEDx Talk about entrepreneurship and innovation. In the future, she intends to create, innovate and build more product companies under an umbrella brand. Till then her primary focus is to complete her last few months of school while engaging her audience with the enticing satisfaction of origami and slime videos.

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